- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

St. Valentine’s Day falls conveniently on a Saturday this year, a perfect Feb. 14 for celebrating love’s labour’s lost — and found:

“… to study where I well may dine

When I to feast am expressly forbid

or study where to meet some mistress fine …”

Shakespeare aside, in all likelihood, this celebration of love in bloom is a transformation of an ancient Roman festival, celebrated on Feb. 15, in honor of the god Lupercus, who protected the shepherds of Rome against predatory wolves.

The name Valentine probably dates to a third-century Roman priest or bishop who secretly married young couples in love, despite the emperor’s order forbidding young men to marry because bachelors made better soldiers. Valentine was beheaded for his trouble.

Other Valentines populate legends of love. In 496, Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14 the day to honor St. Valentine, who became the patron saint of lovers.

The earliest records of Valentine’s Day in English note that birds choose their mates on that day. In Britain and in Italy, unmarried girls got up before sunrise on Valentine’s Day to stand by the window, believing that the first unmarried man they saw would become their husband within a year.

Now that we have cellular phones, girls don’t have to stand at the window, and the postman will deliver her valentines — a custom begun by one Margery Brews, who wrote a letter to her beloved in 1477, no doubt surprising a reluctant swain with the greeting: “Right worshipful and well beloved Valentine.”

Be that as it may have been, Washington’s modern belles and their gents have attractive options for celebrating this special day. Restaurants, hotels and pastry shops are preparing special meals and overnight packages, as well as cakes and chocolates for those eager to celebrate at home, perhaps in front of a roaring fire. Prices do not include taxes and gratuities or guarantees of successful wooing. Here are some options:

• • •

Georgetown’s 1789 Restaurant (1226 36th St. NW; 202/965-1789), a romantic place any time, will have its fire glowing and the dining rooms decorated with roses and candles.

Chef Ris Lacoste is preparing an a la carte menu for the occasion, and each table will be adorned with a little box of handmade chocolates from the 1789’s pastry shop. Each plate will surprise with something heart-shaped, tucked secretly into a dish or sauce.

• • •

Downtown at 15 RIA (1515 Rhode Island Ave. NW; 202/521-7130), chef Jamie Leeds is cooking a passion-inspired repast, beginning with foreplay of, among other selections, raw oysters and tuna tartare, moving on to a climax of quail with rose petals or blue-cheese crusted sirloin, ending with a final caress of sweet toast with white chocolate dipping sauce. Those are just samples of what’s cooking. Love bites of assorted chocolate delights come with coffee. The prix-fixe menu is $110 per couple and $180 for two couples.

If you don’t want to go home, the Washington Terrace Hotel, where 15 RIA is located, offers a Valentine’s Day package that includes a bottle of champagne, dinner for two, a deluxe room, free parking and a Continental breakfast for two for $279; $379 for a suite.

• • •

Down on Washington Harbour waterfront at Bangkok Joe’s (3000 K St. NW; 202/333-4422), chef Aulie Bunyarataphan promises an aphrodisiac-laden four-course Thai dinner inspired by Bangkok’s traditional street food, accented with Chinese, Japanese, American and French touches. Her $49-per-person prix-fixe menu includes such lovely dishes as shrimp curry fritters, lobster with beet noodles and chocolate seduction cake.

• • •

The romantic Victorian Morrison-Clark Hotel and Restaurant (11th Street and Massachusetts Ave. NW; 202/898-1200) are offering a hearts-and-roses package that includes deluxe accommodations, dinner for two in Chef de Cuisine Michael Robertson’s charming dining room, a glass of champagne with rosewater syrup (you can have it without, if you prefer), a basket of romantic goodies, a bottle of champagne and a “Sweet Surprise.” The package of $295 per couple is available Feb. 13 and 14.

• • •

The Henley Park Hotel’s (926 Massachusetts Ave. NW; 202/638-5200) $320-per-couple package offers two of their signature Blue Tudor cocktails from the bar, dinner for two in the Coeur de Lion Restaurant, dancing to live jazz until midnight, deluxe overnight accommodations, a welcome bottle of champagne and a romantic jazzy CD as a keepsake.

• • •

If you prefer to take your romantic tidbits home, Maggiano’s Little Italy Curbside Carryout (5333 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202/966-5500, 202/966-2593 (curbside carryout); or 2001 International Drive, Tysons Galleria, McLean, 703/356-9000, 703/356-3850 (curbside carryout)) is making heart-shaped Valentine’s Day pizza for $9.95 and dolce baci (sweet kisses) for $5.50.

Call from your car phone, and the Valentine’s Day order will be delivered to the curb.

For patrons who prefer to dine in the restaurant, the restaurant is preparing heart-shaped dishes for sharing, beginning with complimentary heart-shaped ravioli with a tomato-vodka sauce.

• • •

In Georgetown, Patisserie Poupon (1645 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202/342-3428) will make a heart-shaped cake, layered with pistachio cream and fresh strawberry coulis for $27.50.

The chocolate shop Les Delices d’Isabelle (1531 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202/944-1898) is offering an assortment of nine chocolates in a flowered box for $14.99, while Haagen-Dazs (3120 M St. NW; 202/333-3443) has a Valentine’s Day cake made with any flavor of Haagen-Dazs ice cream for $11.99.

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Perhaps the most unusual Valentine’s Day special is at the newly renovated Madison Hotel (15th and M streets NW; 800/424-8577), where dog owners can bring their beloved pooches for a Cupid’s Canine Companion Celebration.

Priced at $959 on Feb. 14, the special includes one-bedroom-suite accommodations; a welcoming split of champagne and a silver bowl of sparkling pet water with heart-shaped treats for both palates; matching Madison robes for pet and person; lavender scented aromatherapy doggie amenity; pre-dinner pup pampering at Wagtime Pet Spa; pre-dinner person pampering at Sage Spa, a private day spa in the University Club, which includes a Swedish massage, facial and manicure; in-suite dinner with pet and person menus prepared by Charlie Hansji, executive chef of the new next-door restaurant, Palette; and a photograph to commemorate the occasion.

If no four-legged guests are involved, the Madison offers a Valentine’s Day Retreat for $229 that includes accommodations, a bathroom strewn with rose petals and enhanced with a half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne and chocolate truffles, a choice of room-service breakfast or dining in the hotel’s Federalist restaurant and free parking.

• • •

“This day more cheerfully than ever shine,” wrote John Donne. “This day which might inflame thyself, old Valentine.” Or not. St. Valentine’s Day, first of all, is a day of hope.

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