On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss Valentine’s Day. The holiday may be met with mixed emotions depending on one’s relationship status, but it doesn’t have to be. Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to dine out and support the industry, especially after recent years.
Tune in to learn more.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the “VinePair Podcast.” Guys, we got a lot of really great reactions to last Monday’s pod. Lots of good emails, people were really jiving with my tirade. I actually had to go back and listen. Did I really get insane? And I did.
J: Something came over you. Something happened.
A: But yeah, we had a lot of positive reactions. I don’t think Keith listened, though. Well, anyways, how are you both?
Z: I’m doing well, thanks. Getting ready for the least exciting holiday of the year.
J: The Super Bowl.
A: Oh, the Super Bowl?
Z: Oh, that one, too. That’s true. Yeah, let’s do predictions.
A: Oh, the predictions. I mean, can we do who we want to win or who’s going to win?
J: Who’s playing?
A: See, if we ask about hockey, Joanna would know. It’s the Rams and the Bengals.
A: So the Bengals are from Cincinnati. And the Rams are now from L.A. but they used to be from St. Louis. But weren’t they somewhere else before they were in St. Louis?
Z: L.A. before St. Louis.
A: That’s right. Who cares? L.A. will never have anything on New York. I do like L.A. actually. If I did choose a West Coast city, I would choose L.A.
J: Ouch, Adam. Ouch.
Z: That’s fine. Do you think there’s enough room in Seattle for Adam and me?
A: To be fair, I don’t consider Seattle a West Coast city. Seattle is a Pacific Northwest city.
Z: I mean, we are on the West Coast.
A: It’s a different vibe. The West Coast is basically California. You’ll have to choose between two, L.A. over San Francisco. If I had to choose a Pacific Northwest city, I think I would choose Seattle over Portland.
Z: That’s the right call. Seattle or Vancouver.
A: I think I would choose Seattle over Vancouver, too. Seattle is a great city, I just like to f*ck with Zach.
Z: We’re getting way off track here. As much as it pains me, I think the Los Angeles Rams are going to win the Super Bowl.
A: Yeah. And you guys may be listening to this after it happened. I really want the Bengals to win. How guys feel about this; the dude who owns the Rams, Stan Kroenke, owns Screaming Eagle and other things. What’s the Burgundy producer he owns?
Z: Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t remember.
A: But yeah, a really ridiculous Burgundy producer. And I kind of want him to lose for that. I kind of the want the dude who owns Screaming Eagle to lose. I just really do. I feel like the Bengals are just the salt of the earth, America team. The family’s owned the team since the very beginning. They didn’t come in with billions of dollars to buy the team. Joe Burrow had a quote earlier in the season. He’s the quarterback of the Bengals, for those who aren’t aware. They’re asking why he thought they were playing well, and they hadn’t had any Covid outbreaks. He’s like, “Have you guys ever been to Cincinnati? Cincinnati’s a boring city, we all go to practice, go home, and hang out.” I love how honest it was. He’s like, it’s boring here. There are no clubs here. We just go home. We come to work and we go home. L.A. has a lot of distractions. So I would like the Bengals to win, but I do think it’s probably going to be the Rams. What about you, Joanna?
J: I’m going to root for the Bengals, sure.
Z: I will also be rooting for the Bengals. I just think the Rams will win, but I would love to be wrong.
A: Wouldn’t we all?
J: What have you guys been drinking lately?
Z: What have I been drinking lately? Good question. I had a couple of things recently that I really enjoyed, inspired by our friend Tim McKirdy in his recent episode of “Cocktail College.” I made myself a Sidecar.
J: Me too!
A: I saw that on Instagram.
J: Sorry, I listen to “Cocktail College.”
A: I gave up on it.
J: Oh, Adam.
A: Just kidding.
Z: It was a very standard formulation with the Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac. And then some Grand Marnier and fresh lemon. I, unfortunately, do not have Demerara sugar, so I had to make do with your standard simple syrup. Don’t hate me, Tim. And that was really tasty. Of course, I’ve been getting back into drinking some wine. I had a beautiful Chardonnay from Big Table Farm here in the Pacific Northwest. How about you, Joanna?
