There are lots of ways to celebrate on Feb. 14. You could stock up on some gourmet cheese, open a fantastic bottle of wine and canoodle at home with your honey (my personal favorite). Enjoy a picnic at the park or on the beach. Make a homecooked meal — something mouthwateringly savory and a bit indulgent, perhaps.
But if you choose, instead, to wine and dine your Valentine in one of the county’s many excellent restaurants, here are a few that are sure to impress.
Sheila’s Wine Bar has long been the city’s go-to for fine dining. Chefs Ivan Medina and Richard Sejkousky put the “art” in culinary arts, with exceptional attention to detail in seasoning, preparation and presentation. Whether you crave beautifully fresh vegetables, delicate fish or succulent meat, Sheila’s will set you up in style — with an impressive selection of fine wine to savor along with your meal. 330 Lantana St., 987-9800 or www.sheilaswinebar.com.
Dark, cozy and very hip, Adolfo Grill offers both a great atmosphere and excellent food. Snuggle up in a booth to share an appetizer (the lamb lollipops and deviled eggs are particularly good) over handcrafted cocktails, and then enjoy entrees — including paella, pastas and fantastic steak and pork chops — with a bottle of wine. Save a little room: There’s always something tempting on the dessert menu. 67 E. Daily Drive, 482-3200 or www.adolfogrill.com.
Even among the many wonderful options available in this food-loving hamlet, Nocciola is a standout. The elegant converted home is charm personified and very romantic. The Italian-inspired menu offers such delights as tuna tartar, homemade pasta with wild boar and slow-braised lamb shank. If you’re feeling spendy, go for the five-course tasting menu. Extraordinary wines from across the globe await your sipping pleasure. 314 El Paseo Road, 640-1648 or http://www.nocciolaojai.com.
On the more casual side is Azu, specializing in tapas, locally sourced wine and beer and a brilliant bartender who shakes, stirs and pours some of the best cocktails in the county — many featuring house-infused liqueurs, fresh fruit and herbs collected from the Ojai hillsides. Flavors are big here: rich chorizo-stuffed dates, tongue-tingling buffalo cauliflower, mouthwatering braised lamb and chicken souvlaki. Share a few plates, and let the spices heat up the night. 457 E. Ojai Ave., 640-7987 or www.azuojai.com.
Channel Islands Harbor has a gem in Waterside Restaurant and Bar, located in the Marine Emporium Landing. This classy spot boasts harbor views from every table, and a fine patio as well. On the menu you’ll find fresh, locally sourced fish, interesting meat dishes, fabulous appetizers (artisan cheese, bahn mi sliders and duck confit tacos), fine wine and craft beers on tap, plus a handsome bar. What’s not to love? 3500 Harbor Blvd., 985-4677 or www.watersiderestaurantandwinebar.com.
When James Beard Award-nominated chef James Chan opened Brasserie Communautaire in 2016, he took the local dining scene by storm, featuring haute cuisine not seen on a level this high before. It’s called Cocovin now, but the concept is the same: the freshest local ingredients meticulously prepared and presented with beauty and style, every flavor a distinct note in a culinary symphony. The price point is exactly what you’d expect from such a gourmet experience, but if you’re aiming to impress your date, this is the place. 4308 Tradewinds Drive, 985-5614 or www.eatcocovin.com.
For such a little town, Santa Paula is full of surprises: a fantastic airplane museum, great theater, an eclectic concert series. One of the area’s best restaurants, Hozy’s Grill, shares space with a bolt-manufacturing plant. Upscale but unpretentious, you’ll find halibut Vera Cruz, Cajun shepherd’s pie and stir-fry chicken side by side on the mash-up menu, along with excellent beef, pizza and even homemade pasta. Check out the award-winning wine room to further tempt your palate. 1760 Lemonwood Drive, 525-1068 or www.hozysgrill.com.
Another surprise: Santa Paula is home to one of the few, and arguably the best, New Orleans-style eateries in the county. Rabalais’ Bistro is where diners go for fried green tomatoes, jambalaya, red beans and rice and other Southern favorites. The service is friendly and efficient, the wine list is small but well-curated and the desserts are in a class all by themselves. Bon temps guaranteed. 861 E. Main St., 525-2109 or rabalaisbistro.com.
Romance is the name of the game on Valentine’s Day, and it’s hard to get more romantic than the intimate, candlelit Cafe Zack. Fantastic meat, seafood and pasta are prepared with great care and a true love for flavor and texture. Everything comes to the table beautifully plated, and the stellar service is both accommodating and completely unobtrusive, allowing diners to sip boutique wines and savor the ambience in peace. 1095 E. Thompson Blvd., 643-9445 or www.cafezack.com.
Newer to the scene, but also overflowing with romantic atmosphere, is Casa Bella. Separate dining rooms cut down on the hustle and bustle in this urbane establishment. Great cocktails, an enormous wine list, and creative cuisine round out the experience, but be warned: The chef isn’t shy with the butter or cream. 391 E. Main St., 340-1118 or www.casabellaprime.com.
Aroha The name of this very original eatery means “love and compassion” in Maori, making it ideal for Valentine’s Day. Haute cuisine, New Zealand style, with meats sourced from down under pared with the seasonal local produce, sustainable and organic wines, handcrafted cocktails and to-die-for desserts. 30990 Russel Ranch Road, Westlake Village, 405-5054 or www.aroharestaurant.com.
Cafe Firenze Celebrity chef Fabio Viviani (Season 5 of Top Chef) brings his flair for traditional Florentine fare to Moorpark, serving up homemade pasta, Neapolitan-style pizza and succulent meat and seafood dishes, including osso bucco and stuffed calamari. 563 W. Los Angeles Ave., Moorpark, 532-0048 or www.cafefirenze.net.
Sushi Tanaka Authentic, traditional Japanese sushi house specializing in dishes not often found on this side of the Pacific, let alone Ventura County. Try the Omakase (chef-selected tasting menu) for a true adventure in dining. Pricey, but worth it. 3977 Cochran St., Simi Valley, 306-1374.