What qualifies as a “romantic” dining experience? If there’s a lid for every pot, there’s a restaurant for every couple, all of whom have their own takes on what makes for a memorable night out for two.
For some couples, romance might mean candlelight, a calm setting, and rustic food that reflects the passion and partnership of the owners themselves. For others, travel can suggest romance, and eating in a space filled with international decor and global cuisine can transport diners without requiring a plane fare. Or romance could mean a catered meal in a 60-foot-high nautical setting with sweeping views.
Whether at the Farmhouse in Needham, Passport in Weymouth, or the Newburyport Rear Range Lighthouse, lovebirds can find a dining experience to suit their particular sense of romance.
A comfortable escape
The Farmhouse has many of the traditional trappings of romance. The dimly lit space in Needham is adorned with white tablecloths, candles in mason jars, reclaimed wood from actual barns, and chandeliers from the Maine farmhouse belonging to the family of Dora Tavel-Sanchez Luz, who opened the restaurant with husband, Gabriel Sanchez Luz, in 2013.
The couple met working in an Italian restaurant in New York City, and got married and moved to the Boston area in 2003. They now live in Framingham with their two children, where they grow some of the produce used at the Farmhouse.
“Our dream was to open a farm-to-table restaurant,” Tavel-Sanchez Luz said. “It’s very personal to us.” It is, in other words, a true labor of love.
At the Farmhouse, they try to create the kind of atmosphere they themselves seek when they go out for an evening – one that feels unpretentious. “Comfortable can be romantic,” Sanchez-Luz said.
On a recent evening, Elizabeth Wuerz and her husband, Tom, felt comfortable enough to buck the traditional across-the-table seating arrangement and instead slid in next to each other in a booth at the back of the restaurant. They had just come from couples’ yoga, and were celebrating the nine-year anniversary of their first date.
To this couple, romance is “time to have a connection in a peaceful space where it’s quiet and you can be calm and reflect,” Wuerz said. Married for six years and the parents of 2-year-old twins, these opportunities can be few and far in between.
They ordered the restaurant’s Bolognese, the delicate pasta tossed with a sumptuous blend of ground beef and lamb, as well as beef short ribs and pappardelle pasta, and each started their meal with a “Pinky Lifter” cocktail in a champagne flute. “Cheers!” they toasted from their quiet corner nook.
Plan a quick ‘getaway’
For some couples, a vacation translates to instant romance, but schedules, budgets and responsibilities at home mean spontaneous travel isn’t always the cards. So perhaps the next best thing is a dining experience that can transport couples abroad — for an evening, anyway — stoking an exploratory spirit or evoking memories of trips past.
At Passport in Weymouth, the host’s stand mimics stacked suitcases, clocks on the wall track time in cities worldwide, and a menu spans the world. “The concept is global shared plates,” said owner Neil Kiley, who opened the restaurant in 2013. Many of the dishes are served tapas style, “so they’re meant to be shared with whoever you’re with. It allows for an interactive experience.”
Favorites include Mexican-style street corn with cotija cheese and roasted garlic-lemon aioli, the Asian-influenced Peruvian beef stir-fry lomo saltado, and duck breast seared in a red-wine demi-glace and a confit leg with truffle balsamic. “We try to hit items from all over the globe,” Kiley said. “The only place we don’t have is Africa — and we’re researching [dishes] from there.”
Passport doesn’t usually take reservations but will for Valentine’s Day — and for the day after, for those couples who wish to avoid that night’s restaurant rush. Kiley will supplement the regular menu with specials such as surf-and-turf and flatbreads, and remove the larger tables, leaving mostly two-tops for couples. There’s a table in back of the restaurant, shaped like a half-moon and flanked by two Indian lamps, that’s particularly suited to an intimate, romantic meal, he said.
Of course, the typical “table for two” doesn’t spell romance for everybody. “Some people think you have to sit at a table across from each other on Valentine’s Day, but you can still enjoy each other’s company while sitting next to each other at the bar,” Kiley said.
A room with a view
For a truly unique and undeniably romantic dining experience, ascend to the top of the Newburyport Rear Range Lighthouse, which was built in 1873 and has been hosting breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for close to 20 years.
Visitors climb 55 steps up the lighthouse to a glassed-in room only 8 feet in diameter. “It was really designed to be a private, romantic rendezvous for two people,” said James Hyland, president and founder of the nonprofit Lighthouse Preservation Society. “It’s like a walk-in closet with a million-dollar view. There have been thousands of people up there over the years.”
Diners must make a $350 donation to the society, part of which is tax-deductible. Food costs are extra, but are charged at regular restaurant prices. The lighthouse group works with a half-dozen area establishment to cater the meals, which can range from seafood to Thai cuisine to regional American fare, among other options.
“It’s like a regular restaurant experience; you just need to pick the restaurant ahead of time,” Hyland said. “When diners arrive, they are seated at the top and given the menu of their chosen restaurant, and a waiter will serve them.”
The private experiences range from four-and-a-half hours for breakfast and lunch to five-and-a-half hours for dinner. What to do with the extra time once you’ve finished eating? Diners can take folding chairs out onto the catwalk to better enjoy the horizon-to-horizon views that overlook the Merrimack River Valley and stretch beyond Plum Island on clear days.