In the Mood for Love

Make Your Valentine's Day Reservations at One of These Romantic Restaurants

February 14 is right around the corner. Here's where to book your date night.

By Cooper Levey-Baker February 1, 2022

Baker & Wife

2157 Siesta Drive, Sarasota, (941) 960-1765,

A comfortable American bistro with a likable full bar that’s garnered a loyal following, Baker & Wife offers a warm, cheery ambiance and an excellent pick of cocktails and entrées to make your evening memorable. "The Meatball" is a perennial favorite, made with veal, beef, pork, Fontina, ricotta and Parmigiano Reggiano and served with spaghetti squash in a rich puddle of tomato sauce.

Beach Bistro

6600 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, (941) 778-6444,

At a time when many people remain wary about eating indoors, Beach Bistro has done almost everything a restaurant can to put diners at ease, with a new high-tech ventilation system and a fully vaccinated staff. The new equipment and processes help you relax when you sit down in the restaurant's gorgeous beachfront environs and tuck into its extravagant tasting menu ($100-$200), stocked with indulgent old-school icons like grilled double chops of lamb, seared foie gras and a lobster tail poached in butter.

Bijou Garden Café

1287 First St., Sarasota, (941) 366-8111,

The Bijou has been serving fine dining fare in the heart of downtown Sarasota’s arts district since 1986 and the menu remains dedicated to the French and South African flavors that made the restaurant famous. A 2021 change in ownership and a revamp of the space has given the restaurant a fresh look and feel after decades in business.

Blu Kouzina

25 N. Boulevard of Presidents, St. Armands Circle, Sarasota, (941) 388-2619

This St. Armands Circle restaurant puts an emphasis on using only the best ingredients and presenting them in an unfussy way that lets their natural flavors burst forth. The grilled octopus (market price), for example, is cooked to perfection—charred on the outside, but tender—and dressed with little else but a great Greek olive oil, lemon juice and some greens. The “skillet cheese” ($12) is another simple masterpiece—just creamy sheep’s milk cheese served in a hot iron pan and drizzled with a fig sauce.

Café Gabbiano

5104 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, Sarasota, (941) 349-1423,

If your date loves wine, bring them here. Gabbiano offers an extensive selection of bottles and pours by the glass, all of them picked to pair well with the restaurant's Italian pastas, meats and seafood. Enjoy dining in a wine room or take advantage of the outdoor seating on the climate-controlled patio. Or be spontaneous and order a meal to go for a Siesta Beach picnic.

The Capital Grille

180 University Town Center Drive, Sarasota, (941) 256-3647,

There’s something comforting about the old-school, high-end steakhouse experience. The tranquil mood lighting, the starched white tablecloths, the Flintstonian hunks of beef—at this point, they’re almost a throwback to an earlier era of dining, when servers all wore ties and your seat was so comfortable you could fall asleep in it. The Capital Grille does this kind of evening out perfectly, with colossal steaks cooked to temp and sides like mashed potatoes and green beans, salads like a classic iceberg wedge and even a killer steak sandwich.

Mussels from Château 13 Restaurant & Wine Bar.

Image: Chad Spencer

Château 13 Restaurant & Wine Bar

535 13th St. W., Bradenton, (941) 226-0110,

The cuisine at this downtown Bradenton fine dining restaurant draws from all over Western Europe, but the star of the menu might be its Belgian-style mussels ($15), which come served in a variety of broths. You can go for classic white wine, butter and garlic, or a spicy chili, tomato and white wine, or even an anise-scented bowl filled with a mixture of garlic, shallots, fennel, cream and Pernod. Are you going to miss the opportunity to pair those mussels with some exceptional French fries ($4.50)? Don’t be ridiculous.

Crab & Fin

420 St. Armands Circle, Sarasota, (941) 388-3964,

This restaurant flies in fish and shellfish from around the globe daily and changes its lunch and dinner menus often to reflect what just arrived. The daily catches are always reliable, and the raw bar is a cut above. Sit outside for prime St. Armands Circle people watching.

The Crow’s Nest

1986 Tarpon Center Drive, Venice, (941) 484-9551,

A waterfront landmark since 1976, The Crow’s Nest provides tasty seafood in a beautiful marina setting. There's a big list of raw items to choose from, and the main menu highlights grouper, shrimp and crab, as well as steaks. Arrive via boat and you can even spend the night.

