Share Valentine’s Day in Boston with These Eight Culinary Couples
Sweet partners in life and business dish on favorite date-night spots and how their restaurants will celebrate love.
It’s tough to date in the hospitality industry, where long, grueling hours are spent serving dinner dates–not enjoying them. So maybe it makes sense that some of the most successful restaurateurs would pair off with each other. We asked eight cute culinary couples to share their most romantic dining memories, date-night picks, and what they’ll offer lovebirds from their own kitchens. Enjoy their sweet stories–and if you’re still looking for last-minute Valentine’s Day reservations, allow us to suggest our new list of the most romantic restaurants in Boston.
Conor Dennehy (chef and owner) and Danielle Ayers (wine director and owner) of Talulla
The founders of our pick for the Boston area’s best new restaurant named their adorable, 12-table enclave after their daughter. All together, now: “Awww.”
How they met: Danielle, then a server at South End spot the Beehive, decided to hit the bar at nearby Coppa for some post-shift grub. Conor, a line cook there, was smitten by what he saw–and sent out heart-shaped, chocolate-covered foie gras to try to impress her. “I definitely was not in the mood for foie gras,” says Danielle. Still, “I thought it was a bold move.”Apparently it paid off.
Sweetest dining moment: Conor recalls a romantic night on a pier in San Sebastian, Spain, sharing octopus salad, grilled mackerel, local cider and a bottle of Basque wine. Danielle’s memory is modest: a birthday dinner of butter-poached lobster and filet mignon that Conor cooked in her “shoebox” of a South End apartment, where she had only a microwave, a hotplate and a grill on the fire escape.
Favorite date-night spots: If Talulla is in tow, you might find them at Myers+Chang, the South End pan-Asian favorite from power couple Joanne Chang and Christopher Myers, because the tot “loves the kimchi bokkembo,” Danielle says. Otherwise, they’re hanging at Bar Mezzana or MIDA, in the South End, or No.9 Park on special occasions.
Their relationship as a Necco heart: “Lucky Parents.”
Why you should spend Valentine’s Day with them: From Thursday, Feb. 14 through Saturday, Feb. 16, Talulla is serving five- and eight-course prix fixe dinners ($85 and $115 per person, respectively). Dishes include vongole with clams and sea urchin, and warm chocolate cake with salted caramel.
377 Walden St., Cambridge, 617-714-5584, talullacambridge.com.
Katrina Jazayeri (wine director and proprietor) and Josh Lewin (chef and proprietor) of Juliet
We’re still hoping that eventually, this hospitality duo will open another restaurant called Romeo. (I mean, come on.) Until then, their intimate, European-style Somerville eatery is great for dates.
How they met: Katrina was working for JJ Gonson, the Boston area’s locavore-chef legend, who often brought her team to Beacon Hill Bistro. Josh was the chef there, and later paid Katrina a visit when she was running an indoor farmer’s market in Central Square. “He showed up pretending he was just doing the restaurant shopping,” Katrina says. “He’s not a great liar, but it was a great afternoon.”
Sweetest dining moment: The twosome loves to travel, and use their experiences to inform new ideas in the kitchen. Most recently, they spent a romantic afternoon making fresh pasta around a farmhouse table at a vineyard in Sardinia, and shared their self-made lunch with the property’s longtime lovebird-owners. A little Sardinian moonshine washed it down.
Favorite date-night spots: They love to support other independent restaurants nearby, particuarly Bisq and the Table at Season to Taste—both featured on our recent list of the top 50 restaurants in Boston. The duo also makes a point to patronize spots that they know reflect their own values, with regard to responsible business practices. “All else being equal, we’ll run to a restaurant that leaves the world around it a better place, on purpose, for everyone,” Josh says.
Their relationship as a Necco heart: “Aye, Toro!” (They love Spain, too.)
Why you should spend Valentine’s Day with them: Because Juliet is a rare spot to find a special Valentine’s Day lunch experience, a five-course prix fixe ($60 per person) served Roman trattoria-style: “casual, shareable and fun.”
21 Union Square, Somerville, 617-718-0958, julietsomerville.com.
Pam Willis (owner and operator) and Chris Willis (chef and owner) of Pammy’s
She’s a boisterous thrill-seeker who commands the dining room floor, he’s the quiet and contemplative master of the kitchen. Together, they’re a fine duo to run a warm, convivial neighborhood trattoria.
How they met: Chris’s brother Will, co-owner of Roxbury-based Bully Boy Distillers, introduced them at the Chicken Box, a funky, live music-filled roadhouse on Nantucket. “We talked about music and food and pretty much knew we were meant to be,” Pam says.
