Recipe for disaster: Valentine's Day horror stories from Boston restaurant insiders

Thinking about taking your valentine out for a fancy dinner this year? Think again.
By LINDSAY CRUDELE  |  February 10, 2011

WHICH BLAIR PROJECT While many Valentine’s Day proposals go off without a hitch, some end in heartbreak, and a few still remain open-ended mysteries.

When I was 16, I briefly dated a young man for whom I didn't much care. I'd meant to correct the situation before too late, but I was a coward and stalled, and suddenly, it was Valentine's Day. First thing that morning, I walked into English class, where waiting on my desk was a gargantuan display of red roses. In high school, nothing seemed romantic at 8 am, a fact reaffirmed by the jeers of my classmates. The bouquet was so large it wouldn't fit in my locker, so I trucked it around all day like a totem of my guilt. I looked like a parade float.

Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields once said that Valentine's Day is a day for martyrs. He was right — it's hard to imagine how anyone comes out looking rosy on February 14. At worst, it's a massacre and at best you've become a low-level Necco investor. But unfazed legions of Casanovas march on, beelining through the doors of our local restaurants.

Plenty of them enjoy their isolated overtures, more than a few choosing the date to propose marriage. "Ninety percent of the engagements go really well," says Louis Risoli, mâitre d'hotel and fromager at L'Espalier. But he and his colleagues have seen more than a few funny valentines.

At Gargoyles in Davis Square, Executive Chef Jason Santos said the latter hours of Valentine's evening can descend into a party atmosphere. So last year, when a guest tumbled through a curtain, crashing into another diner, Santos thought he had a drunk on his hands. "It turns out he was having a seizure," says Santos, who watched emergency workers rescue the man while they cracked food-poisoning jokes at the chef.

Serving a special holiday menu, it's not that Santos wishes to deprive anyone else of their best attempt at annual romance. Still, "It's the biggest amateur night ever," he says, citing these guests as consistent in their taste for the cheapest Champagne available on his menu. "I think it's the one night most people need to try. But guys are not romantic. The fact that they think that asking your girlfriend or wife out for a steak, just because it's what society says you should do. . . . Is that really the best you have? 'Take me out for dinner'? Start over!"


Last year at Brookline's Regal Beagle, General Manager Richard Murphy took a call a few days in advance of the holiday from a man asking to orchestrate an elaborate proposal. Near the meal's end, waitstaff delivered a Champagne cocktail in which floated a blooming hibiscus.

"The restaurant was packed," explains Murphy. As onlookers caught on, the man began hamming up the drink: " 'Oh, honey! I think there's something in your drink! What is it?' "

She fished out the ring — and instantly said no.

"It was the most uncomfortable situation we have ever dealt with," Murphy says. The couple retreated outside, where a packed house watched the two have an animated, hand-waving spat. The woman left and the man returned alone.

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