http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2008/02/13/recipe-for-romance


Palo Alto Weekly

- February 13, 2008

Recipe for romance

'Best of' restaurants offer passion, intimacy

by Veronica Sudekum

Whether it's dinner and a movie or dinner and dancing, food invariably plays into many people's concept of a romantic evening. Locally, there are hundreds of restaurants to choose from, but three stand out as the best spots to ignite romance through food, readers said. The following are the 2007 "best of" picks in the annual survey by the Palo Alto Weekly, The Almanac and the Mountain View Voice.

St. Michael's Alley

The staff at St. Michael's Alley knows Tim Daniels and his wife, Patricia, by name. When the couple dines at the Palo Alto restaurant, they are greeted like returning friends and made to feel like there is always a place waiting for them, Daniels said.

One reason for the warm neighborhood feeling is the absence of pretension, according to Daniels.

"It's a place where you can simply be yourself and that's what makes it romantic and intimate," he said.

Tony Manning can't count the nights that he and his partner, Dr. Debs Phippard, have been the last customers to leave at closing time. They love St. Michael's Alley for being "the quintessential neighborhood restaurant of Palo Alto, offering a warm, cozy, friendly and engaging experience," Manning said.

St. Michael's is the number-one favorite restaurant for romance among Palo Alto Weekly readers. Customers say that's because of proprietors Mike Sabina and Jennifer Youll.

"Everything that St. Michael's is, is an extension of them. You see them in everything. ... You can feel their heart through everything," customer Dane Stark said.

In the next 6-10 weeks, the restaurant will move from its current location at 806 Emerson St. to 140 Homer St., where there will be more outdoor seating and space for the bar.

Village Pub

Terry Ratto of Los Altos brought the woman he admired to the Village Pub for their first date. This past Christmas Eve, the pair visited the restaurant at 2967 Woodside Road in Woodside again.

"I proposed to [my fiancée] at home and then we went to the Village Pub together. We sat at the same booth where we were seated on our first date," he said.

As a first-date place and as a place worthy of his engagement celebration, the Village Pub "worked out great," according to Ratto.

The service "is as good as I've had anywhere in the world ... It's just perfection. You can go in and have a hamburger or a full meal and they will treat you like someone special," he said.

The restaurant was named the "best of local intimate dining" by Almanac readers in 2007.

This past holiday season, Sarah Sanchez and her boyfriend wanted to commemorate their last night together in 2007. On friends' advice, they ventured to the Village Pub. Though initially skeptical when the car's GPS led them to what appeared to be a Realty office, Sanchez and her boyfriend quickly found themselves in a dining room reminiscent of old movies and a time when dining out was considered a special occasion, she said.

"Where most restaurants might have you feeling like you should be honored to dine there, the Village Pub makes you feel as if they are truly honored to have you," she added.

Though the crimson upholstery, immaculate tablecloths, delicate stemware, and understated wood paneling are always romantic, a few special touches are planned for Valentine's Day, according to manager Todd Brownstein said. The Pub will offer a prix fixe meal with optional wine pairings, Champagne selections and caviar. And every woman will receive a rose.

Cascal

In a slinky leopard-print dress and high heels, Erica Rosero took to the dance floor at Cascal's in Mountain View. Dancing to the sound of Latin jazz band Danilo y su Orquesta Universal, Rosero and her partner Charlie D. were one of the many couples who enjoy Cascal's lively blend of music and tapas.

With its informal atmosphere and split-able specialties, Cascal was voted the best place in Mountain View for a first date, among Mountain View Voice readers.

Tiffany Mockler, a personal trainer, deems Cascal a good dating place because it is a "casual place to unwind," with "nice décor" and "laid-back clientele." In addition to the ambiance, Cascal has a good wine list, "which always helps," she said, though instead of wine she recommends a Cascal specialty, the homemade sangria. She also recommends Cascal's unique tapas menu, which she says is well suited for dates because it allows dining partners to try several items on the menu.

Many couples order at least three or four tapas items, or small plates, to make a meal, proprietor Don Durante said. Adventurous and out-of-the-ordinary, the dishes provide diners with something to talk about.

For those not in the tapas mood, Cascal offers hearty traditional dishes in meal-sized portions. In addition to the ample food choices, Cascal offers a full bar and live weekend entertainment. Saturday and Sunday nights are particularly busy, with performances by musicians such as the bongo artist Danilo and the Flamenco group Kaweh. Live music is scheduled from 9:30 p.m. to midnight on Friday evenings. Saturdays, the show starts at 9 p.m. and lasts until 11:30 p.m.

There's always a vibe going on, with music or conversation. It gets noisy but people like it," Durante said.

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