This Valentine’s Day, I’ve decided I don’t need another fancy meal (although if you do, that’s awesome, and there are plenty of romantic meals to go around). Instead, I’m on the hunt for something a little different; an activity that we can both enjoy in public that won’t get us arrested for indecent exposure. Happily, many of Chicago’s restaurants and venues seemed to tap into that need this year, offering up a whole slew of options, some during Valentine’s Week, which means you won’t have to wrestle with the crowds. So rather than fighting for a prime-time V-Day reservation, try one of these romantic adventures instead. Because love means never having to say, “I’m bored.”
Join your love for an Empanada 101 class at this Lincoln Square steakhouse. Argentine food is the name of the game here, and Executive Chef Saul Roman makes a very fine empanada. Learn his trade secrets for beef, caprese, and corn & cheese empanadas, then sample with a glass of wine. Still hungry? Stay for dinner, and maybe dance a tango or two to live music.
The Deets: Feb. 12, 6:30 p.m., $20 per person. Call 872-208-7441 to reserve.
The Chopping Block
Ah, l’amour! Although many of the Valentine’s Day classes are sold out, there are still a few spots in the Fabulous French Pastries class at 10 a.m. at their Lincoln Square location. If you’re willing to find romance on an adjacent day, you can opt for the Hands-on Valentine’s Feast: Midnight in Paris at the Merchandise Mart on Feb. 13.
The Deets: Check the schedule for all the options.
Let’s be honest. Lasagna = love, at least in my book. So, making said lasagna together has to be pretty high on the list for a dream date, amirite? Learn to make Baked Burrata Lasagna in a hands-on experience at this River North favorite, pair it with antipasti and dessert, and copious amounts of Chianti. All this, plus a special take-home gift.
The Deets: Feb. 12, 6:30 p.m., $100 per person.
What’s more romantic than cooking together? Nothing! And if you’re making fresh pasta together, all the better. Dario Monni, the oh-so-charming Italian who owns this wonderful Wicker Park pastificio restaurant with his wife, Jill Gray, invites you to celebrate “Amore Bello” (beautiful love) with a fully immersive evening that just screams Italy, including a pasta-making lesson at the table before feasting on heart-shaped pasta, antipasti and snacks, and plenty of vino.
The Deets: Feb. 14, seatings at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., $80 per person, plus tax and fees. Purchase tickets here.
Art Is Love
Inspired by some of Chicago’s most famous couples, this Loop hotel is offering three special “Cultured and Cuffed” packages for Valentine’s Day this year. Recreate Michelle and Barack’s first date at The Art Institute, followed by a champagne toast; emulate Melissa McCarthy and hubby Ben Falcone’s meet cute at a Second City comedy show with pre-show cocktails at About Last Knife; or honor Benjamin Marshall, the architect of the Atlantic Bank Building (current home of the Hotel Julian), and his wife, Elizabeth Walton, with VIP access and a private tour at the Chicago Cultural Center or the Architecture Center.
The Deets: Prices vary. To book, email [email protected]
The Naked at the Art Museum Scavenger Hunt
Someone will be naked, but it won’t be you! The Art Institute of Chicago is filled with “naked” art, from cherubs and bathing beauties to athletes, gods, and goddesses. Your team will search for answers to clues about the artwork, led by Hunt Hosts and assistants. It’s a test of knowledge, and a chance to really experience the artwork from a whole different angle.
The Deets: Feb. 14 at 5 p.m. and Feb. 15 at 1 p.m., $38 per adult.
Revival Food Hall
Shake up the routine a little with this hands-on cocktail class with Bar Manager Mark Phelan of Revival Café Bar. Is it time to shake, or maybe stir? Learn how to make a great drink, craft a few cocktails, and taste the results.
The Deets: Feb. 12, 6 p.m., $45 per person.
You can pre-game AND post-game Valentine’s Day at The Whistler in Logan Square. Start the night off with their love-themed beverages, then return after dinner for a Heavyweight Soul Dance Party with DJ Mr. Jaytoo. They tell us it’s the perfect place for “shaking your groove thang with your boo thang.” I felt hip just typing that.
The Deets: Feb. 14, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. No cover or reservations required.
Untitled Supper Club
Yup, Galentine’s Day is now a real thing, and you can thank the fictional Leslie Knope of “Parks & Rec” for this ode to female friendship and empowerment. All the single ladies (cue Queen Bey) will enjoy the Galentine’s Boylesque and drag show, with a little something for everyone, including circus performers, contortion and aerial artists, and more.
The Deets: Feb. 13, 9 p.m., dinner service starts at 4:30 p.m.
That Pup Life
District Brew Yards
The most beloved member of the household deserves a little love too, you know. Grab your furry beastie (the four-legged one!) and head to the pup party for Howlentine’s Day. Holiday-themed doggy attire is highly encouraged and can get you some ‘Gram attention.
The Deets: Feb. 16, 1-5 p.m., enter through dock on Hubbard Street.
Let’s Spread the Love
Prairie Grass Café
This year, Prairie Grass chef-owners Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris are supporting the important work of the great Chef José Andrés and World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit organization that is first to respond to the crisis of hunger after natural disasters. “We are very proud to support Chef Andrés and World Central Kitchen,” says Stegner. “We hope that on Valentine’s Day our guests will join us in opening their hearts to this generous and dedicated organization that does such important work for those in immediate need.” PGC will be selling flowers, heart sugar cookies, and Stegner’s hot cocoa mix. “These simple yet poignant gifts remind us that caring for others is an important message of Valentine’s Day. All proceeds from these sales will be donated to World Central Kitchen.”
Hungry for More?
If you’re still looking for the perfect restaurant to impress your Valentine, read our suggestions for the best sushi spots, cozy restaurants for winter, or classics that will never go out of style.
Julie Chernoff, Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and counts Northlight Theatre and Les Dames d’Escoffier International as two of her favorite nonprofits. She currently serves on the national board of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an advocacy group addressing hunger issues in the U.S. and Israel for the nearly 46 million people — veterans, children, seniors, tribal nations, and more — who go to bed hungry every night.