The kitchens at New Haven’s restaurants are bustling as preparations for the Valentine’s Day rush get underway.
But at six of the city’s swankiest eateries, chefs are divided on what type of menu is best for lovebirds. Four said prix fixe menus put the focus on the food, not the price, while two said restaurants should not restrict diners’ options for the special night.
Lauren Kendzierski, owner of Bespoke, said the College Street restaurant is offering a prix fixe menu this weekend in part to ensure that “tables won’t go wasted.”
“Because it’s such an important day,” Kendzierski said, “You want people who are coming in and not just [ordering] an appetizer [because then we] lose a table who would order the whole nine yards.”
Among the items on the prix fixe menu, oysters and scallops are particularly popular, Kendzierski said, as is the fondue desert, which Bespoke only offers on special occasions such as Valentine’s Day.
“People want to have surf and turf,” she added. “Something more sensual than chicken.”
With so great an influx of Valentine’s Day diners — who, for the most part, sit at tables for two — a limited menu also speeds up service and eases the burden on cooking staff, three local chefs said.
“It’s a little faster service for the kitchen especially,” said Jean Pierre Buillermet, owner of Union League Cafe on Chapel Street. When the menu has fewer dishes, he said, the kitchen staff’s preparation work also takes less time.
Buillermet added that Union League has kept the price of its prix fixe menu the same for three years and that most Valentine’s Days the restaurant is near its 250 person capacity.
Down the street, at Heirloom, executive chef Carey Savona said he takes “mood” into account when planning his Valentine’s Day menu.
“People don’t want to be eating something too heavy because maybe they have other plans in mind after the meal,” he said.
Heirloom is offering a prix fixe menu instead of its regular menu, Savona said. He said the prix fixe menu paces diners’ experience. As for the actual food, he said aphrodisiacs are always popular (the menu will include rosewater) and that he tries to avoid overly “esoteric” dishes in order to keep the atmosphere friendly and intimate. Among the dishes on Heirloom’s special prix fixe menu are seared Northeast sea scallops and red wine braised beef short-ribs.
But not all local restaurant owners said they think prix fix is the way to go, or even that it is necessary to alter their menus for the big day.
Miya’s Sushi on Howe Street does not alter its menu for Valentine’s Day, owner Bun Lai said.
“We don’t want to lock people in because people have different amounts they can afford,” Lai said.
But, he said, some dishes and drinks are more popular on Valentine’s Day. The Kama Sutra drink, which is sweet, spicy and alcoholic, is a top seller on Valentine’s Day, he said. It is made from fresh pureed vitamin-filled berries, sake and cerveza and has “all sorts of endorphins” in it, Lai said. On the menu, the beverage is described as being “created to bring waves of raw desire to one’s loins.”
Sushi rolls with more suggestive names are also more popular on Valentine’s Day, he said.
“Everything that has something to do with love or sex tends to sell more,” Lai said.
Miya’s, which is normally closed on Sundays, will be open Feb. 14.