Sweetest dining moment: “I think one of our most memorable was in the hospital maternity ward,” Pam says. She experienced complications during the birth of their second daughter, and was put on a restricted diet. “One night, Chris snuck me in a corned beef sandwich from the Pastrami Queen, a legendary sandwich place in NYC. I don’t remember a lot during that time, but the memory of that sweet and salty sandwich and the overwhelming relief that my little family was safe will forever be imprinted on my heart.”
Favorite date-night spots: They love to tuck into Inman Square’s Momi Nonmi, a quietly excellent Japanese-Hawaiian outfit. “It’s an awesome little gem of a restaurant with a killer late-night menu and world-class beverage program,” Pam says. They also love the “warm, intelligent, and fun” new wine bar Rebel Rebel, now pouring unique natural wines at Bow Market.
Their relationship as a Necco heart: “You & Me.” (Yes, they’re partners in business and parenthood, but foremost “best friends,” Pam says.)
Why you should spend Valentine’s Day with them: Pammy’s will continue to accept walk-ins on Valentine’s Day, so swing by for standouts from the regular dinner menu—like beautiful bucatini with grilled shrimp, pistachio and chili oil.
928 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1761, pammyscambridge.com.
Kelly Walsh (director of operations and owner) and Tiffani Faison (chef and owner) of Sweet Cheeks, Tiger Mama, and Fool’s Errand
“Big Heart Hospitality” is the name of their growing restaurant group, which will soon include a forthcoming Italian restaurant, Orfano. It’s easy to see why. There’s a lot of love between Top Chef alum Tiffani Faison and her wife, Kelly Walsh.
How they met: At an after-party for the late but legendary Spinazzola food and wine gala. Kelly was struck by Tiffani’s sense of humor, and they bonded over their love of the food biz; though she works behind the scenes now, Kelly is a culinary school grad. (You can learn more about their relationship, and Tiffani’s Top Chef-to-Tiger Mama trajectory, in our recent feature profile.)
Sweetest dining moment: A special Thanksgiving in Paris, spent cooking inside the apartment where they were staying. “We chose to stay home and create our own Thanksgiving by shopping around the neighborhood,” Tiffani says. “We picked up a roast chicken, potatoes, cheese, oysters, shellfish, and lots of wine. It was perfect.”
Favorite date-night spots: They love to go Greek at Kava Neo-Taverna in the South End. (“It can be either romantic or a party, whatever your mood,” Tiffani says.) And you may find them ducking into the original Pizzeria Regina in the North End. “We like to go early and skip the lines,” Tiffani says. “We each get our own pizza—the small pizza has a better cook than the large—and a cheap bottle of wine. It is always reliable, has a sense of familiarity that we like, and leaves the rest of the night ahead of us.”
Their relationship as a Necco heart: “Best Match.”
Why you should spend Valentine’s Day with them: You’d be smart to visit their latest venture, Fool’s Errand, because the standing-room-only cocktail and snack bar will transform into the “Suite of Sweets,” a dessert-only destination with wonders from pastry chef Dee Steffen Chinn. Think: mini tart shells served with Champagne and crème de cassis, heart-shaped churros, and a station dedicated to dessert pizzas.
Heather Lynch (general manager and partner) and Colin Lynch (executive chef and partner) of Bar Mezzana, Shore Leave, and No Relation
This duo runs a trio of South End concepts: Mediterranean coast-oriented Bar Mezzana, Tiki hideaway Shore Leave, and the latter’s semi-secret nine-seat sushi bar, No Relation. But they met while working for another super-successful restaurateur: Barbara Lynch. (To whom, family-wise, they have—well, no relation.)
How they met: Colin was a line cook at B&G Oysters, and Heather was a server. They dated for a few months, but Heather felt like “I was too young and immature for her,” Colin says. “She was right.” They worked together at another Barbara Lynch outfit, Sportello, where their romance finally matured.
Sweetest dining moment: They’re regulars at Oleana, a restaurant where “we both feel fully relaxed but also inspired afterward,” Colin says. But they also shared a memorable date on Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor, where they snuck away with snacks and a bottle from Formaggio Kitchen. “It was a day where we really needed a break from the real world, and even though it was only a few minutes away from the city, it felt like a vacation.”
Favorite date-night spots: The Lynches love Nathalie, a newish wine bar in the Fenway neighborhood, and the stalwart South End joint Anchovies, an old-school neighborhood favorite for Italian-American fare. “They’ve got great martinis and eggplant Parmesan,” Colin says.
Their relationship as a Necco heart: “You’re First.”
Why you should spend Valentine’s Day with them: From Thursday, Feb. 14 through Sunday, Feb. 17, Bar Mezzana will offer a la carte specials (like a dry-aged ribeye for two) and transform the private event space into a complimentary “Candy Room” where guests can fill goodie bags with sweet treats. Shore Leave will offer a special menu—”You’re the Rum That I Want”—with shareable notions like pu-pu platters and a “Volcano Bowl” cocktail for $65 per couple.
