As we've noted before, Valentine's Day is arguably one of the worst times to go out to dinner, precisely because it's a night when everyone wants to (or is persuaded to) go out to dinner. You can't get a reservation at your local hot spot before 9 p.m. Once you get there, the place is packed and noisy—not exactly fertile grounds for some romantic catch-up time. The staff are harried and grumpy, and understandably so, given that they're working instead of canoodling with their own loved ones. The set menus are overpriced, and their quality doesn't represent the restaurant's A game.
If what you're looking for on Valentine's Day is a good meal and a peaceful tête-à-tête, then trust us: Stay in and cook dinner instead. It's a perfect excuse to try out those fancy, pull-out-all-the-stops dishes and drinks that you might not make any other time of year—sweet lobster tail; tender, butter-basted aged ribeye; Champagne cocktails; desserts draped in chocolate, filled with chocolate, drizzled with chocolate.... Do it up right, is what we're saying. Here are 24 recipes, from oysters Rockefeller to crisp, airy meringues, that will help you celebrate Valentine's Day with a luxurious dinner in the comfort of your own home.
Appetizers and Mains
Even if you don't believe in the old wives' tale about oysters being an aphrodisiac (and we're highly skeptical), a plate of oysters is still a fun and just-fancy-enough start to your meal. This classic recipe tops oysters with spinach, bread crumbs, and Parmesan, then broils them until they're crispy and warmed through. A drizzle of Pernod over the top gives the dish a wonderful anise fragrance.
The Best Moules Marinières (Sailor-Style Mussels)
Mussels are a steal compared to oysters, and every bit as tasty and celebratory-feeling (when cooked, at least). These traditional moules marinières are cooked in a briny, aromatic broth flavored with shallot, leeks, garlic, and white wine or cider. A garlicky aioli turns the broth into a rich sauce, perfect for sopping up crusty bread. Don't forget to serve these with the rest of that bottle of wine you opened.
Lobster is the pinnacle of luxury in seafood, and, while you could do much worse than serving steamed lobster tail with a little clarified butter for dipping, our lobster ceviche makes for an elegant presentation and adds a pleasant tartness and heat. We par-cook the lobster—just until it's translucent in the center and starting to pull away from the shell—then toss it with a lime juice marinade flavored with shallots, jalapeño, and cilantro.
Dry-Aged, Sous-Vide, Torched-and-Seared Bone-in Ribeyes (a.k.a. The Ultimate Steak)
Many of us automatically think steak for Valentine's Day dinner, but if you really want to show your love, not just any steak will do. This recipe will show you how to achieve the steak of your dreams—deeply charred, perfectly cooked, and unbelievably juicy. Dry-aged ribeye is pricey stuff, so you'll want to treat these right: Cook them sous-vide first, then finish them in a raging-hot skillet. A blowtorch will help sear them faster for a beautifully dark crust—plus, nothing says "I love you" like live flame.
Red Wine-Braised Beef Shanks
Braised beef shanks are simpler and more rustic than expensive blowtorch-seared steaks, but more forgiving and equally delicious—and much less likely to set fire to your house. We cook the shanks in red wine until they're falling-apart tender, then blend the liquid and aromatics into a smooth, rich sauce. You'll want to save those bones so you can scoop out their buttery marrow, too.
Beet-Colored Fresh Pasta
If you and yours don't care for meat, or are just in the mood for something lighter, homemade pasta is a great choice. A simple fresh egg pasta is a fine place to start, but for a pretty and festive touch, try coloring your noodles with beet purée. The mild flavor of the deep purple-red roots will blend seamlessly into whatever sauce you use, though, if you want to emphasize the beets, you can roast them before puréeing to bring out their earthy sweetness.
Homemade Mushroom Tortellini
Once you've mastered our pasta dough, you're ready to tackle all sorts of fun projects with it—like homemade tortellini, which is surprisingly easy if you have a cookie cutter and a little patience. We recommend using a fairly dry filling—too much moisture and your tortellini could burst—like this savory purée of sautéed mushrooms, Parmesan, and shallots, made with shiitake, cremini, and oyster mushrooms.
Uovo in Raviolo (Runny Egg Yolk Ravioli)
Ready to kick your homemade-pasta game up a notch? Uovo in raviolo, a show-stopping dish of oversize ravioli filled with a ring of creamy ricotta and a soft egg yolk, is guaranteed to blow your date away, and, while it certainly looks like magic, it's totally manageable for a home cook. Serve these with an easy pan sauce of pancetta and white wine.
Molten Chocolate Cake
Molten chocolate cake is a perfect fit for Valentine's Day: It's rich and luscious, and its gooey melt-in-your-mouth-ness feels inherently indulgent and sexy. And, on top of all that, it's a cinch to make: Cook the simple cake batter for exactly 12 minutes, then top it with plenty of whipped cream, berries, and fudge and caramel sauces. This recipe makes a cake for two in a single ramekin—test the strength of your relationship by trying to share it equitably.
No-Bake Chocolate-Nutella "Cheesecake" Verrines
These lovely layered desserts are like miniature deconstructed cheesecakes, and they're a chocolate lover's fantasy: a base of Oreo crumbles, topped with Nutella and chocolate cream cheese. We garnish the verrines with whipped cream, more crushed Oreos, and toasted hazelnuts.
