Valentine’s Day is Wednesday, and that means your odds of scoring a reservation at a popular restaurant are roughly equal to the odds of you opening your own restaurant in time for dinner.
Thinking about showing up somewhere with no reservations? You’re most likely not Anthony Bourdain, and few things scream "I did not give this any advance thought" as loudly as having to walk up to a hostess on Valentine’s Day night and ask how long the wait is. When they’re done stifling their laughter, they’ll tell you: It’s long. Very long.
So take a breath, and let go of all that. You can still have a memorable, romantic Valentine’s Day meal.
Here are some options, whether you need an idea for Wednesday night, or you’re kicking the can down the road to the weekend, when it’s also sure to be busy.
Have a takeout date night at home
You don’t have to lay a blanket on the living room carpet and eat in your comfy clothes, but you can. You can also get dressed up for date night, put a candle on the kitchen table and get out the good plates.
The most important thing here is ordering takeout that feels special, something you wouldn’t normally cook at home.
Sushi travels well, and looks nice if you re-plate it. You can usually get takeout from whatever your favorite spot is, but for starters: Both Hooks locations in St. Petersburg; the Lure in South Tampa, as well as the original location in downtown St. Pete; and Osaka Sushi & Thai in Seminole and Osaka Sushi & Grill in Carrollwood all offer takeout sushi at reasonable prices.
Ramen at home usually means that dried block from a cellophane package. Not tonight. Buya Ramen in St. Petersburg is one of the few places that will do it as takeout. Or you can go with that classic staple of takeout, Chinese food, but step it up by ordering from the acclaimed Yummy House, which now has three locations in Tampa.
If your idea of romance is red meat, the Ruth’s Chris steakhouses on both sides of Tampa Bay will do to-go meals, and if you’re willing to splurge, there are five restaurants in the "expensive" category on this year’s Top 50 Restaurants of Tampa Bay list that offer takeout: Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber and Cafe Ponte, both in Clearwater, and Donatello Italian Restaurant, Oystercatchers and Pane Rustica, all in Tampa.
The options are really wide open here, but bonus points if you can remember and order a specific favorite dish from a restaurant your valentine loves. Really strapped for time? UberEats, GrubHub, Amazon and others now deliver in Tampa Bay.
Get a room, and some room service
Let’s start with a quick disclaimer: Do not book a surprise hotel room for a Valentine’s Day date if your relationship isn’t there yet. Not sure if your relationship is there yet? Skip this one.
That said, if you’ve failed to plan anything at this point, there’s a solid chance your house or apartment isn’t exactly date-ready. Rather than run yourself ragged trying to kick your dirty socks under the couch and figure out dinner, take this whole evening off-site and channel a little staycation vibe by checking in to a local hotel.
An unusual Airbnb rental bolstered by one of the takeout food options above could be fun, and Tampa Bay listings include everything from a train car in Clearwater to a boat docked along the Tarpon Springs waterfront. Stay anywhere near Pinellas County’s beaches or the Tampa Riverwalk and you’ve got a scenic after-dinner stroll built in.
If you can swing it, the Epicurean Hotel was built as a gastronomic destination. The in-room dining menu from Élevage is something serious, including a "meals for two" section featuring dry-aged porterhouse steaks or a roasted whole snapper, and the Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits store in the lobby has hundreds of wines to pick from and take upstairs.
The Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay has water views and two great restaurants offering room service, Armani’s and Oystercatchers.
You don’t have to spend hundreds on a room, though, and you don’t even have to eat food from the hotel’s restaurant. Just getting away from home, and the stresses that come with it, can be a treat. Bring your takeout or get delivery wherever you end up.
The mobile app Hotel Tonight (iOS and Android) offers solid last-minute discounts for those booking something the same week, and even better deals if you’re booking the same night.
Have a picnic outdoors
This is Florida, so take advantage, pack a basket and eat a meal outdoors in the middle of winter. You’ve got miles of prime waterfront park for picnicking along St. Petersburg’s downtown waterfront alone, and spots like Ballast Point and WaterWorks Park across the bay in Tampa, or Clearwater’s Coachman Park, to name just a few.
Mazzaro’s Italian Market in St. Petersburg is a picnic prepper’s paradise. You’re not going to do better than Mazzaro’s massive deli case and its assortment of salads, skewers, stuffed pastas, cooked meats, sandwiches and various antipasto, plus an equally impressive bakery counter with all manner of Italian cookies. There’s a cheese room.
Other good spots for assembling a picnic include Locale Market (they’ve got cheeses, fancy crackers, honeycombs, etc.) and Wright’s Gourmet House (get big slices of chocolate or carrot cake). But you don’t have to go to a small, gourmet market. Whole Foods, Fresh Market or any other supermarket will work. Remember: A box of Publix fried chicken tastes about 80 percent better when you eat it outside. That’s a scientific fact.
Try your luck without reservations
If you’re dead set on dining out at a restaurant, here are a few places the Times has reviewed that are first-come, first-served and aren’t too casual. Get there early and hope for the best.
Hawker’s Asian Street Fare, St. Petersburg
The Roost, St. Pete Beach
Thinh An Kitchen & Tofu, Tampa
NuMex, St. Petersburg
Marlow’s Tavern, Carrollwood
1200 Chophouse, St. Pete Beach
The Blind Goat Food and Drink Co., Tampa
Craft Street Kitchen, Oldsmar
Annata Wine Bar, St. Petersburg
Pizzeria Gregario, Safety Harbor
These restaurants offer call-ahead, but not formal reservations: Brick & Mortar in St. Petersburg and Black Rock Bar & Grill in Carrollwood and Brandon.
Cook this extremely simple pasta
Because any recipe that’s longer than a paragraph is going to stress you out right now, and you’re probably also trying to figure out where to buy chocolates, do this:
In a skillet, saute some garlic and two bunches of broccoli rabe (remove most of the stem) in olive oil. Boil a box of pasta in salted water until it’s nice and al dente, then mix those noodles up in the skillet with the broccoli rabe. Grate a whole lot of Pecorino Romano cheese on top, add a bit of crushed red pepper, mix again and serve.