J: I too made myself a Sidecar the other night after listening to Tim’s recent episode with Joaquín Simó on the Sidecar. Then, I was editing a piece by Brad Thomas Parsons about the Negroni, and I actually had to have one.
A: Did you do equal parts?
J: I did equal parts.
A: It’s funny. I saw someone who had a tirade on their Instagram or TikTok, “Equal parts cocktails suck and equal-parts Negronis suck.” Do we always have to have a thing?
J: Yeah, we do. They’re magical, though. Come on.
A: I love equal-parts Negronis. I was like, “why do we have to hate on this?”
J: But I think equal-parts cocktails are also magical. They’re so easy to make.
A: They’re so good. Just come on, guys.
J: Less hate, people. What about you, Adam?
A: I had a beer that I hadn’t had in a really long time on Tuesday night. I had a Rochefort 8, which is an amazing Belgian beer. I happened to be in Williamsburg and I had a meeting. A colleague and I were like, “Oh, we should go for a drink.” We tried to go to this one bar and it was so crowded that we couldn’t get in. And we were like, “Oh, there’s that really famous Belgian bar over here.” Of course, it is now dead, because it was famous 20 years ago.
J: The last time you were in Williamsburg,
A: Yeah, Williamsburg is soulless. We went over and got some beers and I had a Rochefort 8. And it was really, really delicious. With the hype of American craft beer and hazy IPAs and stuff like that, a lot of people have forgotten what really brought beer to the forefront in America — especially in the early 2000s before I was really drinking beer. And then when I got to college and was drinking beer in the late-ish early 2000s, it was Belgian beer. I think that there are so many good Belgian beers on the market. It was nice to have one glass of Belgian beer and then go home. So that’s what I drank this week, the most memorable thing.
J: Do you think Belgian beers will make a comeback?
A: I think it all does, right? It’s all kind of cyclical. People will get into it again. I think that the reason Belgian beer went away for a while is because there is a lot of pomp and circumstance behind Belgian beer. Each beer has its own specific class where, at this bar, we were given the Rochefort glass. The Rochefort beer was poured into the Rochefort glass. That’s with all Belgian beers; that’s been their shtick for decades. And I think some people are like, “Why is there so much pomp and circumstance here?” There’s too much to deal with, I don’t need 20 different glasses. I can just drink my hazy IPA in a pint like everybody else. Or in a tulip, if I’m being really serious about it.
Z: It does sort of seem like craft and fancy imports have always had a weird, tense relationship. Where craft beer here has mostly leaned into the thing you’re describing, Adam, which is like, “We’re not pretentious, serve it to me in a pint glass, in a Mason jar, or whatever.” Belgian beer obviously has a lot of the similar selling points, i.e., high-quality, very meticulously made craft products. Maybe just because it’s European, it kind of comes with some of the same connotations that wine culture comes with. Specialized glassware, and you’re supposed to do a lot to appreciate it. It’s just got more pomp and circumstance. And that has not always sat well with the kind of craft beer ethos.
A: I completely agree. So yes, that’s what I drank. But Joanna, you had today’s topic?
J: Yes, today I thought we could talk about Valentine’s Day. The holiday that is happening as you’re listening to this.
A: Happy Valentine’s Day, VinePair listeners.
Z: Yeah, thanks for being our Valentines.
J: I thought we could talk about this, because I think everyone likes to sh*t on Valentine’s Day.
A: Yes, they do.
J: I thought this could be an interesting angle, because why don’t we just make a case for Valentine’s Day? It’s not so bad, is it? February is a terrible, terrible month. There’s really not much going on this month. It’s pretty dreary in most parts of the country. Why don’t we take a day to celebrate, maybe a partner, maybe not? I understand why people have issues with Valentine’s Day and that it’s a Hallmark holiday and all that. But I think that it doesn’t have to be so bad, and we can use it to celebrate friends and partnership and all sorts of good things. And maybe go out to dinner and support our local restaurants in a way that maybe we haven’t in a while. So that’s my hot take. Let’s celebrate Valentine’s Day, and that it doesn’t have to be so loathed.