The Darkest Dark Chocolate Ice Cream
My chocolate preferences can be summed up in four words: The darker, the better. I want my chocolate to bite back, with tons of cocoa flavor, a bitter edge, and a hint of fruitiness. If you and your partner are of a similar mindset, this is the ice cream recipe for you. It incorporates both 70% cocoa dark chocolate and high-quality cocoa powder—a good start—but its secret weapon for intense chocolatiness is the cocoa nibs infused into the base.
Chocolate Meringue Cake With Whipped Cream and Raspberries
Making an entire cake for just the two of you? It might seem like overkill, but when you think about it, it's just a handy way to keep the love going for a few extra days. Plus, the beautiful figure cut by this dessert belies how easy it is to make. We layer airy, crisp French meringue with moist chocolate cake and whipped cream, then drizzle a sweet-tart raspberry sauce over the top and garnish it with fresh raspberries.
Chocolate-Cinnamon Swirl Meringues
Light, crumbly, and rustic but sophisticated, these meringues are flavored with cocoa powder, cinnamon, and just a couple of drops of molasses, which is enough to give the cookies a slight hint of caramel. Baking time varies widely depending on humidity—when they're done, they should be easy to remove from the parchment and sound hollow when you tap them with your fingernail.
The Best Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons
My girlfriend has many wonderful qualities, but an appreciation of coconut is not one of them, so, in the proper spirit of Valentine's Day, I won't be making macaroons for us. But if your partner is wild about the stuff (coconut generally being one of those love-it-or-loathe-it foods), these crunchy-outside, chewy-inside, and chocolate-drizzled little treats will bring pure joy. They're made with toasted unsweetened coconut, egg white, vanilla paste, and nut liqueur, plus your choice of dulce de leche or sweetened condensed milk—the former gets you the absolute best flavor and texture, while the latter allows you to preserve that traditional golden color.
Chocolate-Frosted Heart-Shaped Doughnuts
These doughnuts are adapted from our basic yeast doughnut recipe, but they're cut into fun heart shapes, glazed with chocolate, and decorated with sprinkles. If you'd rather use colored sugar to decorate instead of big, waxy sprinkles, opt for coarse sugar, which will adhere more tightly to the pastries and offer a brighter pop of color.
Ancho Chili-Cinnamon Brownies
These fudgy brownies are spiked with smoky ancho chili, cinnamon, and cayenne for a sweet-hot flavor combination that's utterly delicious. A mixture of unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate gives you plenty of chocolatiness while keeping the sugar level in check, and chocolate chips add a bit of texture.
The Chocolate Rye
Chocolate is good for so much more than dessert, as this not-too-sweet cocktail amply demonstrates. Infusing rye whiskey with flavors typical of a fancy box of chocolates—using cocoa nibs, peppercorns, allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, ginger, and toasted almonds— gives it a rich and spicy aroma. We then combine the whiskey with nutty oloroso sherry, sweet Luxardo cherry syrup, and fragrant Meyer lemon juice.
This cocktail mixes bittersweet Averna and oaky reposado tequila with a little Godiva chocolate liqueur, plus a few dashes of orange bitters for an aromatic finish. For an extra hit of cocoa, we grate a little bit of chocolate on top of the drink, which ends up sweet but with a balanced complexity.
It's not made of chocolate, but the vibrant red color is perfectly appropriate for the holiday. The "pom" here refers to tart pomegranate juice; the "pomme" is bubbly hard cider. Both get mixed with spicy ginger liqueur and apple brandy for a cocktail that's fruit-forward, but not overly sweet.
Sparkling Grapefruit Sangria With Lillet Rosé
The base for this pretty drink combines bittersweet Lillet Rosé with crisp, tart grapefruit juice and refreshing mint. Make the base at least a couple of hours early (preferably the night before) so that the mint and grapefruit oils have time to meld with the other flavors; when you're ready to serve, simply pour in Cava and stir gently.
Sparkling Pomegranate Caipirinha
For this bold variation on a Brazilian Caipirinha, start with a typical Caipirinha base of cachaça, sugar, and lime. The special touch—and what gives the drink its nice rosy hue—is the addition of pomegranate juice, along with sparkling wine. A "split," or a quarter bottle of wine, is just right for making two cocktails.
Made with equal parts cognac, Old Tom gin, and sweet vermouth, with a few drops of orange bitters for a hint of citrus, the Ampersand is an easy cocktail to put together. The Old Tom is essential—it's rich and sweet in a way that most gin isn't. If you're using another type, try adding a little simple syrup.
Roses in the Snow Cocktail
It already sounds romantic, doesn't it? Instead of giving your valentine a bouquet of roses, put some in their drink with this variation on a gin fizz. Rosewater gives it a floral scent, while lemon juice helps balance it out. Choose a gin with botanicals to complement the rosewater—we like Uncle Val's for its cucumber, lemon verbena, and citrus notes.
Chamomile and Tangerine Sparkling Cocktail for Two
To avoid a common pitfall of floral cocktails—i.e., tasting more like perfume than an appealing beverage—this one balances the chamomile perfectly with tangy tangerine and acidic white balsamic vinegar. Finishing the drink with sparkling wine makes it feel worthy of a special occasion.