Euphemia Haye

5540 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key, (941) 383-3633,

Owned and operated by chef Raymond Arpke and his wife, D’Arcy, since 1980, Euphemia Haye has served as a backdrop for countless date-night rendezvous. With its dark, hushed, dreamy atmosphere, it’s a space where you can drop your worries at the door. The food is a greatest hits of fine dining favorites: crispy roasted duck, a spicy pepper steak with an orange, brandy and butter sauce; sautéed veal sweetbreads; and the like. If you’re looking for a less formal evening, head upstairs to The Haye Loft, where no reservations are required.


5239 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, (941) 349-0995,; 1766 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 960-2305,

A Siesta Key standout, Flavio’s on Siesta is known for its romantic environs, quality pastas, Italian entrées and, of course, its pizza, cooked in a brick oven that gets hotter than a summer afternoon on the beach. Tastes great when your skin is crusty with salt and glowing. Flavio’s also has a spot on Main Street that does not serve pizza, but it, too, makes for quality night out.


239 S. Links Ave., Sarasota, (941) 706-4740,

Steve Phelps has been one of the area’s top chefs for more than a decade. Now it feels like the rest of the world is paying attention, too. Phelps has become an outspoken advocate for sustainable aquaculture, and his support for environmentally friendly farm-raised seafood has earned him spots on national television and made him a leader in the field. But, of course, it’s what Phelps does with those sustainable products that keeps us coming back. Whether he’s simply searing a hunk of fish and dressing it in a bright sauce, or using that same fish to make a thick, juicy sandwich, the results are always terrific.

Lucile Pizza & Wine Bar.

Lucile Pizza & Wine Bar

1660 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 330-0101,

Specializing in mostly vegan pizzas, Lucile is the brainchild of Lila chef Ryan Boeve. If you like spice, try Lucile’s “Spicy Peppers” pizza, which uses cashew “mozzarella” and a cashew-based black garlic cream instead of cheese, and comes topped with shishito peppers, red bell peppers, fermented jalapeños and Calabrian chilies. Lots of non-spicy options, too.

Made in Italy

117 W. Venice Ave., Venice, (941) 488-8282,

A favorite with locals and tourists alike for the pizza that pops out of the wood-burning oven, Made in Italy also serves a generous range of pastas like spaghetti alla carbonara, gnocchi and lasagne bolognese. Don’t ignore the martini menu, either, which features both refreshing and indulgent twists on the classic concoction.

Maison Blanche

2605 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key, (941) 383-8088,

A temple of French cuisine, where everything from the baguettes that start your meal to the truffles and house-made marshmallows served with the coffee have been perfected. Chef José Martinez has made some concessions to popular taste over the years, but the core of his menu remains unchanged: impeccable soups, flawless fish and meat entrées, and some of the best desserts anywhere.

Marcello Ristorante Italiano

4155 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 921-6794,

The food is just part of the experience at Marcello, where owner and chef Marcello Aquino loves to put on a show for the small cluster of guests that his tiny restaurant can accommodate. Call early and ask for a seat near the open kitchen so you can watch Aquino cook. The menu changes frequently, but there’s an emphasis on Gulf fish like pompano and snapper, prepared according to the one great rule of great Italian seafood: Leave it alone.

Shrimp and grits from Mar Vista Restaurant and Pub.

Image: Chad Spencer

Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub

760 Broadway St., Longboat Key, (941) 383-2391,

Mar Vista was reborn in 2019 after a $2 million makeover and, luckily, the food tastes just as great as it did before. Like all the restaurants in The Chiles Restaurant Group, the eatery emphasizes sustainable Gulf seafood. Don’t miss the smoked fish appetizer, which comes with a wedge of crispy fried fish skin, and the baked scallops are divine. If it’s not raining, sit out back underneath the buttonwood trees.


1568 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 953-7111,

You never know what will take your breath away at Mélange. At one recent dinner, it was the soup—a delicate concoction that combined a flan made with Dry Sack sherry, a tangle of blue crab bits and pebbles of ginger “caviar,” with a hazelnut crumpet on the side. Sipping it was a revelation—the kind that executive chef Lan Bradeen has been delivering to diners regularly since the restaurant opened in 2007.

Michael’s on East

1212 S. East Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-0007,

Michael’s has been a mainstay on lists of the best restaurants in Sarasota for decades now. The restaurant is constantly rolling out new menu items, often with an international theme that lets you explore cuisines you might not be familiar with. (We fondly remember a recent Portuguese-themed lunch.) Michael’s doesn’t stand still, which is why we keep returning.

