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DINING OUT

Valentine's dinners for lovers and non

Ask what's the most romantic neighborhood in Boston, and the answer is most likely to be Beacon Hill: Narrow cobblestoned streets, antique shops along Charles Street, golden afternoon light pouring over steeply pitched roofs, the quiet hush of evening as townhouse lights twinkle on. Beacon Hill restaurants fit the mold, too. Most are not splashy big-deal spots, but intimate and personal, just right for a tete-a-tete on Valentine's Day.

Chef Benjamin Knack of Beacon Hill Bistro on Charles Street uses the lovers' dinner to add some extra luxury to his menu. "We like to spice it up a little bit," the chef says, with hamachi wrapped around oysters in a lemon ponzu and jalapeno sauce. Other dishes in the four-course menu include escolar with Hawaiian prawns flown in live so they'll be especially sweet, Knack says, and rack of lamb with Dauphinois potatoes and king oyster mushrooms. Dessert will be an extraganza of chocolate with chocolate ice cream rolled in a genoise and a cappuccino milkshake with dulce de leche foam. Cost of the dinner is $59 each. For information, call 617-723-1133.

The Hungry i, tucked in an alley off Charles Street, is dreamily romantic, tiny and upholstered, with French-inspired cuisine individually created by longtime chef-owner Peter Ballarin. Since Feb. 14 is a Saturday, Ballarin says he has created two menus. The more elaborate for Feb. 14 is called "Falling in Love Again;" for Friday and Sunday, simpler fare will be called `Foolish Valentine." On Valentine's Day, the menu for $175 a couple includes such dishes as asparagus spears wrapped with gravlax piercing a pumpernickel heart; veal scallops with sea scallops, Dijon mustard cream and a splash of Chablis, and a red devil gateaux with cappuccino cream. For Friday and Sunday evenings, such dishes as lobster bisque, a brace of quail wrapped in pancetta, and raspberry citrus custard rum cake will be offered. The three-course dinner is $75 each. Call 617-227-3524.

Evan Deluty, chef and co-owner of Torch, will start his menu with an "aphrodisiac theme," he says. The four-course menu begins with Wellfleet oysters with champagne and caviar vinaigrette; and butternut-squash risotto with rock shrimp in chive oil; rack of lamb with spinach and polenta and a triple-layer chocolate terrine. Cost is $85 each. Call 617-723-5939. Another romantic Beacon Hill setting is 75 Chestnut, where a four-course dinner both Friday and Saturday will be $75 each. Some of the dishes planned are: pan-seared foie gras with strawberry compote and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar; tenderloin of beef with potato-walnut confit; and lobster encrusted with pecans. A dessert creation will finish the meal. Call 617-227-2175.

Valentine's Day won't stop at the edges of that neighborhood, of course. In the South End, Hamersley's Bistro will go all out with a five-course menu, including a warm oyster-and-crab tart; lobster bisque; wild salmon with French lentils; grilled rack of veal with caramelized sweetbread and onion vol-au-vent, and a dessert inspiration. Cost is $125 each. Call 617-423-2700.

At Gallia on Washington Street, chef David Silva plans such dishes as seared scallops vol-au-vent; roasted pheasant with port-poached figs and polenta, and an assortment of chocolate desserts. The three-course meal, complete with a strolling violinist, will be $60 each. Call 617-247-4455.

Bomboa on Stanhope Street will offer a three-course meal for $55 each with such dishes as butter-braised lobster with miso-honey root vegetables and Tahitian vanilla-bean creme brulee. A champagne cocktail comes with the meal; diners can also order from the regular menu. Call 617-236-6363.

In Back Bay, Davio's Valentine's menu includes jumbo poached shrimp; hand-rolled potato gnocchi with oyster mushrooms, and grilled porterhouse veal chop with creamy potatoes. A dessert selection will follow. Each couple will also be given a box of treats to take home. Cost is $95 each. Call 617-357-4810.