A: I think it’s important to look at this in a pre- and a post-Covid lens. Although some people are going to come out and be like, “We’re not post-Covid, Adam.” Look, we’re getting there, guys, we’re getting there. Pre-Covid, before we had a huge reality check as a species, I understand the beef. Oh, I’m going out to the restaurant and my service is being rushed and there’s so much pressure. It’s expensive and it’s only a prix fixe menu and blah blah blah. And you only saw it from your perspective. But from the restaurant’s perspective, since New Year’s Eve, business has been f*cked. We’ve basically had a month and a half of limited covers and very few turns. We’ve not had people coming in and spending the kind of money they were spending. If people are buying bottles, they’re going for the lower end of the list. They’re having an appetizer and a glass of wine and leaving. A lot of people are doing Dry January. This is the rebound. This is the time we make the money back, and then we move into people getting really excited about spring. I think that it was really hard to see that perspective pre-Covid. I’m hoping that post-Covid, we can see that perspective. That is, the restaurants really do need this. I’m about to call another publication out, but The New York Times published an article this week that was encouraging people to cook at home for Valentine’s Day. And I thought, this year, that is the most tone deaf article they could have posted. Because this year of all years — when half of the restaurants, especially in the East Coast, got decimated right in the middle of the holidays by Omicron — do not tell people, as New York’s paper, to go cook at home. You should be encouraging people, who feel comfortable, to go out to eat. Because the restaurants still aren’t getting the support they need. And people are still being really hard on these professionals. We need to go out and support them. If the way that they can do three covers a night instead of two is prix fixe, deal with the f*cking prix fixe. Go support the restaurants and go have a good time and make it not just your love for your significant other, but your love for restaurants and going out.
J: But there are also plenty of places that don’t do the price fixe. You could just go to those places or go out for a drink or something like that.
A: Zach, did you work at places that did prix fixe on Valentine’s Day?
Z: Yeah, I have worked at places that did a prix fixe menu.
A: Why did they do it? Give us a rational example so that the people can understand.
Z: I will say a couple of things. One is that any night where you’re going to be really busy, like a Valentine’s Day or potentially like a New Year’s Eve, it greatly benefits the kitchen — and to some extent service — to streamline the menu. The benefit of doing any kind of fixed-course menu is that it’s much easier for any kitchen to put out a lot of a few dishes, than a lot of a lot of dishes. Even if you’re making the same amount of food. The fewer things you have to prep, the fewer things you have to be ready to assemble on the fly, it’s just much easier, and it allows you to do a higher volume to keep things moving. As you mentioned, Adam, a big part of it for restaurants on these kinds of nights is not just the per check average, but it’s how many people they can get through the door. If you can keep turn time short or relatively short, i.e., the amount of time between when one table sits down and then the next table is able to sit down at that same spot, you’re going to get more people through. That’s going to be better for revenue. And of course, the other piece of it, too, is like it allows you to streamline costs a little bit. Prix fixe menus are not always more cost effective for a restaurant, but in a lot of cases they can be. Whether it’s because you can buy more quantity of the items that are going to be selling, which often can get you a slightly better price from the wholesaler, or again, just because you’re better able to utilize people’s time and your cook’s time in prepping things. There is undeniably some element of truth to the notion that all restaurants are going to gouge you on these holidays. Gouge is maybe a little extreme. Did I work at a place that raised menu prices on Valentine’s Day? Yes, I did. One of the places I worked, I should say. Was there definitely an idea that if you put some very premium-seeming ingredients in a dish, you could charge more for it than the similar dish without your additions of truffle caviar or whatever? But again, to Joanna’s point, there are lots of restaurants that are open in any place that are not doing that. They’re going to offer the exact same menu they always offer. They’re going to have the same pricing, etc. Of all the days that I would think about staying home and cooking dinner, Valentine’s Day, if someone who likes to go out and you’re going to do something with your partner or whatever, do you really want to be doing dishes afterwards? It’s the least romantic thing. If you’re boring like me and have a wife and two kids, doing the dishes is about as romantic as it gets.
