5 Non-Cliche Valentine’s Day Food Adventures for Two

Thai Garden’s River Monster // Photo by Becca Dilley

It happens every February.

Like snowflakes accumulating to create a drift, food writers’ inboxes start to accumulate Valentine’s Day menu after Valentine’s Day menu, each seemingly more choked with lobster-stuffed this and dark chocolate-flavored that than the last.

Valentine’s Day does not have to be a day for being led down a prix fixe garden path. It can, and should, instead be an adventure for two.

With that in mind, here are five ways to work a little culinary magic this year.

Photo by Tj Turner

1. Eat Four Dozen Oysters

In our modern times, ordering six or twelve oysters is considered The Right Amount, despite the fact that oysters are very small and are also one of the world’s most subtle, varied, and delicious kinds of food. Brillat-Savarin in “The Physiology of Taste” tells of a friend taking down 32 dozen oysters before an otherwise respectable meal and while we think that’s a bit ambitious, it’s certainly the right idea.

Try this on for size: Get cozy, order the first in a series of celebratory beverages and try ordering a proper amount of oysters for two people, which in our opinion is four dozen, one or two dozen at a time.

We recommend trying this challenge out at Meritage, St. Genevieve, or even at home via the magic of a quality seafood shop if you’re comfortable shucking your own.

Al Pastor Taco // Photo by Tony Saunders

2. Start a Quest for the Best Al Pastor Taco in Minnesota

Through the process of researching our nearly 100-shop Minnesota Taco Atlas, we’ve grown to know and love just about every type of taco under the sun, from chorizo to cabeza to lengua to barbacoa and far beyond. But it was a red, pebbly, deeply flavored, al pastor street taco in Somerville, Massachusetts, that started my personal taco quest in 2000, and now, 20 years later, I’m still in love with it.

The search is as much fun as the food. Eating tacos has brought me into just about every neighborhood, suburb, and small neighboring town in the greater metro and beyond, and the number of delicious successes outweighs the flops by about 5-to-1.

It’s an ideal quest for two eaters who like to travel.

Here are a few shops to get you started:

Taqueria La Hacienda, Minneapolis

Taqueria Los Paisanos, St. Paul

La Poblanita, Minneapolis

Bravis Modern Street Food, Shakopee

But, of course, you really ought to dive into the map if you’re going to take this quest seriously. Have fun and !buen provecho!

3. Order All of Them at Milkjam

Minneapolis ice cream shop Milkjam has an admirable Valentine’s Day plan this year, which is to serve customers a variety of custom treats including rosé sorbet with edible flowers, white chocolate with raspberry rose jam, and triple chocolate ice cream flavored ice creams. All well and good!

But the insane, delicious, never-gonna-forget-this beauty of the “All of Them” platter at Milkjam, a collection of every scoop this gourmet shop has on offer, is a dessert for the ages. Do you bring some friends, maybe? Yeah, maybe. Or maybe not.

4. Eat a River Monster

Thai Garden in St. Paul is the kind of off-the-radar University Avenue restaurant we love—real soul, deep flavors, and dishes we haven’t seen done to death at every other spot in the city.

Case in point, the River Monster, a whole red snapper that arrives at the table swimming in tom kha gai soup. This is a dish you sort of need a special occasion to order, and what’s more special than celebrating (or establishing) a lifelong soul-bond with someone you generally tolerate and sometimes really enjoy?

Sushi // Photo by Tj Turner

5. Make Sushi from Scratch

Here’s an adventure for this Valentine’s Day—make scratch sushi with your loved one, at home.

“But James,” you might think, “I’ve never made sushi before. Won’t this end in disaster?”

Oh, it will. It’ll be a freakin’ mess. There’ll be torn nori, shredded fish, and clumps of rice everywhere, and you’ll both be swearing up a storm in the kitchen. Here’s the thing: if you’re a drinker, drink your way through it. Consult YouTube desperately on the fly as things go south. Fail spectacularly and wind up eating globs of warm rice and fresh sliced fish off of your fingers, or off one another’s fingers.

The beautiful thing about making real scratch sushi with good fish in the privacy of your own home is that you discover the art behind the dish, and the challenge of it, and the pure simple deliciousness of its components, no matter how Instagram-ready—or not—the final results happen to be.

Maybe, like me, you’ll set off on a frustrating and humiliating years-long odyssey to try to do it better studded mostly with abject failures and only lightly studded by tantalizing near-successes. Or maybe it’ll be a hilarious one-off.

But it’ll be a holiday to remember.