A Fine Romance

Dinner at an elegant restaurant makes a perfect Valentine’s celebration, especially when combined with an overnight stay at a luxurious hotel or inn.

Savvy diners know there are five main criteria for a perfect romantic dinner: food, atmosphere, service, the view and, of course, the dining companion. 

When all five align in perfect symmetry — now that’s romance.

We scoured the Buckeye state and picked the brains of some seasoned diners in all corners of Ohio to identify a handful of the state’s most romantic restaurants. But as good as these restaurants are, they excel in only four out of the five criteria that make for a romantic dinner out.

The “companion” part is up to you.

Pier W, Cleveland
Pier W is both a Cleveland landmark — it opened in 1965 — and an architectural wonder. Designed to resemble the hull of a ship, the lakefront restaurant is built into the side of a cliff and offers breathtaking views of Lake Erie and the downtown Cleveland skyline, less than five miles away. Diners searching for an “icebreaker” of a restaurant need look no further.

But the architecture ultimately takes a back seat to the extensive, meticulously fresh menu that focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on seafood. Executive Chef Regan Reik also brings in beef, lamb and pork from sustainable sources, searching out local suppliers whenever possible, and then transforms those raw materials into contemporary American dishes.

The restaurant’s dinner menu includes the signature Pier W’s Famous Bouillabaisse, a bowl of goodness that includes fresh fish, top neck clams, shrimp and mussels in a saffron tomato broth; and seared Georges Bank diver scallops served with garlic gnocchi, spaghetti squash and sweet potato puree.

Diners seeking simplicity can order seafood such as salmon, tuna, walleye and diver scallops “simply prepared” with extra virgin olive oil, braised spinach and oven-roasted rosemary new
potatoes. A selection of steaks and chops is also available, although when a restaurant boasts a 45-year reputation as a seafood destination, diners should take full advantage.

For dessert, chocolate lovers may swoon over the Warm Chocolate Truffle Cake, served with mascarpone ice cream and coffee caramel.

And wine enthusiasts will salivate over the list that offers a whopping 35 wines by the glass, including some off-the-path choices such as Domaine Wachau “Federspiel” Gruner Veltliner from Austria and Pazos De Lusco “Zios” Albarino from Spain. Wines also are sold at retail, allowing diners on a weekend getaway to bring a taste of that romantic dinner back to their room. Pier W, 12700 Lake Ave., Winton Place, Lakewood 44107, 216/228-2250,  www.selectrestaurants.com/pier/. Open for dinner seven nights, lunch Monday through Friday and brunch on Sunday.

Where to stay:
The Ritz-Carlton Cleveland (216/623-1300, ritzcarlton.com), at 1515 West 3rd St. in downtown Cleveland, is less than five miles from the restaurant. The luxury hotel is in the center of the action downtown and boasts its own views of the Cuyahoga River, Lake Erie and downtown Cleveland.
M at Miranova, Columbus
Columbus is blessed with a wealth of romantic restaurants, but seasoned foodies in and around our state capital have discovered M at Miranova (or, simply, “M”) and have turned the Cameron Mitchell Restaurants eatery into a popular destination for couples in love — or those soon to be.

M is located on the first level of the Miranova office tower, and its patio, tucked into the southwestern bank of the Scioto River, boasts a panoramic view of downtown Columbus.

Every part of the M at Miranova menu beckons. Wine lovers will find plenty of appealing choices on a remarkably flexible wine list, starting with an extensive selection of wines by the glass, more than a dozen half-bottles (an option too often missing at fine-dining restaurants) and a handful of magnums (1.5-liter bottles) in addition to a broad array of standard-sized bottles from all corners of the globe. Champagnes and other sparkling wines are a particular strength.

The restaurant’s cocktail list is highlighted by the Marquee, consisting of Belvedere Citrus vodka, Cointreau Noir, agave nectar, blood orange puree and lemon juice.

Appetizers and entrees feature intriguing combinations of ingredients and flavors. The scallop starter, served over beef short rib-stuffed ravioli with horseradish leeks and sherry jus, takes surf-and-turf to a whole new level. Veal mignon combines veal tenderloin and braised veal cheek, served with asiago crepe and a shiitake mushroom sauce. And the beef filet mignon is poached in butter. Need we say more?

Dessert junkies can mainline M’s humble-sounding cake and ice cream, consisting of chocolate lava cake, hand-spun caramel ice cream and cashew turtle.

