Make Reservations for Romance

Julie Besonen

To spark romance, spending a ton of money is not crucial. After all, it's the thought that counts. We put a few romantic thoughts together for this slideshow, which runs down stunning restaurants where you and your significant other can squeeze together amid a cheery crowd, huddle in a quiet wine bar, have a seductive Chinese meal or settle in for a cozy Italian dinner. At all of the places we suggest, you should be able to get out for under $100 (without bearing the least resemblance to a cheapskate). Read on for more.

China Blue. Photo: Yiming Wang

China Blue
135 Watts St., 212-431-0111, TriBeCa, Manhattan
The eel is an energetic fish, said to benefit the libido. At the out-of-the-way, elegant China Blue in TriBeCa, crispy eel is an enticing appetizer to share. A tangle of them are heaped on a plate, caramelized to a mahogany hue and dotted with sesame seeds. The first bite is savory, and then a touch of sweetness is revealed. It's an exciting and exotic dish. So is the warming and festive "silkie" chicken soup, the black-pigmented poultry reputed to be good for blood circulation. Other romantic offerings include the lovely Shanghai classic "eight delicacies," which incorporates, among other ingredients, shrimp, pork, chicken and smoked tofu. Throw back a shot of vodka infused with maca root, an ancient aphrodisiac, and you're set for the night. The welcoming, stylish co-owners, Yiming Wang and Xian Zhang, are also behind the revered Café China, in Midtown.

Courtesy, The Dead Rabbit

The Dead Rabbit
30 Water St., 646-422-7906, Financial District, Manhattan
The Dead Rabbit is pure fun, a convivial saloon that happens to have been named the "World's Best Bar 2015" as well possessor of the "World's Best Cocktail Menu 2015" by Tales of the Cocktail, the spirits industry's premiere conference held every year in New Orleans. Those kinds of accolades mean it's oftentimes three-deep at the bar, so if you want a more private date, aim for off hours. To combat wintry weather, get a strong and creamy Irish coffee, the brew perfected by Irish partners Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry. The downstairs taproom's walls and beamed ceiling are deluged with Civil War battlefield images, vintage photos and nods to Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York (the Dead Rabbits were an Irish gang in the 1850s). The upstairs parlor looks like an old-timey bordello and focuses on whiskey-driven mixed drinks; there are also communal, historically accurate punches. To eat are oysters, Scotch eggs, mini crabcakes, crunchy fish and chips and lamb shepherd's pie, all strong choices and better than what's found at most pubs. The Financial District location is close to the Staten Island Ferry, so a romantic evening can also include a free, fairytale cruise past the Statue of Liberty.

Jadis. Photo: Marine Futin

42 Rivington St., 212-254-1675, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Both tentative and secure Valentine's dates will find pleasure at this dark, candlelit wine bar off the beaten path on the Lower East Side. Jadis is French for "long ago," and if you haven't been here already (it opened in 2006), you'll no doubt find it a fitting place to create a new memory. The intimate wood bar is made for couples getting to know each other or for those who'd like to become reacquainted. In the back room of the brick-walled space are comfy couches. Well-curated French varietals dominate the list of wines by the glass, but there are also ripe vintages from Portugal, Italy, South Africa, Croatia and California. There's food too, simple things that are nice to pick at: tarte flambée with bacon, onions and crème fraîche; country pâté; duck rillettes; and cheese plates delineated on the menu by firm (manchego, gruyère, pecorino) and soft (brie, camembert) choices. If your date hits a snag, turn to the shelves to help ignite your conversation: they hold stacks of interesting books.

Lil' Frankie's. Photo: Frank Prisinzano

Lil' Frankie's
19 First Ave., 212-420-4900, East Village, Manhattan
Low lighting and a labyrinth of three cozy dining rooms make Lil' Frankie's romantic any night of the week. It's traditionally a tough reservation to book, so plan ahead. There are two small bars where patrons can pass the time if there's a wait. It's understandable that no one wants to leave this charming cocoon. The menu is written on chalkboards displayed on exposed brick walls. Starry-eyed couples lean across little tables, sharing wood-fired pizza, spaghetti limone and bottles of Italian red, most of them priced under $40. The staff is so friendly at this East Village spot, guests are commonly addressed as "sweetie." Downtown sister restaurants include the ever-popular Frank, Supper and Sauce, all owned by restaurateur Frank Prisinzano.

Piccolo Angolo. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Piccolo Angolo
621 Hudson St., 212-229-9177, West Village, Manhattan
After a visit to the new Whitney Museum of American Art, take a stroll down Hudson Street to Piccolo Angolo, a small, old-school Italian restaurant open since 1992. Thanks to the Migliorini family, who run the place, the greeting here is happy and warm. Even for first-time guests who aren't Italian, it feels like going home again. It's a simple West Village trattoria, nothing fancy, with brick-lined walls and white tablecloths. The food is memorable, especially gargantuan meatballs and pastas like rich fettuccine Alfredo, gnocchi with meaty Bolognese sauce, lobster cannelloni and linguine with white or red clam sauce. Portions are family style and hard to finish, no matter how delicious. The Italian wine list offers several bottles for under $40. Reservations are strongly recommended.