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Valentine’s day and beyond: Date night destinations 

Upscale meals, small plates, live music and more

Carnal's seared black cod features smoked celery root XO sauce, bay leaf and bergamot. Their plates are made to share, making them an ideal Valentine's Day destination.
Carnal's seared black cod features smoked celery root XO sauce, bay leaf and bergamot. Their plates are made to share, making them an ideal Valentine's Day destination. (Cocoa Laney/Cascadia Daily News)
By Jessamyn Tuttle CDN Contributor

Although Valentine’s Day is famously popular for dining out, my own preference is to stay home on the day but go out a different night that isn’t quite so fraught for both restaurants and diners. Either way, finding a place that ticks all the boxes for a romantic evening out is the goal.

Upscale spots

The Oyster Bar overlooks Samish Bay from its cliffside spot off Chuckanut Drive, creating the perfect scene for a romantic evening. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

Often, that means somewhere a little fancy: dim lights, candles, great food.  Plenty of local restaurants fit that bill, like Nell Thorn in La Conner set right on the Swinomish channel, specializing in elegantly presented food from local farms. Other extra-fancy places include the extremely pricy Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive with its fabulous view of Samish Bay, or Keenan’s at the Pier at the Chrysalis in Fairhaven.

Nonna Luisa Ristorante in Anacortes is dark and candlelit but also rowdy and a huge amount of fun, whether you get their popular spaghetti and meatballs ($22) or something fabulous off the specials board. For a more casual but still charming vibe, I like climbing the stairs up to The Black Cat with its big windows overlooking Fairhaven.

Bites to share

To be honest, though, my favorite criteria for a great date night is a restaurant with excellent sharing plates. You get the fun of ordering off the menu together, finding things that you both like or want to try, or get several dishes and eat off each other’s plates. A perfect place to start the evening might be The Temple Bar, with its perfect happy hour special of a bottle of wine and a cheese board for $25, and they have other fun small snacks.

Redlight Kitchen & Bar, in its swanky new location on Grand Avenue, is one of my current favorites, with their small Asian-inspired plates and exquisite cocktails. I particularly love the crispy eggplant bao ($15), but their wontons in chili sauce ($12) are always a winner, along with any of their noodle dishes.

The roasted hangar steak at Carnal features sour grape glazed mushroom, charred scallion and veal jus.
The roasted hanger steak at Carnal features sour grape-glazed mushroom, charred scallion and veal jus. (Cocoa Laney/Cascadia Daily News)

In Anacortes I highly recommend going to A’Town Bistro and sharing the paella for two ($58) — the toppings change up from time to time, but it’s always a delightful mix of fresh seafood and delightfully fatty pork products, served in a dangerously hot pan filled with rich, crusty rice.

The ultimate spot for a Bellingham date night, however, might be Carnal, with its moody lighting, intimate tables and fascinating menu. Their food is perfect for sharing, with intense flavors and unexpected preparations. Get the beef tartare, a silky, savory and sweet pile of finely chopped raw beef currently flavored with golden raisins and served with incredibly rich beef-fat-fried potato chips ($18), or split a plate of their superb hanger steak ($32) or the unbelievable black cod with celery root XO sauce ($35). Carnal is offering a splendid-looking four-course Valentine’s Day meal, but if it’s sold out by the time you read this, any day you go will be equally wonderful.

Cocktails, music and atmosphere

If you’re looking for something fun to do on your date besides eat, the Flatstick Pub has a mini golf course in addition to their pizza. If live music is your jam, The Admiralty Lounge has music on Thursdays, and their sophisticated cocktails, friendly staff and maritime-inspired menu make for a fine evening out.

Anacortes Rockfish Grill has regular music, including blues and jazz, to enjoy with their house brews and excellent waffle fries. And the Lighthouse Bar & Grill at the Bellwether Hotel, a cozy spot with water views, has music on the weekends, good food and a full bar. 

Brunch and more

For a daytime date (or morning after?), think brunch. Storia Cucina, in addition to their incredible pizzas and pastas, has a fantastic brunch. Get the bombolini ($8) to share — you will get powdered sugar all over yourselves but it’s worth it.

Anyone who knows me can predict that I will always recommend Martini Brunch in Mount Vernon for a good time — get the honeycomb toast to split ($11) and tell them I sent you. Another fun daytime option, if you don’t mind bundling up a bit, is the beachfront dining area at Taylor Shellfish off Chuckanut Drive, where you can get a bottle of wine and the freshest oysters possible. 

After-dinner treats

Finish off your outing with something sweet from one of Bellingham’s wealth of great dessert spots like Pure Bliss or Sweet As Waffles, or ice cream from Mallard, which is still the go-to spot for a late-night ice cream fix.

If you want to keep a romantic mood going, Ashuri is a dark and cozy spot at night for a cup of Turkish coffee (or one of their caffeine-free options) and a fresh piece of baklava. Where you go from there is up to you.

Mallard Ice Cream scoops unique flavors like strawberry with cracked pink pepper, pictured. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

Jessamyn Tuttle is a freelance writer and photographer based in the Skagit Valley.

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