Valentine's Day + Restaurant = Romance?

Here's a tip from me to you: NEVER eat out on Valentine's Day!


All hell breaks loose.

Whether you as a dining patron know it or not, there is chaos happening somewhere.

Most restaurants...even the ones that never fill to capacity, are busting at the seams on Valentine's Day. Greedy managers take every reservation...whether they can realistically accommodate them or not. Every staff member is required to work, but it's never enough.

Don't believe me?

Well, there's the Valentine's Day where my usual 5 table section became 14 tables.

Or the year they did a big ad campaign and we ran out of the featured "Steak Lover's" special...before 7:00.

With a restaurant filled to capacity, ticket times also take twice as long....or more. The kitchen crew starts to get creative about how to rush tickets. You really don't want to know what they do to your food.

Trust me.

If you're looking to treat your sweetie to a romantic night out...pick another night. Preferably not a weekend flanking Valentine's Day, either. The crews are tired...and worked to the point of exhaustion. That week especially...they really could care less about your food.


So having said all that, you still want to do something with your sweetie, right? I mean, this is a national holiday where you are expected to spread a little love....

But this year, Valentine's Day is on a week night and you really don't want to cook an elaborate meal.

Going out was the easy now what???

Make a braise.

Nothing says love like the flavors developed in a good braise.... And it's even better the next day! You could make this dish the day before and serve it on date night.

It's the perfect solution.

Here's a recipe I've been fooling around with...and it's fabulous! This dish benefits from the slow braise--creating a tender meat that falls apart in a symphony of deep, luscious flavors. Add it to a platform of creamy polenta or mashed potatoes and you are ready for l'amour!

Slow-Braised Pork with Black Grapes and Balsamic
adapted ever so slightly from

1 3 1/4-pound boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), trimmed, cut into 3 equal pieces
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
8 large shallots, halved, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 3 cups)
3 cups seedless black grapes (about 1 pound)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 large fresh sage sprigs
6 large fresh thyme sprigs, divided
3 large fresh rosemary sprigs, divided
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add pork to pot and cook until browned on all sides, about 13 minutes total. Transfer pork to plate; discard fat in pot.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in same pot over medium heat. Add shallots and grapes; sauté until shallots are golden, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Add sugar; sauté 30 seconds. Add vinegar; bring mixture to boil and cook until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Add broth, the sage, 3 thyme sprigs, 2 rosemary sprigs and and pork with juices from plate. Bring to boil.

Cover pot and transfer to oven. Braise pork 1 hour. Using tongs, turn pork over, add remaining thyme and rosemary sprigs. If using, add crushed red pepper flakes. Continue braising until meat is very tender, about 45 minutes longer.

Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to platter; tent with foil. Remove herb sprigs from pot and skim fat from surface of cooking liquid. Boil cooking liquid over high heat until thickened, about 7 minutes.

Season sauce with salt and pepper. Pour over pork and serve.

Note: This dish reheats beautifully.