A dash of romance

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By Odile Nelson

“Spice a dish with love and it pleases every palate,” Roman dramatist Plautus once wrote.

“There is little doubt that love can season the blandest of meals. But can food add spice to love? Many think so, judging by the number of people who celebrate Valentine’s Day with a romantic dinner.

Helder Cabral, chef at Kalendar Koffee House, 546 College St., thinks many foods are romantic. “Mussels, with their shape and just the way they feel,” he says. “Strawberries, cherries. Any sort of finger food a person can eat off you is sexy.”

Cabral says students can make inexpensive dinners romantic by adding details that show the effort that went into making the meal. “Presentation’s the killer. And the thought behind it.”

He suggests risotto — a seasoned rice dish — because it contains simple ingredients but takes time to prepare.

Although Cabral himself has never won someone’s heart with food, he jokes that food may be how he kept hold of the one he loves.

Carlos Fuenmayor, chef at upscale Latin-American restaurant Xango, 106 John St., says culinary prowess doesn’t guarantee romance.

Fine cooking, he says, is only a way to keep someone’s heart.

“First you need respect, love. Without that, [it] doesn’t matter how much you cook.”

Xango offers rich entrées and desserts for Valentine’s Day that taste and sound indulgent — Venezuelan chocolate bread pudding, lamb rack served in a pomegranate sauce and lobster with scallops.

Mike McColl, sous chef at Rodney’s Oyster House, 209 Adelaide St. E., says eating oysters adds romance to a meal and makes it sexy.

He compares them to the thrill of something unknown, much like losing your virginity. “It’s about overcoming your fear of eating [oysters], like in a teen se way.”

Paul Beggs, owner of Byzantium, 499 Church St., says sharing any meal can bring romance to the table.

Students who can’t afford $30 per person entrees at Byzantium can still be romantic, he says. “A little candlelight, a cheap bottle of wine, even Kraft Dinner,” he says. “It’s just the fact that you’ve taken the time.”

For the ideal Valentine’s dinner, Beggs suggests champagne and oysters as an aphrodisiac, an after dinner bath bomb for two and, of course, chocolate, the classic Valentine’s Day ingredient.

“It just tastes so good,” says Beggs, “and you know if your date doesn’t work out, you still have chocolate.”

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