Bar Mezzana, 360 Harrison Ave., Boston, 617) 530-1770, barmezzana.com; Shore Leave, 11 William E Mullins Way, Boston, 617-530-1775, shoreleaveboston.com; No Relation, 11 William E Mullins Way, Boston, 617-530-1772, norelationboston.com.
JC and Esther Tetreault, co-owners of Trillium Brewing Company
Together, they launched a craft beer brand with some of the most devoted fans around. And for Valentine’s Day, they’re collaborating with another married couple on a sweet, suds-related surprise.
How they met: At a Boston gym. “I used to work in fitness,” Esther says. “JC was a regular member committed to his health and cable chest flies.”
Sweetest dining moment: Sharing ice cream—over, and over, and over again. “Before I was into brewing, I was a little obsessed with making ice cream,” JC says. “The night we spent sampling through a freezer full of ice cream was easily the sweetest dining experience we’ve shared.”
Favorite date-night spot: When they want to walk down memory lane, they head to Vee Vee, a stalwart New American restaurant in Jamaica Plain. “JC lived down the street from this cozy little spot when we first started dating,” Esther says. “Now we go back on a rare night out to reminisce, relax and enjoy.”
Their relationship as a Necco heart: “Doing It.”
Why you should spend Valentine’s Day with them: The new Fort Point brewpub is rolling out some specials, like orange-glazed duck duet. And this week Trillium also started pouring the Chocolate Goodness Imperial Stout, a collaboration with local chocolate maker Goodnow Farms, founded by another married team. Goodnow also rolled out a limited-release chocolate bar made with Trillium’s imperial milk stout, available at Trillium locations.
50 Thomson Place, Boston, 857-449-0078, trilliumbrewing.com.
Andrew Brady (chef and owner) and Sara Markey-Brady (general manager, wine director and owner) of Field & Vine
Before they planted their garden of delights in Union Square (a hotshot debut on our top 50 restaurants list), love bloomed while working at another restaurant just around the corner.
How they met: Both were on the opening team at Bronwyn, a German-inspired restaurant from married couple Bronwyn and Tim Wiechmann. (Maybe it had something to do with the massive wooden heart that hangs behind the bar.) “At first it was hard; we were so awkward around each other,” Sara says. “But the awkwardness turned to fun, and we haven’t stopped having fun since.”
Sweetest dining moment: One Valentine’s Day, after Sara worked an especially long shift, Andrew surprised her at home with “a huge blanket for in the living room, lit up with candles,” Sara recalls. He gave her a card he’d painted in watercolor, made one of her favorite feel-good meals—roast chicken with mashed potatoes and sautéed greens—uncorked a bottle of Châteauneuf de Pape, a wine from one of their first dates. “I think I might have cried, but if you know me, that’s not unusual,” Sara says.
Favorite date-night spot: They love brunching with bivalves and Bloody Marys at Island Creek Oyster Bar, and often return to Cafe Sushi, an early date spot, for “no occasion and special occasions,” Andrew says. For a quick bite together, they adore Gourmet Dumpling House and the hot-pot at Shabu-Zen.
Their relationship as a Necco heart: “Soul Mates.”
Why you should spend Valentine’s Day with them: Not only are they offering a four-course prix fixe menu ($65 per person) with coffee-glazed carrots and slow-poached monkfish, but they’ve partnered with floral company Foret Design to create custom arrangements for guests that will await them at their table.
9 Sanborn Court, Somerville, 617-718-2333, fieldandvinesomerville.com.
JuanMa Calderon (chef and owner) and Maria Rondeau (manager and owner) of Celeste
Their Peruvian restaurant in Union Square, one of our favorite openings of last year, was actually born from a pop-up dinner series this couple used to host at their home. Now this creative couplet invite the rest of us to experience their labor of love.
How they met: At an after-party for a film festival in Boston, which is pretty appropriate. JuanMa is also a filmmaker, and Maria is a producer (and architect). They’ve worked together on other artistic ventures too, including their film, Amores Gatos.
Sweetest dining moment: It’s tough to choose between a memorable experience at Central Restaurante, the Lima restaurant from chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz that is considered among the best in the world, or Maria’s birthday dinner at a small bistro set in a wine cellar in Paris.
Favorite date-night spot: They’re big fans of Field & Vine and Pammy’s, places that happen to be owned by other couples on this list. But they also love Harvard Square’s Alden & Harlow for “its dark, intimate, underground intensity,” JuanMa says.
Their relationship as a Necco heart: “Sweet Home.”
Why you should spend Valentine’s Day with them: Though it’s mostly dinner-business as usual, you’ll find specials like chupe de mariscos (a Peruvian seafood bisque with shrimp, squid, and lobster tail), and the Pisco Passion, a raspberry- and ginger-infused pisco sour.
21 Bow St., Somerville, 617-616-5319, celesteunionsquare.com.