A: Oh no, Zach. Is this cry for help?
J: No, that’s something they like to do together.
A: Do you guys do the dishes together?
Z: Oh no, I do the dishes. We’re not going to get into this.
A: It’s a romantic gesture that he makes. They also kind of dance and they play the song in the background as they load the dishwasher.
Z: Maybe when the kids are out of the house. But for now, no, it’s mostly just about efficiency.
J: In the past, have you both gone out for Valentine’s Day? Do you celebrate?
Z: Not so much, but more because I’m usually working. Pre-pandemic, I was always in the restaurant those nights, so no.
A: What about you, Joanna?
J: I have gone out in the past and I’ve also stayed home. It really just depends on the year. This year, I’ll be going out.
A: Yes, we can’t have this podcast and then Joanna Instagrams a nice meal at home.
J: It’s just a small thing. You don’t have to get gifts, maybe flowers or candies or things like that. But I feel like going out to dinner is a nice thing to do.
A: I had my first real Valentine’s dinner in New York a year after I moved here. I felt like I had enough money. I was like, “I’m going to treat my now wife, we’re going to go out to dinner.” There was this restaurant that we had noticed that was a cave on the inside. It was this restaurant In Vino, which Keith used to own. That’s before I knew Keith, and that was my first Valentine’s Day experience. Zack Mack was such a great waiter.
J: And another beautiful relationship was born that night.
A: Yeah, exactly. So you never know who you’re going to meet. Although I didn’t meet Keith that night, I just met Zach Mack and I had fish. Which is weird because I don’t think you ever really had fish on the menu. Speaking of the specials someone puts on for Valentine’s Day, I think I had a whole roasted fish. There was some other really special stuff. We had the table all the way back in the corner. Keith knows what I’m talking about. It’s right by the window. It became a very important restaurant for us for various reasons afterwards. If you have a Valentine’s Day experience that is really special, and they take care of you and the staff is good, that’s a restaurant you go back to multiple times. A lot of restaurants know that. They know that there’s going to be a portion of their audience that’s never going to come back again or they’ll see next year. And then there’s going to be a proportion that that’s their first time in, but they did some research and they’re checking it out. And now they’re like, “Huh, this is now going to become our date spot or a spot we come to to remember this special Valentine’s Day.” Also, it’s not fair to go in believing that the staff is just trying to make as much money and rush you. The majority of people that I know that work in the service industry, they’re trying to give you the best f*cking experience you can have. It’s because they want you to obviously have a great time now, but they also want you to come back. They want to know that they did such a great job that you will come on a random Friday night when it’s just date night, right? That you won’t come just for the special occasion. If you’re at Per Se, that’s a different story. They know you’re a “once a few years” person. Unless you’re like…
Z: Stan Kroenke.
A: Stan Korenke, who owns the f*cking Rams. I love that Zach said it, too. Can you just think about that dude’s just like, “Yeah, Screaming Eagle.” I hate the name of that brand.
Z: We are overdue for an episode about cult wines. I want to make this happen sometime soon. For a lot of our listeners, they may they may even be like, “What the f*ck are we talking about?” I don’t want to sidetrack us too much. But it is impossible to fully explain how ridiculous things like Screaming Eagle really are.
A: No, I want to sidetrack us. Here’s the deal with Screaming Eagle, it’s the name. Is anyone also watching the new show on HBO, “Peacemaker?” Who’s his best friend? Eagly. And that’s all I could think of.
Z: Is that like the intro to the now-deceased “The Colbert Report?”
A: Oh my God, yes,
Z: Which had the red, white, and blue eagle that screeched.
