Celebrate sincerely with a meal that has meaning for you Stop me if you've heard this one before: Valentine's Day is a Hallmark sham, a manufactured non-holiday dreamed up in a craven bid to sell out-of-season roses in the middle of the long, dark winter. Singles hold this trope up like a string of garlic to ward off the vampiric specter of couples' bliss, while longtime partners wearily use it to rationalize spending another night in sweatpants on the couch. They're right, to a point. There is nothing about Feb. 14 that demands plush hearts, teddy bears and cupids, boxes of chocolate and bouquets. But the original Saint Valentine made his name centuries ago when, right before his execution, he sent one final love note to his lady, signing it "From your Valentine." Since then, the saint's day has been a catalyst to fess up your true feelings, whether to a secret crush or the spouse you tell to empty the dishwasher more than you tell them how important they are. It's a tradition that's lasted more than 500 years-why mess up a good thing now? Unfortunately, when it comes to dining on the day, too many restaurants fall back on the menu equivalent of the Russell Stover assortment: the caviar-steak-chocolate cake prix fixe. Rather than fall for this scourge of the Valentine-industrial complex, take a moment to consider the things that make your relationship unique, and do something meaningful to you. Go out for a meal that's outside your usual routine, try a place you've been talking about for months, or stay in and cook something more complicated than pasta and jar sauce. Still not sure where to start? We've got you covered. Was your first date a trip to the underground Flushing food court? Are you on a shared mission to try food from every country in the world? Head for Yunnan Kitchen (79 Clinton St., yunnankitchen.com), which specializes in the cuisine of this still relatively unfamiliar region of China in an atmosphere more conducive to hand-holding than most linoleum-lined Chinatown dens. Light, veg-focused fare that emphasizes unusual ingredients is the M.O. here-try the chrysanthemum salad. Have kids? You've most likely been eating any meals out at ungodly early hours, in brightly lit barns that have room for tantrum throwing and crayon flinging (not that your kids do these things, of course). Do a 180 and have a Spanish night out at the tiny, dimly lit Txikito (240 Ninth Ave., txikitonyc.com). Arrive as late as you can stand to stay up-dinner in Spain doesn't ever begin before 9 p.m.-and graze on the Basque specialty, pintxos, one- or two-bite toasts topped with everything from artichokes to foie gras. Use V-Day as an excuse to restock your sugar high? Go for a three-course dessert meal at Chikalicious Dessert Bar (203 E. 10th St., chikalicious.com). Their seasonal approach to sweets means the menu is currently stocked with wintry options like hot caramel custard soup and butternut squash ice cream brûlée, all guaranteed to change the way you think about dessert (and keep you bouncing off the walls for hours). Single? Take a page out of Amy Poehler's Parks & Rec book and make it a gal-entine's day (pal-entine's day?). OK, you don't have to go so far as embroidering faces on pillows, but there's no reason not to take the day as an opportunity to appreciate whoever is special in your life, whether it's your group of high-school besties or the people at work who listen sympathetically whenever Brenda in HR makes your life miserable. Crowd around a table at the wood-lined Rye House (11 W. 17th St., ryehousenyc.com), and raise a glass of the titular spirit (or bourbon, or scotch) from an extensive menu that's helpfully organized by tasting notes. Bonus: This is probably the least crowded this cozy but decidedly un-romantic spot will ever get, so stretch out and enjoy the leg room. No matter your circumstances, there's a way to celebrate the holiday without inducing gags or yawns. This year, make sure old St. Valentine didn't die in vain.
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