Please think of this warning as coming not one week late, but 51 weeks early: Valentine’s Day sucks. And not just the silly concept of singling out one day a year to celebrate having beat the romance odds.

(Chow, Baby and its beloved, who are usually nauseatingly gushy, make a special point of not saying “I love you” on Valentine’s Day. Anarchy ain’t always pretty.) No, it’s the trappings that go with it. Thanks to a Musak-blaring quickie-mart, a week later Chow, Baby still has Huey Lewis and the News’ “Stuck With You” stuck in its head (yes it’s true, I’m so happy to be stuck with you … pleeeease make it stop). Worse, in going out to a nice restaurant – not because it was Valentine’s Day, mind you, but because it was dinnertime – Chow, Baby found itself stuck with the dreaded prix fixe menu.

Note: The nit-picks you are about to read concerning Bocaccio Café (2408 W. Abram St., Arlington) apply only to, and are intended merely to illustrate universal problems with, this one night (Valentine’s Day night) and this one menu (prix fixe). Because 312 days of the year (they’re closed Sundays), Bocaccio is wonderful. The cozy restaurant, in the corner of a two-block commercial complex called The Shoppes (argh) at Brownstone Village, is decorated in authentic faux bistro, with French-countryside murals, exposed rafters and brick, and lazy ceiling fans. It oozes charm. The lunch menu features very nice ladies-who-lunch salads (like the tangy Honey Lime Chicken salad, $8.95) and hearty pasta dishes (Italian sausage with bowties is simple yet perfect, $9.90), plus soups and sandwiches. The dinner menu has all the lunch goodies plus entrées of the Italian Lite variety: shrimp scampi, veal lemonciello, chicken piccata, that sort of thing (dinner entrées $10.95-14.95). With fresh ingredients, attention to detail, and the creative sparkle of chef Matt Bruno, ex of Lonesome Dove, everything Chow, Baby has eaten at Bocaccio’s has been good to great.


(Cue ominous music by anyone other than Huey Lewis.) But not on Valentine’s Day. No, instead of real menus with lots of yummy choices, Chow, Baby and sweetie were presented with little pink (of course) half-sheets telling us what we were going to get. Now, Chow, Baby understands the economics of a prix fixe menu. How can a restaurant handle the hordes who think romantic dinners are mandated on this day? One menu for all. How to please hordes with just one product? Dumb it down. (This explains chain restaurants, too.) Will the hordes balk at a triple-digit bill? There goes the lobster. So once all the too-creative, too-spicy, and too-pricey items are eliminated, what are you left with? Boredom. Topped with bland sauce.

Thus Chow, Baby chewed on thin, gawky steak that wasn’t seared as requested; the beloved battled dry chicken with not-as-exciting-as-it-sounds apricot allspice chutney. Sides were forgettable (proof: Chow, Baby has forgotten what they were). The starter salad was an inoffensive spinach/walnut/blue cheese with – here’s a big shock – raspberry vinaigrette. The highly anticipated blood orange crème brûlée was more than caramelized on top, it was torched to blackness several layers deep. Very disappointing, because Chow, Baby knows for a fact that Bocaccio’s can do better than this. Stupid Valentine’s Day (’cause I can see you’re happy to be stuck with me … kill me now, please kill me now).

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