A: I mean, I’ve never had it before.
J: You’ve never had Screaming Eagle?
A: No, I really don’t care to. Have you ever had it, Zach?
Z: I’ve tasted it before. A couple of times, I’ve had guests bring it in, once they were nice enough to give me a taste. It’s fine wine, but it’s not really the style that I’m all that excited about. So much of that is you’re just buying a certain kind of clout or cachet. Which is fine, those things exist. As we’ve talked about a bunch of this on this podcast, the luxury brands now in a lot of ways exist outside of whatever their qualities are in the glass. They’re much more about other things than necessarily about the enjoyment of drinking them. I want to make another point about Valentine’s Day.
A: Yes, please. I took us off track, I apologize.
Z: Oh, you’re good. It’s our podcast. We can do however we want. One thing for me that’s always been interesting, too, is that there is an element that has gone around Valentine’s Day. I think it’s been sometimes talked about by people who would be restaurant diners. It’s been talked about by people within the industry, for sure. Is Valentine’s Day weirdly exclusionary? The three of us are all partnered. And you think of Valentine’s Day as more of an event for people who have a serious partner in one form or another, or at least someone they’re dating with some regularity. But I wonder, is there some element of the way that things are set up in restaurants that we can make more of an effort. In the way that New Year’s Eve doesn’t have that connotation, right? We understand that people are going to be out doing the romantic candlelit thing. I think, sometimes, the problem with Valentine’s Day as a restaurant or as a partner, is that there isn’t another thing that goes along with it. It’s not fun, I guess.
A: It’s not fun?
J: I know what you mean.
A: I think I hear what you’re saying. What do you think, Joanna? How do we make this feel fun?
J: We could just take away things for two, actually making it more like a New Year’s Eve thing. If you’re going to do a special menu, it doesn’t have to be just for two.
A: The steak for two. The whole fish for two.
A: I also think that the romantic part of it is obviously important, but people can bring the romance themselves. Going into the restaurant and not only seeing two tops, there being some other groups. Having this opportunity to have lots of really good food and not going overboard at the restaurant like, “And now we have the chocolate lava cake. Would you like the oysters, as well, as an aphrodisiac? Would you like to start with a glass of Champagne as well?” Those are the things that could be done, and I think that would be a really good idea for a lot of restaurants. The really romantic restaurants, people who are looking for that, will go to. There are restaurants that are just inherently romantic, right? That’s kind of their vibe.
J: Like In Vino.
A: Like In Vino. You know how many proposals happened at In Vino? I actually don’t know, but I think a lot. Keith should have gotten a piece of the action or something. But I think there’s a lot of restaurants that people go to that are just great. We talked about this before, but Kiki’s. Kiki’s is the best, and it can have a fun Valentine’s Day. No one’s going to Kiki’s for romance. They’re going because the food is bomb and it’s a great atmosphere and it’s affordable wine. That could be a great spot for Valentine’s Day. It’s just a really fun spot. There’s so many places like that in New York that are so solid and the vibe is great. The staff is great and they don’t have to have that romantic Valentine’s Day vibe. There’s a little bit of pressure to be that, though.
Z: Even for people who are in long term relationships, do you want every Valentine’s Day dinner to be the same copy-paste thing?
Z: This maybe gets to the crux of what I was saying. There’s a way in which Valentine’s Day dinners can sort of be like Thanksgiving, right? Where you’re like, “Well, this is what we do because it’s the holidays.”
A: I’m sick of my filet mignon. I don’t want it on Valentine’s Day. Get it out of here.
Z: Kind of, yes. It’s with an expensive cut of beef, or some elaborate seafood dish, or chocolate molten lava cake. But that’s my point. I would encourage our listeners to think about this. Maybe it’s a little too late for tonight for those who are listening to this on Valentine’s Day, but there’s something to be said about having that kind of experience from time to time. Mixing up your Valentine’s Day celebrations, whether it’s by maybe going out with a group of couple friends and doing something that’s not what you typically do. There can be romance in celebrating your relationship together, but also in this community of people that are meaningful to you. I don’t know. I feel that everyone, whether it’s restaurants or whether it’s diners, lacks creativity when it comes to Valentine’s Day.
