A Night to Remember
Date night restaurants for Valentine’s Day Columbia SC | Columbia Living Magazine
By APRIL BLAKE
Valentine’s Day is either loved or despised by people across the world but like it, love it, or not, romantic relationships need a little romance to survive and thrive — so why not spring for an evening out that speaks directly to the heart of that special someone? We’ve rounded up ten great dinner dates, some with nearby activities too, for a night to remember whether it’s on Valentine’s Day proper (a Thursday, in case you weren’t sure!) or perhaps a few days later. Italian cuisine, violin music, and champagne isn’t the way to everyone’s heart, so take a page from a different love story than Lady and the Tramp for a truly Columbia night of love in the Capital city.
Inakaya Japanese Restaurant Consider getting down for Valentine’s Day. No, like really get down — first on the ground at one of the low tables at Inakaya where your shoes come off and you sit on cushions on the floor for a more authentic Japanese dining experience. The sharing of food is an intimate act, taking items off of a shared platter like the two-man boat that’s made for sitting closely together and savoring the variety of sushi, sashimi, and onigiri. Inakaya also offers several ways to enjoy the sushi experience together, including sitting at a regular table, sitting at the sushi bar and watching the deft hands of the sushi chefs chopping and rolling, or sitting in their semi-private tatami room, where shoes come off before entering, and the seats are on cushions on the floor at a low slung table. Then get down with the best love songs you can belt out, next door at Tsubaki Karaoke Lounge and Bar, in a private karaoke room where you and your special someone can choose love songs to sing to one another. The rooms are rentable by the hour and a small one, which holds up to eight people, is $20 per hour, or invite a ton of friends — up to 20 — to shake you all night long in a large room. With a variety of music that ranges from oldies to modern hits, there’s sure to be a song that conveys the love you have within. Now there’s a variation on dinner and entertainment that doesn’t fit the usual Valentine’s norm but will still have you feeling the love tonight. Oh, what a night, indeed. 803-669-2626
Let’s Cook Culinary Studio A hands-on experience is definitely Valentines-y and maybe one of both halves of a couple could benefit from learning a few new kitchen tricks, under the watchful eyes of a professional. Sign yourself and your honey up for one of several hands-on or demonstration eat-in cooking classes at Let’s Cook!
On Valentine’s Day itself, there will be a four-course watch and learn demonstration dinner that’ll be like watching the cooking channel live — plus getting to taste what you just saw, which includes Italian meatball and kale soup, arancini, beef short ribs, and chocolate panna cotta. On Friday, Feb. 15 and Saturday, Feb. 16, are hands-on classes where attendees get involved in the cooking and are rewarded with getting to eat the fruits of their labor afterwards, which include Italian meatball and kale soup, chicken saltimbocca with spinach fettuccine, and cannoli.
Each class is a- BYOB (wine or beer) class, so stock up on something sumptuous for this kind of special occasion to relax you for an evening of cooking, alongside your special someone in the roomy kitchen that’s made for mastering new culinary skills or sharpening up on old ones. The demo class is $100 per couple and the hands-on classes are $120 per couple. letscookculinary.com, 803-348-5874
The Melting Pot One of the Midlands’ longest-running special occasion spots, the Melting Pot is still home to romantic date nights for couples in the throes of new love, to those celebrating gilded anniversaries, and is a frequent first date locale for those looking to make an impression. As the name of the restaurant suggests, the Melting Pot is a fondue restaurant that offers up to a four-course experiences for couples to cozy into to a high-backed booth and use their hands and personal heat source at the table to heat up portions of the meal at their leisure.
Diners can choose to begin their night in the northwestern corner of Columbia at the Melting Pot with a simple cheese fondue course and a glass of wine, or can go all out for a multi-course meal. Following a cheese fondue course, diners often choose a soup or salad, then a meat and/or vegetable course, then return to the skewers but this time with a choice of melted chocolate and a variety of sweets to swirl within the sumptuous blend of dark, milk, or white chocolate.
Reservations are recommended, and make them early since the Melting Pot is a popular romantic night spot on Valentine’s Day and year round! meltingpot.com/columbia-sc, 803-731-8500
Goat’s Valentine’s in Five Points may seem like the stuff of college days past, but there’s plenty of grown up fun to be had in the bustling village east of campus proper. Goat’s, formerly Goatfeathers, has been reimagined and kept like it was thanks to the ownership of Olando Opie Patterson, who spent much of his career behind the bar at its former iteration. Now with his hand at the helm, this red hued night spot is just as good as is it was, if not better, for sitting close with your date for several glasses of wine or their creative cocktails and a bit of people watching.
The selection of spirits are the reason people come to Goat’s. From a well-stocked wine list that even includes red or white wine flights for some variety, to a hand selected craft beer list that rotates seasonally, everyone should be able to find something to sip on here. Perhaps one of their many red wines, by the glass or the bottle, to shake off the chill of a February evening, or something more festive like a bottle of bubbly in prices that range from affordable to luxe.
The food menu at Goat’s can be considered small but mighty. Buffalo fried oysters, three cheese lobster mac, and their signature black bean burger give just a taste of the upscale yet accessible menu that’s made to go with the drinks for a different spin on Valentine’s Day in Five Points. goats2.com, 803-708-4495
Dinner Cruise Aboard the Spirit of Lake Murray
Think it isn’t possible to take a cruise for the evening in the Midlands? Surprise your Valentine with the reality that yes! — you can set sail on a Thursday night for a sunset cruise, watching from the deck as the sky turns cotton candy pink as the fiery orange sun sinks below the treeline into obscurity for the night. Shake off the chill inside the enclosed dining area of the Spirit of Lake Murray, the lake’s only tour yacht experience.
