Before I begin this article, let me acknowledge that I am fully aware of how made-up, capitalistic and exclusionary Valentine’s Day is. Valentine’s Day is a day to dress up, spend an unnecessary amount of money on a nice dinner and eat a lot of chocolate — three of my favorite things in the world. Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day with a significant other or with friends, if you’re celebrating at all, the dinner is a huge part of the evening. I’ve previewed some of the menus and sampled some of the atmospheres that will be available in Ithaca this Tuesday, and to help you decide where to make that reservation, I’ve ranked three very different — and delicious — Valentine’s Day locales.
I go to Madeline’s for just about every special occasion you can think of (and even ones that I make up, e.g. “finished a paper,” “barely passed an exam,” “got out of bed today”). In terms of decor and atmosphere, Madeline’s is the most romantic place you could go on Valentine’s Day. It features plush couch seating, jazz music, mood lighting and cases of desserts. Even when I go to Madeline’s with just my friends, I briefly fall in love with them while eating dinner.
So the mood is set before you’ve even taken a bite. But don’t worry, because the food is some of the best in Ithaca. Madeline’s will be featuring a handful of Valentine’s Day specials alongside their normal menu. As everyone knows, Valentine’s Day starts and ends at the bar. Madeline’s has an extensive drink menu and this Tuesday they’ll be featuring a gin-based dessert cocktail flavored with orange, cinnamon and cloves for ten dollars. Ten dollars may initially seem expensive for a single drink when you can easily buy a whole bottle of wine for that much, but remember: Valentine’s Day is an excuse to be classy. So you can forego the cocktail for an after-dinner bottle, or you can have slightly higher standards than I do.
Madeline’s is also featuring a $15 mussel and clams appetizer special. While oysters are known aphrodisiacs, I’ve found several articles claiming mussels and clams to be as well. Following the appetizer, there are two entree specials: a pan-seared beef tenderloin tail with paprika sherry shrimp and a bacon chive cream sauce for $35 and mushroom ravioli topped with a poached egg for $23. The second you top something with an egg it becomes a million times fancier, so that’s definitely what I would go with.
The best thing about Madeline’s is the dessert case. There are tons of cakes, crème brûlées and tiramisus to choose from. For Valentine’s Day, Madeline’s will be featuring a white chocolate mousse cake with a layer of raspberry gelee and their Coeur de Madeline — “Madeline’s Heart” — a fluffy chocolate cake topped with raspberries and airy chocolate mousse. All their desserts are only eight dollars. Their menu made me so excited that as soon as they told me about it, I booked a Valentine’s Day reservation. Hope to see you there!
2. Northstar House
Now I know I just ranted and raved about Madeline’s for four paragraphs, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other great places to go this Tuesday. Another Valentine’s Day restaurant that I’m especially excited for is Northstar House. Northstar stands as one of my favorite brunch places in Ithaca, and they also have a fantastic dinner menu, but their atmosphere is slightly more laid-back than I would typically go for on Valentine’s Day; however, that may be just what makes it appealing to you.
The most exciting thing about Northstar this Tuesday is their “Valentine’s Day for a Cause” event. For every walk-in diner, Northstar will donate $1 to Planned Parenthood. If you make a reservation in advance (which I highly suggest), they’ll donate $2 and you get a free glass of champagne. This event is a fantastic way to make your Valentine’s Day more meaningful.
Northstar will continue serving their locally-sourced, seasonal menu on Valentine’s Day. However, they are also featuring some specials that can be purchased either individually or prix fixe (meaning you receive all the courses from their specials menu). The prix fixe menu will be $50 per person or $75 for a shared couple’s version, and for each prix fixe meal sold Northstar will make an extra donation to Planned Parenthood. Their specials will include a winter vegetable crudo, tortellini en brodi and your choice between grilled fish or sirloin steak.
While the prix fixe menu may be expensive, keep in mind you can still order off their normal menu. I’ve also had some wonderful seasonal desserts at Northstar; coupled with a free glass of champagne, chill vibes and donations to Planned Parenthood, Northstar can provide a Valentine’s Day to remember.
3. Gola Osteria
For a more traditional, fine-dining, Italian dinner, Gola Osteria is the place to go. They’ll be featuring their normal dinner menu along with a special Valentine’s Day menu. Their normal dinner menu is filled with romantic-sounding dishes and housemade pasta and sauces. They’ve got ingredients you wouldn’t find in most Ithaca restaurants, such as octopus, rabbit and quail. They also feature an expansive selection of Italian and Finger Lakes wines along with specialty cocktails.
Their Valentine’s Day menu is available both a la carte and prix fixe. If you choose to order the whole menu, it’s $65, and you’ll receive an east coast oyster, raw shaved artichoke and arugula, red beet and goat cheese ravioli, grilled quail with roasted figs and a local honey vinaigrette and chocolate budino. You can also opt in for a wine pairing.
While the prix fixe menu may be expensive, it’s full of local ingredients and aphrodisiacs. I didn’t know what a budino was until recently (it’s sort of an Italian custard), but I can confirm that it’s now one of my favorite desserts — I would almost go just for that. If you’re a more classic Valentine’s Day lover, if you’re combining Valentine’s Day with a birthday or an anniversary, or if you’re just really trying to impress someone, Gola Osteria is the place to book.