Hidden Gems: How to Ditch the Crowds on Valentine’s Day

The usual suspects will be swarmed tomorrow. Here's where to go for a more relaxing evening.

Why not say “I love you” with a plate of pasta from L’Impasto in Cambridge? Photo courtesy of Facebook/L’Impasto

Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us, and as always, some of Boston’s most romantic—and most popular—restaurants will be filled with couples looking for a nice evening out with good food and good atmosphere. For those who don’t want to fight the crowds by going to some of the big-name eateries in and around the city, there are plenty of romantic restaurants that aren’t as well known, including the four spots mentioned here.

412 Market St., Brighton, 617-789-4676, jasmine-bistro.com

For those who like old-world places that have a bit of a European feel to them, Jasmine Bistro in Brighton will fit the bill. The restaurant is both quiet and intimate, with stucco walls, attractive sconces giving off warm light, and colorful handwoven cloths on the tables. Jasmine Bistro’s menu is a little on the eclectic side, offering not just French and Hungarian cuisine, but also some Middle Eastern fare as well, and its wine list is quite impressive with offerings from around the world, including Hungary. A few highlights here include a rich and buttery black forest chicken, hearty beef gulyas with sliced potatoes, creamy and tangy shrimp grand marnier with spaetzle, and a decadent Belgian dark chocolate cake.

2 Essex St., Lynn, 781-477-9778, antiquetableonline.com

Italian restaurants tend to be favorites for romantic dinners, and Antique Table in Lynn is certainly one such spot, and a true hidden gem to boot. Located in a quiet residential area on the Swampscott line, this is one of those places that you learn about from locals or folks in the know, and it indeed feels like a real neighborhood spot. The interior of Antique Table has the charm of an Italian country villa, with wooden ceiling beams, rough plaster walls, stained glass/mosaic lamps, and hanging copper kitchenware. Lovers of southern Italian fare will probably recognize some of the menu offerings here, which include an substantial antipasto, a rich-tasting chicken tortellini soup with veggies, a particularly tasty orecchiete (ear pasta) in a sweet sausage ragu, and a savory chicken valdostana with prosciutto, fontina cheese, roasted red peppers, and spinach in a bright and earthy tarragon-truffle sauce.

22 Birch St., Roslindale, 617-323-4595, sophiasgrotto.com

Roslindale has become a bit of a destination spot for dining over the past several years, with restaurants of all kinds being found in the heart of this Boston neighborhood. And one of the best is a warm and friendly Mediterranean eatery called Sophia’s Grotto. Tucked away behind Birch Street, Sophia’s is easy to miss, with its main access being a narrow alley that leads to a secluded courtyard where outdoor dining is set up during the warmer months. The interior of the dining spot is very inviting, with exposed brick, pastel colors, and dim lighting giving it plenty of character, and the little nooks inside are perfect for quiet conversation. Some favorites here include a sweet and savory Boston lettuce salad with walnuts, golden raisins, and blue cheese, a ziti boscaiola with fresh prosciutto, an outstanding paella with a hearty red sauce, and wood-fired pizza with just the right amount of char to the crust.

2263 Mass. Ave.,Cambridge, 617-491-1901

North Cambridge saw the opening of an authentic Italian restaurant recently, and it is a winner; indeed, from the freshly-made breads to the house-made pasta, there is a lot to love about L’Impasto, which is a shoebox-sized spot on Mass. Ave, between Porter Square and the Arlington border. While it only has a few tables, L’Impasto is an appealing spot, with dim lighting, the aforementioned loaves of bread stacked along the back wall and a relatively low noise level considering the size of the space. Everything is good here, but some of the real standouts (depending on the season) include a briny olive bread, a sinful fried ricotta plate, a creamy lasagna with bechamel sauce, a stick-to-your-ribs chicken parmesan dish that has a much nicer presentation than your typical version, and a decadent wild berry tiramisu. Beer and wine are also offered, with “special” little-known wines available if you ask.

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