Ophelia’s on the Bay

9105 Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key, Sarasota, (941) 349-2212,

In the first scene of the first episode of the MTV reality show Siesta Key, we met our main protagonist, Alex, while on a date at Ophelia’s. We don’t remember how that evening concluded, but we can’t fault Alex for his choice of a restaurant, because Ophelia’s is one of the most romantic eateries imaginable, particularly when the weather is at its nicest and you can sit on the deck. The menu is heavy on fine dining standards like caramelized scallops, roasted fish and rack of lamb, all of it just as intoxicating as the glimmering waters of the Intracoastal.

Pier 22.

Image: Jenny Acheson

Pier 22

1200 First Ave. W., Bradenton, (941) 748-8087,

A beautiful view of the Manatee River is yours at this elegant restaurant and ballroom near the Bradenton Riverwalk. If the weather’s good, dine on the terrace, the ideal setting for the restaurant's impressive seafood, steak and lamb dishes.


1216 First St., Sarasota, (941) 445-5660,

You’ll drop ducats at Sage, but you won’t have any complaints about the food. The menu changes often, but we licked our fingers after polishing off executive chef Christopher Covelli’s lamb—a thick double chop marinated in Indian spices—and a Thai bouillabaisse with an intense red curry base. Even the Caesar salad was impeccable, peppery and assertive. Be sure to make a reservation, and arrive early for a cocktail on the roof, one of the best places to spend a sunset in Sarasota.


1345 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 362-4427; 67 N. Cattlemen Road, Sarasota, (941) 358-6272;

Selva joined the Lakewood Ranch-bound restaurant caravan last year, christening a new location that ably replicates the food and ambiance of the longtime downtown Sarasota favorite. The Peruvian food is just as tasty as it is downtown, with the same mix of ceviches, small plates and fish and meat entrées. It’s a combination that is exciting for Lakewood Ranch residents eager to have another date night destination, as well as longtime Selva lovers who want to taste what all the fuss is about.


465 John Ringling Blvd., #200, Sarasota, (941) 296-0301; 800 Broadway St., Longboat Key, (941) 259-4600;

Which Shore location do we like the best? That’s a tough call. On one hand, the newer restaurant, near the northern tip of Longboat Key, is built with tiered seating, which gives every diner a view of the waters of Sarasota Bay, and the space is a swanky, polished, upscale midcentury Florida dreamscape. On the other hand, at the original location, on St. Armands Circle, when the weather’s nice, the roof rolls back, and if you request the right table, you can sit underneath the stars and gaze across an intimate table into the eyes of the person you love the most. Whichever destination you choose, you can trust that the food will be on point.

State Street Eating House + Cocktails

1533 State St., Sarasota, (941) 951-1533,

State Street is home to one of the city’s best bars, but it also crafts excellent food. During one recent dinner, the cioppino, made with a spicy tomato and fennel base and stuffed with mussels, shrimp and fresh fish, took our breath away. Not in the mood for soup? The restaurant also makes one of the city’s best burgers and some terrific salads.

Summer House

149 Avenida Messina, Siesta Key, Sarasota, (941) 260-2675,

Summer House’s name nods to Summerhouse, a long-gone Siesta Key restaurant institution, but chef Evan Gastman’s food stands on its own. His roasted chicken has been a staple of the menu since it opened in 2018 and is already famous. Using his grandmother’s recipe as a model, Gastman adds a high-tech twist by cooking the half-chicken in a sous vide and then torching the skin until it’s golden-brown all over. Anyone who can breathe new life into roasted chicken is a saint.

Veronica Fish and Oyster

1830 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-1342,

It’s tough to think of a Sarasota restaurant that looks better than Veronica. Luckily, the beauty is more than skin deep, since the menu lives up to the swanky ambiance. We’re devotees of the whole fried fish, particularly the “Thai Crispy” preparation. Don’t pass on the outstanding Brussels sprouts or the rotating specials.

The Waterfront Restaurant & Craft Bar

111 S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, (941) 778-1515,

Wherever you sit at The Waterfront, you’ll find a bit of eye candy. On the large porch, you can gaze out toward the Anna Maria Island pier and the lapping waters of Tampa Bay. Sit inside and you’ll be mesmerized by the glowing fish tank near the bar. We like the food, but we’re just as nuts about the cocktails: The smoked margarita is made with mezcal, while the Mai Tai is a throwback to the drink’s original recipe.

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