J: I was looking at some Valentine’s Day survey information, and it seems like the people who are celebrating Valentine’s Day want to celebrate it this year, given the pandemic and wanting to actually do something. So I feel like there’s a huge opportunity for people who want to go out to dinner and want to participate, but maybe like you said, shake things up a little bit.
A: Shake it up. I have a question. What will you be drinking on Valentine’s Day?
J: That’s a good question, and it depends on where I go, I suppose.
A: What would you like to drink? What’s your ideal order?
Z: Screaming Eagle.
J: I don’t know. I’ll start with a cocktail.
A: Nice, which one?
J: A Martini.
A: Oh, I love that.
J: I don’t know. I like all cocktails, you know?
A: Yeah, it’s really good. Cocktails are great.
J: Then maybe switch to wine or sparkling wine.
A: French? Italian? Argentinian?
J: I don’t know, man. What about you, Adam?
Z: Yeah, what are you doing? Where can your diehard fans find you this Valentine’s Day?
A: I don’t have any reservations yet. I probably will go to the restaurant I really like in our neighborhood that is more casual, Café Paulette. I’d go to Miss Ada, but it’s probably booked already. I would totally go to Miss Ada, first and foremost and always, but I’m not going to be able to get in. So I’m going to go to a Café Paulette. They have a good wine list, but some of it’s natural though. So I got to figure that out. We know there’s no such thing as natural wine. Everything’s natural, including love. I’ll probably have a Martini. I like a Martini. And then a bottle of bubbly. Probably Champagne, let’s be clear.
J: I feel like Zach has his bottles already picked out.
A: Yeah, Zach, what is it?
Z: I don’t even know what I’m making. I will be making dinner because I have two kids. And doing the dishes, as mentioned. This will be an opportunity for Caitlin and I to have a bottle that is significant to us in one way or another.
A: So it’s from the Pacific Northwest?
J: Something old.
A: I said, probably from the Pacific Northwest.
Z: Actually, probably not.
Z: We’ve got some older bottles from Piedmont.
A: Oh OK, cool.
Z: It’s a place that we’ve traveled and we enjoy. I’ll probably end up making steak, I guess, just because it’s a thing that we do both enjoy. My son is also obsessed with it right now.
A: Oh, that’s good. When they like something you like, that’s nice. That’s good.
Z: Well, his favorite food is sashimi, which is wild.
J: He did tell us stuff before.
A: This is the child of a restaurant professional.
Z: He’s definitely eaten more sashimi at the age of three than I had before I was, like, 25.
A: Zach, do you palate-train your child?
Z: Of course. What’s the point of having kids? I have a cute story about him to share, actually, since we’re on this topic. I opened said bottle of Big Table Farm Chardonnay, and he was like, “What is that?” And I was like, “Oh, it’s a Chardonnay.” And he’s like, “Have I had it before?” And I was like, “Well, you had some Chardonnays.” He’s like, “but have I had this Chardonnay?” And I was like, “No.”
J: He’s like, have I had this vintage?
A: And then he goes, “Blind me, Dad.”
Z: We haven’t quite gotten there yet, but yeah. He’s very interested in tasting wine.
A: That’s awesome. It’s actually very cool.
Z: That’s the end result of romance, folks. For some of us.
A: Can he pick out aromas and things?
Z: No, we haven’t quite gotten there yet. He just says “good” about all of it, except for one wine he didn’t like.
A: Was it a natural wine?
Z: It was not. It was a rosé. And he’s had other rosés and liked them, but that one he did not care for, for whatever reason.
A: Amazing. Well, I wish you both a very happy Valentine’s Day.
J: Yes, and to you all.
Z: Thanks, you too.
A: And to everyone else that is listening. I’ll see you back here on Friday.
J: Yep. See you then.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.