It’s nothing against restaurants and what they do: I love getting a night out of the kitchen every now and again and have a lot of respect for professional cooks and what they do.

But when St. Valentine’s Day comes around next week, the last place I’ll want to be is a public dining room, surrounded by a bunch of couples who are either sickeningly in love or trying to pretend that one evening out is going to fix a languishing romance.

And if you’re single, that prospect is even less appealing.

Let’s face it, romance is something that works best in private. And for my money, there’s nothing more conducive to that than a home-cooked dinner by candlelight.


One of the all-time great centerpieces for such a dinner is chateaubriand, a luxurious center cut of beef tenderloin served with butter-roasted potatoes and a silky butter sauce.

Unfortunately, it’s a luxury that’s rarely seen anymore because it’s fallen out of favor with the cutting-edge gourmet crowd, which is too bad. Nothing is lovelier or more romantic — or, for that matter, easier to make.

The menu that follows is built around the classic French recipe, complete with an updated version of the potatoes and its signature white-wine-reduction butter sauce.

It begins with a French gratin of oysters that’s perfect for our briny local bivalves, and finishes with chocolate and strawberries in a fondue for two that could not be simpler.

Because not everyone has the bank account for luxury cuts of beef, and it’s not everyone’s idea of romantic dining, I’ve also offered Chicken Marsala as an alternative. It fits nicely into the menu, is easy on the pocketbook and on the cook, and offers plenty of romance.

The only thing you’ll need to add to round this menu out is a colorful side vegetable.

Whether you serve the beef or chicken, there’s a lot of richness and not a lot of variation in color, so keep the side simple and bright. Steamed or blanched asparagus spears, haricots verts, snow or sugar-snap peas, and trimmed and halved Brussels sprouts are all good choices. Or forego a side vegetable and follow the main dish with a green salad dressed with oil and vinegar.

Just remember: No matter what you serve to your loved one Valentine’s Day, the romance won’t be coming from what’s on the table, but from who is on either side of it, so don’t sit back and think your culinary prowess is going to do all the work.

It’ll help, but it’s not going to let you completely off the hook, so practice your dreamy love-sick look and get cooking.


Gratinéed Oysters, Parisian Style

(Coquille d’ Huîtres à la Parisienne)

This is a great way to prepare our own local oysters, since their clusters don’t really lend themselves to a half-shell presentation. Also, their briny-sweet character marries well with this sauce. Serves 2.



• 1 dozen large oysters, shucked and strained, but liquor reserved

• ½ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth

• 2 tablespoons minced shallots

• Salt and whole white pepper in a mill

• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

• 1 heaped tablespoon all-purpose flour

• 1 egg yolk

• ¼ cup heavy cream, plus more as needed

• Lemon juice

• 2 heaped tablespoons finely grated Gruyere



1. Put oyster liquor, wine, shallots and small pinch each salt and white pepper in saucepan that will hold oysters in one layer. Bring to simmer over medium heat and simmer 5 minutes.

2. Add oysters and heat until plumped and gills ruffle. Remove with slotted spoon to sieve set over bowl. Raise heat and reduce liquid by half. Transfer to measuring cup and wipe out pan.

3. Add butter, melt over medium heat, and whisk in flour. Simmer until foaming, about 2 minutes, but don’t let brown. Whisk in poaching liquid, bring to boil, and boil 1 minute, whisking constantly; it’ll be quite thick. Beat together egg yolk and cream. Whisk in a few dribbles hot sauce and slowly whisk in remainder in steady stream. Pour back into saucepan and bring back to boil, stirring constantly. Cook 1 minute, thinning with cream or liquid that drains from oysters as needed until it just coats back of spoon.

4. Season to taste with salt, white pepper, and a few drops lemon juice. Strain through fine wire mesh strainer and let cool.

5. Butter 2 scallop shells or small gratin dishes. Set shells in pan lined with rock salt or, if using gratin dishes, put on small rimmed baking sheet. Fold oysters into sauce, spoon into shells, and top with cheese. Loosely cover and refrigerate until needed. Can be made several hours ahead.

6. Half an hour before serving, take oysters from refrigerator. Position rack about 9 inches below heat source and preheat broiler 15 minutes. Broil until heated through and golden brown on top. Let settle for a couple of minutes and serve.



Classic Chateaubriand

Chateaubriand is a 14- or 28-ounce, thick center cut of a beef tenderloin, grilled and accompanied by butter-roasted potatoes. Its classic condiment is a white wine butter sauce that goes by the same name, but if that seems like too much fuss, try it with Maître d’ Hôtel Butter, a simple flavored herb butter that can be made well ahead. Serves 2.



• 1- to 1½-pound center-cut filet steak

• 1 tablespoon melted butter

• Salt and whole black pepper in a mill

• Sauce Chateaubriand or Maître d’ Hôtel Butter (recipes follow)



1. Let beef sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before cooking. Wrap in several layers of paper towels and let sit 5 minutes. Prepare one side of grill with hardwood coals and burn to a medium-hot fire or preheat oven to 450 F. and heat a grill pan over medium heat for 5 minutes.

