Cupid's arrows hit Bernal Heights hard this week. Along Cortland Avenue, every storefront from the card store to the cafe to the taqueria is emblazoned with huge red and pink hearts and flowers. What's so romantic about a quesadilla or a double nonfat mocha with whip? Well, anything's romantic when you're sharing it with your honey. Or maybe Bernal just loves window dressing.
Still, the holiday is nearly upon us, and if you've got a sweetheart, you're probably wondering, with eagerness or dread, what to do about it. Personally, I don't ascribe to the fancy-jewelry, table-for-two view of Feb. 14. If you asked me to name my most romantic gifts or moments I've had, I'd remember the poem by Sappho an old girlfriend inscribed for me in gold ink on pink rose petals, one word per petal. Or being picked up from work on Valentine's Day by another date, who whisked me across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Headlands, where we sat on the hood of the car, looking out over the bay and eating take-out shrimp dumplings boxed up from my very favorite dim sum dive. (He knew me well enough to know that heaven, for me, is an endless supply of shrimp dumplings.)
The most romantic notion is the most personal, the gift that makes you feel truly seen. So, what does your husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend secretly like best? At home or in the company of like-minded sensualists, this week offers dozens of ways to tease and titillate your valentine.
Popping the cork on a bottle of good champagne may work for me, but for plenty of people, beer's the drink of choice. And conveniently enough, it's Beer Week in San Francisco now through the 14th, with dozens of bars offering many delectable suds, along with brewmaster meet-and-greets. And who says beer and chocolate aren't a perfect match? Serious Eats has an exhaustive guide to pairing the two. Although many of their picks are geared towards East Coast brands like Jacques Torres, the flavor profiles can certainly apply to your favorite Bay Area treats.
Or you can head to Humphry Slocombe and bring home a pint or two of their this-week-only beer ice creams, made with local brews. Beer ice cream! I think someone out there is just waiting to plant a big wet Homer Simpson m'waaah on you for thinking of this, and better yet, bringing it home, stripping down to your underwear, and grabbing a couple of spoons. Especially if you add a side order of Slocombe's cult-favorite caramels (made with Boccalone lard, and much better, and more bacony, than they sound).
In fact, caramel is breathing hard down chocolate's neck this year, a happy development for those less inclined towards the bean. Bi-Rite Market has a particularly fetching selection right now, starting with the salted caramel ice cream from their own Bi-Rite Creamery. Then there are the tamarind-spiked treats whipped up by local Indian baker and confectioner Spice Vice, as well as the vanilla-speckled, cajeta-inspired softies from Happy Goat, enriched with caramelized goat's milk.
Can't decide between caramel and chocolate? Local Charles Chocolates offers the best of both worlds: fleur de sel caramels covered in chocolate, arranged in an edible, flower-printed chocolate box. Or you can invest in Michael Recchiuti's dynamic duo, a jar each of Extra-Bitter Chocolate Sauce and Burnt Caramel Sauce. Who needs a spoon when you can just pour it on and...well, the rest is up to you.
Prefer to play with your food? Check out this list of chocolate spa treatments for two. Get rubbed down (or revved up) with a chocolate-espresso scrub, let yourselves be macerated in rose petals or painted with cocoa butter and chocolate oil, all while enjoying truffles and bubbly. Remember that goofy Axe chocolate man commercial? Like that, only pricier (and presumably, much more pleasing to the nose).
Can't quite swing that spontaneous weekend in Paris this year? Happily, in our European-minded city, there will always be croissants to wake up to (I may be Bernal-biased, but the delicate, extra-flaky ones at Sandbox Bakery are worth the trip up the hill) and pastel macarons in more flavors than Hermès has scarves. People who love macarons really, really love them, and while Miette has its fans, the latest buzz is about the stylishly packaged dainties at Paulette in Hayes Valley, the first NorCal branch of a popular shop in Beverly Hills. Or you can dream of escaping to the French countryside, à la Juliette Binoche in Chocolat, as you melt and roll your own ravishing truffles at La Cocina's chocolate-making class on Feb. 10.
Got a honey who's more salty than sweet? Well, take it from the Fatted Calf: the couple that grinds together, stays together. Head over to the Calf's headquarters in the Oxbow Public Market in Napa for their I Heart Sausage class on Feb. 13th, and get busy making it all: fresh, smoked, poached, and, for all you vampires out there, boudin noir, the infamous (and delectable) blood sausage. Or pencil in a plan for Whole Hog Butchery, Part 1, upcoming on Feb. 27.
To go with your sausage-fest, pick up a bloomy Heart's Desire cheese. Molded in the shape of a heart, it's named after a charming beach along Tomales Bay and made by Cowgirl Creamery this month only, available in their store in San Francisco's Ferry Building as well as at Tomales Bay Foods in Point Reyes. Out of town? You can order it online in a gift pack along with Jasper Hill Farm's Constant Bliss and Redwood Hill's Camillia cheeses, plus a selection of Tcho chocolates. Farmstead Cheeses and Wines in Montclair and Alameda will also be carrying a selection of heart-shaped cheeses this week, including French goat cheese Coeur de Gariottes, sold with rose petal jam; creamy cow's milk Coeur de Bray; and Coeur Cendrée, a goat cheese dusted with ash. And in keeping with the holiday, their weekly Friday & Saturday wine tasting will focus on sparklers and rosés.
Then again, what about dinner? Just about every restaurant in the city will be angling for your V-Day dollar with passion-fruit mousse and hearts of palm salad. Still, I'd like to imagine that all kinds of polyamorous, four- or more-some wake-ups will be happening the morning after the Wild Kitchen's Valentine's Day Dinner. That secret Mission location, those candlelit communal tables full of curious couples, those shared platters of candycap mushrooms and foraged mussels...how can they not inspire more than just gustatory exploration?
As an appetizer, the two (or more) of you can tango down to the Ferry Building on Feb. 12, from 5 to 8pm, for the annual Food from the Heart. After the food-court tourists have gone home, the elegant main promenade will be transformed into a place to sip, nibble, flirt, and perhaps even dance. Local restaurants and wineries will have tables set up offering drinks and small plates for tasting, $2-$4. The money goes towards sending one lucky Ferry Plaza Farmers Market seller to Slow Food's Terra Madre event in Italy this fall.