Food & Drink

Valentine’s Day Roundup

A few of our favorites for the big date night

By Chris S. Nishiwaki February 13, 2024

Valentine's Day Dinner 16x9

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

Sabrina Tinsley grew up in inland Fairbanks, Alaska. Pietro Borghesi grew up in coastal Emilia-Romagna, the Northern Italy region hugging the Adriatic Sea. She was teaching English in Austria. He was returning from Oktoberfest in Munich.  

In a page out of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, Tinsley and Borghesi met at a cafe in Austria in the fall of 1992 and quickly fell in love. They married a year later, and celebrated their 30th anniversary last December, in the thick of the holiday rush.  

Tinsley and Borghesi are among dozens of couples working in the local hospitality industry. Valentine’s Day is the single busiest dining day of the year, meaning many couples in the restaurant industry don’t celebrate it with the traditional dinner out. Instead, they toil long hours to ensure the best guest experience. 

Sabrina Tinsley and Pietro Borghesi, owners of La Spiga, on their first weekend together in 1992.

Tinsley and Borghesi moved to Seattle in 1998, where Tinsley’s sister, Sachia, was living. The three opened La Spiga, originally at the tiny corner location on Broadway and Union. The restaurant has since moved down the street into the much larger Piston and Ring Building on 12th Avenue East, between East Pike and East Union Streets. Last October marked the silver 25th anniversary combined between both locations. The trio opened the Italian deli and grocery store La Dispensa across the courtyard from their restaurant in 2022.  

This year, Valentine’s Day falls on a Wednesday, meaning many restaurants will get a mid-week bump to bolster the usually busier weekend day and night shifts. Some restaurants are extending special Valentine’s Day menus and other promotions through the weekend, meaning more elbow room for guests on the holiday, and allowing restaurants to spread and stretch the work and the revenue out over multiple days.   

Tamara Murphy and Linda DiLello of Terra Plata are just one of the many couples working in the local hospitality industry.

“I think it is going to be a pretty busy week,” says Chef Tamara Murphy, who owns and operates Terra Plata on Capitol Hill with her partner in business and life, Linda Di Lello. “People will opt to go out on a weekend. People who are most used to dining out may not want to go out on a Wednesday when it is going to be busier.”  

A National Retail Federation survey says annual spending across the United States could hit an all-time high of $14.2 billion. All told, consumers will spend almost $26 billion on Valentine’s Day.


A Big Date Night

Valentine’s is the busiest dining out night of the year. Restaurants book fast, so always make reservations. Some are already booked and have started waiting lists, including CopineDriftwood and Cafe Juanita. If you can’t make it to your reservation, call to cancel.  

“The cost of not showing, any day, let alone a major day, is brutal,” says Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen, interim wine director at Cafe Juanita in Kirkland. “It’s not just a hit to the restaurant. It’s a hit to the server. It is substantial. We staff up for Valentine’s Day. Servers have small sections. That one cancellation is significant.”  

At Beast & Cleaver in Crown Hill, mostly regulars will dine on one of the 20 seats. The evening was booked in less than 30 minutes after its latest newsletter was released to the restaurant’s 10,000-plus subscribers. 

In addition to the restaurants named above, here are a few of our favorite options for Valentine’s Day. 

— This will be the last Valentine’s Day for Coastal Kitchen. Feb. 21 is the last night for the restaurant after a 31-year run.  

Nell’s Restaurant in Green Lake starts the romantic evening with a flute of sparkling wine and follows with four courses (two options for each course) for $115. An optional wine pairing flight is available for $40.  

Ray’s Boathouse offers a four-course prix fixe menu that includes surf n’ turf (ahi tuna loin and beef ribeye) all week.  

— Vegetarian Cafe Flora offers a four-course menu on Valentine’s day with a focus on seasonal ingredients. The arancini filled with peas, leeks, fresh herbs, and mozzarella in a tomato velouté with charred broccolini, roasted king oyster mushrooms, pickled star fruit and local micro greens might make any omnivore into a dedicated vegetarian.  

Stateside on Capitol Hill offers a four-course menu, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, for $120 per person. An optional wine pairing is $50.  

84 Yesler in Pioneer Square offers a six-course Valentine’s Day dinner all week. The hearty and luxurious menu includes oysters with caviar, lobster yaki with kombu chips, gnocchi in an herb beurre blanc, black cod in a brown butter caper sauce, braised short ribs and vanilla panna cotta.  

Garrett Doherty will be serving a special Valentine’s Day menu at Lionhead.

Lionhead on Capitol Hill is celebrating the Lunar Year (Year of the Dragon) and Valentine’s Day with a five-course dinner with Sichuan specialties.  

Seabird on Bainbridge Island will serve a three-tier seafood tower for $230 per couple. “The Seabird” adds a roasted heritage breed duck for $430 per couple. The dinner is capped with an assortment of mignardises, exquisite desserts.  

Charlotte Restaurant at the Lotte Hotel, with a romantic view of Puget Sound, offers a four-course omnivores menu or a five-course vegetarian menu for $185. Ask for Gene Dexter and his wine pairings.  

The White Swan Public House offers a three-course seafood-centric menu for $65. Dessert is an additional $10. 

San Fermo in Ballard kicks off Valentine’s Day dinner with oysters and bubbles and will feature dishes made with ingredients from proprietor Tim Baker’s Skagit Valley farm.  

Top Pot Doughnuts, operated by the husband-and-wife team of Mark and Libby Fernau Klebeck, will create romantic specialty doughnuts all week.

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