But dessert can also be poured into a glass. After-dinner options are splendid and plentiful, including multiple tawny port, Grand Marnier and dessert-wine options. Scotch lovers will have a difficult time choosing from among the 20 single malts offered on the after-dinner drinks menu. M at Miranova, 2 Miranova Place, Columbus 43215, 614/629-0000, matmiranova.com. Dinner Monday through Saturday, closed Sunday.

Where to stay:
Those extending their romantic dinner into a weekend getaway have several lodging choices, including The Lofts (614/461-2663, 55lofts.com) in downtown Columbus, a turn-of-the-century warehouse that was turned into a boutique hotel in the 1990s. It’s just a mile and a half from M at Miranova.

Mancy’s Steakhouse, Toledo
Mancy’s Steakhouse has been an iconic Toledo restaurant for decades, tracing its roots to 1921. That’s when Gus Mancy, who moved to Toledo in 1916 from Crete, and his cousin opened an eatery called Ideal Restaurant in a building that once housed a carriage dealership. Mancy’s twin sons succeeded their father and elevated the restaurant’s quality and reputation. Today, the historic restaurant is run by the founder’s grandchildren.

Forced to rebuild after a 1973 fire, the Mancy family incorporated several historical touches in the design and construction of the new restaurant, building into it a wealth of beveled and leaded glass rescued from Toledo-area homes and churches.

Mancy’s menu stays loyal to its steakhouse theme, but throws in a few modern twists. Starters include Oysters Rockefeller or nut-crusted brie with fresh fruit and berry compote.

Mancy’s Steakhouse beef is aged and butchered in-house, and the available cuts include certified Angus New York strip steaks aged for 28 days, 30-ounce ribeye on the bone, and bone-in filet mignon. Steaks can be ordered with a fresh cracked pepper crust, fresh garlic crust or a spicy Cajun crust, or for something even more distinctive, a bone-marrow-butter crust.

Seafood selections include cold water lobster tails and Alaskan king crab legs — but also venture into salmon and lobster ravioli poached in a saffron, basil and plum tomato broth.

The wine list is comprehensive, with more than a dozen Champagnes and sparkling wines, and has remarkable depth in California cabernet sauvignons — a steak’s best friend.

There’s also a playful “luxury martini” list that includes a “French Kiss Under a Star” consisting of Grey Goose vodka and X-Rated French Fusion liqueur — infused with, ahem,  passion fruit. Mancy’s Steakhouse, 953 Phillips Ave., Toledo 43612, 419/476-4154. mancys.com. Dinner Monday through Saturday, lunch Monday through Friday, closed Sunday.

Where to stay:
Consider an overnight stay at the Mansion View Inn (mansionviewtoledo.com), two miles from the restaurant. It was built in 1887 and is in Toledo’s Old West End, a neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Celestial Steakhouse, Cincinnati
This restaurant, nestled in the Mt. Adams neighborhood just east of downtown Cincinnati, offers a stunning view of the Queen City’s skyline.

The Celestial’s menu is eclectic, blending traditional steakhouse dishes with fusion influences. The appetizer list includes filet lettuce wraps — marinated and grilled beef tenderloin with caramelized onion, cherry tomato, Bibb lettuce and Maldon sea salt. P.E.I. mussels are gently poached in white wine, Chinese sausage, chili flakes, baby bok choy and pickled baby corn.

Steaks are plentiful on the entree menu, led by a signature Celestial Oscar, an 8-ounce center cut filet served on a bed of demi-glace and topped with king crab, bearnaise and asparagus. For meat-only lovers, bone-in strip, ribeye, filet mignon and Mediterranean lamb round out the steakhouse bona fides. Seafood dishes include Chilean sea bass, red snapper and diver scallops.

The restaurant’s wine list is extensive, with surprising depth in French selections, including Bordeaux and Burgundy. The restaurant finds inspiration from Brazil for its signature cocktail, the Celestial Sunset Caipirinha.

Cheesecake, chocolate torte or creme brulee cap off a Celestial meal. The Celestial Steakhouse, 1071 Celestial St., Cincinnati, OH 45202, 513/241-4455, thecelestial.com. Open for dinner seven nights a week.

Where to stay:
The Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza (513/421-9100, hilton.com), located across from Fountain Square downtown, is a national historic landmark and boasts  the Palm Court bar. It’s one of the most beautiful settings in the city to enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine. n