To further encourage interaction, Lombardo counsels the host to leave few simple tasks unfinished. For example, ask your guest to top the crostini with bruschetta. “The message is, I would love for you to help me. Especially for a guy, admitting that he needs help is a big deal in a relationship. “
Also invite the guest to bring a contribution. A bottle of offbeat wine or an unfamiliar cheese can open new paths of discussion, sharing criticisms, and exchanging ideas. “It shows you’re both involved—it’s not about showing off, it’s about showing up, and being together here in this moment,” Lombardo explains. “You learn a lot about a person when you eat with them.”
For a drink to match the mood, certified sommelier R.J. Arnold, Director of Wine and Spirits at Spinnerstown Hotel, recommends a full-bodied red wine such as cabernet sauvignon or a red blend. “Wine is looked at as a romantic drink, more so than beer or most spirits, unless you’re looking at cognac or brandy. You see that in movies and across pop culture in general. Red is the color of love.”
Arnold points to Faust Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon as an excellent special occasion choice featured on Spinnerstown’s wine list. He also notes that this wine can be partnered with intensely dark, high cacao-content chocolate for a simple, seductive dessert. (Dark chocolate, considered “food of the gods” by the ancient Aztecs, contains high levels of theobromine and produces serotonin, helping to make your brain feel stimulated and happy.) “Milk chocolate or white chocolate are much sweeter and will make a cab sauv taste bitter,” he cautions. A sweeter red wine or fortified dessert wine— sherry, port, or Madeira—serves as a better foil for these flavors. According to Christopher Heath, when it comes to romantic cultures it’s hard to top Italy.
Of course, as Executive Chef of Melt—an Italian restaurant—and Corporate Chef of Paxos Restaurants, he’s a natural advocate for that cuisine. “The simplicity of the food brings lovers together,” he says. “Finger foods, like slices of prosciutto with Parmesan and fresh figs, are very sensual. And plates of antipasto are fun to share and feed to each other.”
Heath also believes the aromas wafting from an Italian kitchen—including that of garlic—have a powerful impact on the senses, with fragrant dishes begging to be touched and tasted. “There’s nothing wrong with garlic breath,” he notes. One of his personal favorite dishes to share is pungent Pasta Puttaensca (which translates gently to “lady of the evening”). Unlike a simple marinara showcasing the sweetness of tomatoes, this intense sauce is spiked with anchovies, olives, capers, and garlic. But skip this on a first date: Heath recommends waiting until “the relationship is more established.”
An annual event at Melt is a Valentine’s Aphrodisiac Features menu—different each year—which usually extends a day or two beyond the February 14 holiday. The selection of appetizers, entrées, and desserts are comprised from an array of ingredients often thought to have aphrodisiac qualities. Brief histories of these supposed proficiency stimulants are listed, making the menu culinary edutainment that is stimulating to conversation, at the very least. Truffles and scallops may not be too surprising, but less expected items like tomatoes—once known as the “love apples”—beets, arugula, mustard, and even bacon make the list.
It’s also worth noting that the steak dinner offered on the special menu is “Filet of Beef for Two,” which is not crazily overwhelming in size. (While your dining partner may be capable of pounding down an 18-ounce porterhouse steak, that tends to set the mood for nothing more than a nap.)
Many iconic foods in the so-called aphrodisiac category are, in fact, quite nutritious. And radiant health contributes a certain friskiness to one’s behavior, no?