Azure in the Lenox Hotel plans a three-course meal that will include such dishes as diver scallops with shallot pea tendril salad and truffle vinaigrette; salmon roulade with artichoke barigouile and watercress salad; red-wine braised short ribs with creamy polenta; and mocha meringue cake. Cost is $75 each. Call 617-933-4800.

In Cambridge, Rialto in the Charles Hotel will offer Valentine's extras through the weekend. The winter menu boasts such dishes as poached lobster with leeks, spinach, and lemon cream. Seared beef tenderloin with truffled potato puree and wild mushrooms will be offered at a-la-carte prices. A special dessert will be raspberry frozen souffle in bittersweet chocolate soup with tiny heart-shaped cookies. Call 617-661-5050. UpStairs on the Square offers two options, the Soiree Room for $110 each, and Monday Club Bar for $85 each. Roses can be delivered to tables upon arrangement. Call 617-864-1933.

Meritage in the Boston Harbor Hotel offers a five-course wine pairing menu with flash-smoked salmon fillet with champagne-laced caviar cream; duet of minted lamb chop and seared foie gras; and cocoa-dusted raspberry-filled chocolate jewel box. Cost is $95 each including wines. The a la carte menu is also available. Call 617-439-3995.

In Somerville, the Independent offers a four-course menu for $55 each that includes mushroom soup cappuccino with black truffle foam; roasted dayboat cod with spicy tomato broth, mussels and fregola sarda, and saffron panna cotta with blood oranges and grapefruit. Call 617-440-6021.

In West Newton, Lumiere offers a three-course meal for $65 Friday through Sunday evenings. Some of chef Michael Leviton's dishes will be truffled veal-and-pork sausage with soft-scramble eggs and brioche toast; wild striped bass with wild mushroom ragout and lemon brown butter; and Meyer lemon tart with ginger ice cream. Call 617-244-9199. At Le Soir in Newton Highlands, chef-owner Mark Allen plans a four-course menu for $170 a couple, including lobster bisque with black truffle; foie gras and caramelized onion-stuffed quail with balsamic glaze; and warm chocolate-espresso tart with caramel ice cream. Call 617-965-3100.

In Brookline, the Fireplace will offer a three-course dinner for $75 a couple with oysters in saffron cream; couilibiac of salmon, and a chocolate dessert assortment. Call 617-975-1900. Valentine's Day can be intimidating if you don't have a regular sweetie. Some restaurants are stepping up to help. The Living Room in the North End welcomes singles and groups, as well as couples, with a four-course dinner for $45 each. Some of the dishes will be oysters three ways; veal osso buco with roasted broccoli rabe and wild mushroom croquettes; duck breast with braised apples, red currants, and parsnip-potato puree; and chocolate-covered fruit. Call 617-723-5101.

And Lucy's in Brookline is on its second year of a Singles' Valentine's dine-around. During the four-course meal, diners change places and meet others for each course. Reservations are being taken for an even number of men and women. Cost is $40 each. Call 617-232-5829.

This proves Valentine's can be a feast for everyone.

Restaurants reviewed by the Globe's regular critic, Alison Arnett, are rated on a scale of one to four stars, four being the highest. Star ratings are not used for compilation reviews or pieces by guest writers. Full restaurant reviews may be retrieved from Boston.com at www.boston.com/ae/food/restaurants.

Jumbo Seafood Restaurant Solid starSolid starSolid star 10 Langley Road, Newton. 617-332-3600. Super-fresh seafood and exquisitely prepared Hong Kong specialities make this extension of Chinatown -- but with tablecloth service -- a worthy addition to the suburbs. (1/29/04)

Anthem Solid starSolid star 138 Portland St., Boston. 617-523-8383. A North Station brewpub morphed into an upscale spot, Anthem's theme is chef Robert Fathman's comfort food. When it's good is very good. The prices are reasonable, and the bar lively. (1/22/04) The Salt Box Solid starSolid star 1/2 141 High St., Ipswich. 978-356-5676. Chef/owner Paul Booras's latest venture puts seafood front and center. His bold flavors and attention to detail make this North Shore restaurant shine. And for dieters, he'll remake sauces into Atkins friendly versions. (1/15/04)

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