Menus vary per cruise and can be seen on their website. Other specific details for the Valentine’s dinner, including dinner entertainment is available as well. Each sailing is two to three hours. The public cruises must be booked well in advance, as space is limited due to the size of the boat. lakemurraycruises.com, 803-730-3044
Baan Sawan Located in what looks like a small house on Devine Street just outside of the Five Points village, is a special gem in our little city in the form of a Thai restaurant with an incredible wine program. Baan Sawan is a family-run affair, from Chef Alex Suaudom du Monde in the kitchen and Sam doling out wine suggestions with the ease of an experienced sommelier, which he is. The rest of the dinner service you’ll experience will be just as sophisticated and classy without feeling pretentious or stuffy. In fact, love might as well be the theme of the restaurant as it’s easy to tell within minutes of being there that love is put into the planning of each dish, the decor, and the attention given to each diner.
Baan Sawan serves classic American Thai dishes, they serve traditional Thai dishes, and they serve twists on both of these styles, surprising the palate with flavors unknown, or perhaps unknown together until now. This small space doesn’t take reservations so plan to go early, late, wait and hope, or perhaps be flexible enough to sit at the bar, which isn’t an unpleasant experience thanks to the opportunity to hear more about the wines and how they are selected to go with each dish. 803-252-8992
Pearlz Oyster Bar and Kaminsky’s Maybe it’s an old wives’ tale, maybe it’s true, but let’s suspend reality for a night and pretend that oysters and chocolate are the ultimate aphrodisiacs. That would mean that Valentine’s Day is the perfect evening to indulge in both and that the corner of Gervais and Park Streets in the Vista where Pearlz Oyster Bar and Kaminsky’s reside is the perfect setting. Close your eyes and imagine … take a rideshare downtown and get dropped off, avoiding that elusive hunt for parking in the Vista, and dashing in from the chilly February eve to the enveloping warmth of Pearlz, taking a seat in a welcome dimness that sets the mood.
Oysters on ice start off the evening, perhaps an intimately shared entree because you’ll want to save room for a decadent slice of Kaminsky’s freshly made and towering layer cakes, a lavishly decorated pie, or perhaps a boozy milkshake to enhance the mood? Both of these restaurants are operated by the same folks, and they have an interior connection so there’s no need to walk outside to get to that glorious sugar helping coming your way. The sweet teeth of you and your sweetie can decide how indulgently this part of the evening plays out, but don’t forget to make one selection chocolate because it is Valentine’s Day, after all. And with the chocolate and the oysters, well, you know what that means for later. pearlzoysterbar.com, 803-661-7741 and kaminskys.com, 803-550-9979
Lula Drake, Then a Movie at the Nickelodeon Columbia’s Main Street has gotten a lot more romantic over the past few years and we mean more than the flattering twinkle lights that adorn the trees and cast a lovely glow on couples strolling down the sidewalk. Possibly one of the sexiest restaurants in town is semi-new on Main — Lula Drake, which opened in late 2016. The dimly lit space features a wide, dark wooden bar with a glossy white top and several options for intimate seating, from the views that face the street to the secluded ones in the back recesses of space. Flickering candlelight and softly glowing pendant lamps overhead provide just enough light to see their impressive sommelier-driven wine menu and of course, your Valentine. Their knowledgeable wine staff has recommendations from their extensive wine and craft beer selection to pair with items from their curated menu, consisting of table snacks to handmade pastas. Since it’s chilly in February, the post-dinner walk will thankfully be short, down to the Nickelodeon for a romantic film — but be sure to reserve your movie tickets in advance, as the small arthouse theater often sells out special showings for holidays and other occasions. The Nick, as it’s affectionately called, also sells beer and wine to enjoy during the screening, plus popcorn and other snacks if dinner didn’t sate your appetite. luladrake.com, 803-606-1968 and nickelodeon.org, 803-254-8234
Order in From a Delivery Service Sometimes a couple cannot agree on what to eat for dinner and that’s totally okay. Luckily the Columbia area has experienced a boom in the amount of food delivery companies that will bring orders — from multiple locations even! — directly to your home, taking the decision of where to eat right out of the equation so that more time and energy can be focused on sharing a meal with the one you love. Gourmet Thai and fast food burgers have never existed together so well, until now. With the numerous variances in what restaurants’ delivery service picks up from, check around to find one that best suits each of your needs and delivery areas. Options in the greater Midlands area include BiteSquad, Ubereats, Grubhub, DoorDash, and Waitr. Complete the uniqueness of this meal to your own couple experience by having a picnic on the floor, complete with a fluffy blanket, wine glasses, pajamas, and a favorite movie. Or perhaps sitting at the actual dining table is a more novel experience for the two of you. Go all out and set the table with wedding china and lighted taper candles, or take away the agony of the dish-doing ordeal by splurging on recyclable dinnerware for a most relaxing evening. The best part about ordering in is that it can be whatever you want it to be, without the expectations of anyone else weighing in on the evening.
Tombo Grille A Forest Acres classic restaurant, Tombo Grille is like a favorite black dress in that it can be perfect for a casual Tuesday evening out for burgers and beers, or it can be dressed up with a bottle of wine from their large selection of half-bottles (for couples who have differing tastes) and four courses from appetizers to charcuterie to entrees and dessert. Nightly specials that showcase the kitchen’s culinary creativity are also available and range from artisans pizzas to Waygu beef.
And that little black dress can be worn to Tombo, or something fancier, or something much more casual. The experience to be had here is up to the diners, as that’s what this neighborhood restaurant and bar strives to be — whatever makes you comfortable.
As with most restaurants, reservations made well in advance are highly recommended for any time in the middle of the month of February! tombogrille.com, 803-782-9665