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Best of Portland 2009

An authentic Valentine?

Seeking history, and adventure, in the holiday
By TODD RICHARD  |  February 4, 2009

SAVORY SELECTIONS: Wine + chocolate = Valentine.
With a battalion of cherubs, a glut of roses, and a ticker-tape parade of hollow Hallmark sentiments, Valentine's Day may yet be the most reviled and expensive holiday of the year. Somewhere along the line, disaffected people decided that they didn't have to play along, that they could refute this senseless consumerism. Several independent greeting-card Web sites give their "Singles Awareness Day" cards away for free, bucking the sales trend that contributes to the day's distastefulness. Even our own Roller Derby League hosts a "Hate the Love" event where dramatic public readings of hate cards, stories, and poems make for one of their most successful events of the year.

But there is a way to celebrate in-between these extremes, to commemorate this potentially awful holiday and still leave our dignity on the nightstand before sneaking out in the morning.

The tangled roots of V-Day, which include Christian feasts, Roman decrees, and pagan rituals, offer several inspirations. One of the several Saint Valentines performed secret marriages against the wishes of the authorities, and was showered with notes and flowers from other lovers while imprisoned. But there are too many Valentines to choose from, so the Vatican dropped the feast holiday from the liturgical calendar about 30 years ago. In the spirit of good old-fashioned rebellion against the church, start this feast with dessert.

Chocolate is an inevitable part of this holiday. Choosing a small selection of chocolates and doing a tasting can become an inexpensive event unto itself. LeRoux Kitchen on Commercial Street has a clever collection, unavoidably greeting you upon your entrance, and at the register. Several of these come in petite, half-sized bars which work well for sampling and for the budget.

Belgian chocolatier Dolfin takes the craft very seriously, and but still has fun with varieties like 88 percent dark, pink peppercorn, and the intriguing milk chocolate hot masala from India. The "Red Fire Bar" by Vosges is spiked with hints of ancho and chipotle chilies, and Ceylon cinnamon. They also make a "Mo's Bacon Bar," flecked with alderwood smoked salt and applewood smoked bacon. Mo is obviously a genius, and should be properly regaled with a toast.

For tasting and toasting, LeRoux offers two different bottles, each for a very affordable $14.99. The Justin Vineyards and Winery 2007 Obtuse is a beautifully round port, plump with jammy fruit and made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon. Its time in neutral oak casks keeps these flavors intact, and presents a unique fortified wine that sings with romance. Also on the sweeter side, the Von Schleinitz Kabinett Riesling has ample grape and floral perfume, so forget buying flowers and just bring this bottle.

And since Kabinett Rieslings can stand alone or marry well with salty foods, you could make salt another theme. In pre-Christian times, mid-February was the beginning of spring, which brought the obligatory cleaning, often using salt and wheat grains as cleansers. Salt also factors in with another Valentine's favorite: oysters. Whether you shuck or shun them, everyone knows that oysters purport to have magical aphrodisiac powers. Lucky for Portlanders, J's Oyster Bar just kicked off their oyster month. Every day, from 4 to 6 pm, J's offers complimentary oysters to every patron. While the room may not have the romance we hope for in a Valentine's Day date, the oysters create their own ambience.

Todd Richard can be reached at

Related: Mighty morsels, Grateful gulps, Whole Foods on the cheap?, More more >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Beverages, Culture and Lifestyle, Food and Cooking,  More more >
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