2. Brush beef with butter. Salt and pepper. Grill beef directly over coals or in grill pan until well-seared, about 4 minutes; turn and grill 2 minutes. Move to indirect heat or transfer grill pan to oven and cook 2-3 minutes longer for rare, 3-4 for medium-rare.

3. Serve with sauce.


Sauce Chateaubriand

Fine for any grilled meat, this wine reduction is finished with demi-glace and thickened with butter, so a little of it goes a long way. Makes about ½ cup, serving 2-3.



• 1 tablespoon minced shallot

• ½ cup dry white wine

• 1 teaspoon roughly crushed black peppercorns

• 1 sprig thyme

• 2 sprigs flat leaf parsley, leaves removed and minced, stems reserved

• 1 tablespoon demi-glace (available at specialty grocers), dissolved in 3 tablespoons boiling water

• 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

• 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice



1. Combine shallot, wine, peppercorns, thyme and parsley stems in saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat and simmer until wine is reduced to 2 tablespoons. Strain, discarding solids.

2. Return reduced wine to pan. Can be made ahead to this point.

3. To finish, bring wine back to simmer and add demi-glace. Simmer until reduced and almost syrupy. Add lemon juice and whisk in butter a few pieces at a time. Serve as soon as possible.


Maître d’Hôtel Butter

The best known of all compound butters, this one is classic on any grilled steak, but is also very nice for vegetables and fish. This is more than you’ll need, but it keeps for a couple of weeks well-wrapped and refrigerated. Makes about 9 tablespoons, or 9-14 servings.



• 4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

• 2 generous tablespoons freshly minced flat-leaf parsley

• About 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

• Salt and whole white pepper in a mill



1. Lightly cream butter with a wooden spoon. Mix in parsley and lemon juice to taste and season with salt and pepper. Can be made in food processor fitted with steel blade.

2. Spoon onto square of wax paper or plastic wrap. Roll into a 1-inch cylinder and fold ends. Chill until firm. Double wrap with plastic wrap for prolonged storage. To serve, slice into ½ tablespoon rounds as needed and put on top of food while warm.



Fingerling Potatoes Roasted in Butter, Chateau Style

Classic Pomme de Terre Chateau are cut into sticks like fries, but fingerling potatoes are so much more flavorful and require no trimming other than cutting them in half. Serves 2.



• ¾ pound (about 6-8) fingerling potatoes

• 2 tablespoons butter

• Salt and whole black pepper in a mill

• 1 tablespoon minced parsley



1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400 F. Scrub potatoes well and cut lengthwise into halves or, if large, quarters. Pat dry.

2. Melt butter in ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes, toss until coated, and raise heat to medium high. Toss until potatoes are hot through.

2. Transfer pan to oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until golden and tender, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with parsley, and toss. Serve immediately.



Chicken Marsala with Mushrooms

If beef tenderloin is beyond your budget, or you and your loved one don’t eat much red meat, these budget-friendly chicken cutlets fit nicely into the menu and are a lot less fuss. Serves 2.



• 1-2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (depending on size)

• Salt and whole black pepper in a mill

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 2 tablespoon unsalted butter

• Instant-blending flour (such as Wondra), in a shaker

• 4 ounces (¼ pound) cremini mushrooms, brushed clean with a dry cloth or soft brush, sliced

• ½ cup medium-dry Marsala

• ¼-½ cup chicken or meat broth

• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley



1. Lay chicken flat on flexible plastic cutting board. Holding sharp cook’s knife parallel with board, cut in half horizontally. Cover with plastic wrap and lightly beat each cutlet flat. Season salt and several grindings of black pepper.

2. Heat oil and butter in large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. When butter is melted and hot and foaming subsides, dust chicken on both sides with flour, shake off excess, and slip into pan. Sauté until the bottom is browned, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook until browned, about 2 minutes longer. Remove to warm plate.

3. Raise heat and add mushrooms to pan. Sauté, tossing constantly, until beginning to color. Season with salt and add Marsala, stirring and scraping to loosen any cooking residue from the pan. Bring to boil, add ¼ cup broth, and bring back to boil.

4. Reduce heat to medium and return chicken to pan. Simmer, turning once or twice, until sauce is lightly thickened and chicken just cooked through, about 1-2 minutes longer. If sauce becomes too thick, add a few spoonfuls broth. Remove chicken to warm plates, pour sauce over, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.



Strawberries with Chocolate Grand Marnier Fondue

Finishing with strawberries and chocolate is the ultimate in romantic dining. This is so easy and can be made ahead. Makes about 2 cups.



• 1 cup heavy cream

• 2 1-inch by 3-inch pieces orange zest, removed with a vegetable peeler

• 10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, or bittersweet chips

• 1 tablespoon sugar

• 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

• Fine sea or Himalayan pink salt

• 1 pint small whole strawberries, washed and drained well



1. Bring cream and zest to simmer over medium low heat and simmer 2-3 minutes. Remove zest and add sugar. Stir until dissolved, add chocolate, and let stand until softened, about 1 minute.

2. Whisk until smooth and whisk in liqueur and tiny pinch salt. Turn off heat but keep warm. To serve, put into fondue pot over very small flame (or over votive candle) to keep warm. Put berries in separate bowl and serve.