is it any wonder that valen-tine's Day is the hottest meal ticket of the year for Toronto restaurants? When else do hunger and desire get sated in such a frenzy of feasting? And whether money's no problem or too tight to mention, love -- as Barry White knows -- is always on the menu.According to Stockwell Day, it all started 6,000 years ago with Adam, Steve, some snake and that damned apple. Ever since, man, woman and reptile have connected sex with food. And regardless of personal proclivities, hunger and passion are universal.
"Every day is Valentine's Day," says Nancy Barone, the effervescent owner of Ellipsis (503 College, 416-929-2892).
The five-year-old spot is a favourite of those looking for the perfect location for romance. An insanely popular brunch 'n' lunch destination, at night Ellipsis's pale-lemon walls glow by candlelight. There are flowers everywhere, and the elegant tables layered with raw linen are far enough apart to ensure a sense of privacy.
For the 14th, Barone has lined up a three-course prix fixe Valentine's dinner ($45) that starts with a glass of sparkling Persecco followed by a raw Malpeque on the half-shell with freshly grated horseradish, lemongrass and chili-infused vodka accents. Lobster salad with anise-scented baby beets, sunflower sprouts in a tobiko vinaigrette, grilled pompano sided with pan-fried salsify and braised endive sauced with sea-urchin roe complete this seafood lover's concerto.
Sea urchin, whose "roe" is actually the prickly creature's reproductive glands -- hence its reputation as an aphrodisiac -- also turns up on Susur Lee's menu d'amour at his eponymous eatery (601 King West, 416-603-2205). Lee won't say what else he has planned -- it's a surprise -- except that his eight-course marathon will be "avant garde." But anyone springing for the $300-per-couple tab is probably guaranteed to get lucky in more than just the culinary sense.
Equally luxe and slightly less expensive, Sarkis's (67 Richmond East, 416-214-1337) extravaganza promises erotica. Chef Greg Couillard pulls out the stops with an à-la-carte lineup of Indo-inspired dishes -- starters priced between $15 and $20, mains $35 to $42 -- that includes his take on Oysters Rockefeller with creamed spinach spiked with saffron-chili sauce, as well as Maharaja Biryani, rose-petal-glazed Cornish hen with basmati rice studded with dried fruit, coconut and cashews. For dessert, he offers fresh pan, the near-narcotic combo of betel-nut and lime paste.
"I chewed some the other day, and I swear I got high," laughs the notorious former druggie.
There's little left to the imagination in Sam Gassira's Valentine's inventory for Focaccia (17 Hayden, 416-323-0179). Priced at $150 per couple, his innuendo-riddled roster stars freshly shucked oysters with an orgy of condiments, tempura hearts of palm, passion-fruit sorbet and roasted strip loin with a mushroom ménage à trois. This clandestine affair climaxes with Orgasm shooters. Cigarette?
One of the loveliest rooms in town (squint and it's Manhattan), art deco-rated Patriot (131 Bloor West, 416-922-0025) has fabulous window tables that overlook Toronto's most fashionable strip. Mega-chef David Chrystian will offer a $50 prix fixe on the 14th that starts with "sparkling" pickled oysters and Canadian caviar, continues with lobster, tuna and amaranth wraps and wraps up with roasted duck breast and confit over lingonberry-sauced sweet potato puree. Finish with a very boozy Goldschlager chocolate trifle.
Further afield, west-end Lemon Meringue (2390 Bloor West, 416-769-5757) offers a three-course festive feast ($45) that showcases chef Derek Strachan's oeuvre: salmon gravlax, oyster fritters, seared beef tenderloin with truffled mash and molten chocolate espresso tart.
Leslieville's Verveine (1097 Queen East, 416-405-9906) goes à la carte with things like steamed hearts of artichoke and asparagus with Bartlett pears and foie gras hollandaise ($12) and grilled ahi tuna on crisp potato roesti alongside pearl onions and Swiss chard in bordelaise sauce ($24).
Sexy Latitude (89 Harbord, 416-928-0926) gets lovers in a latin mood with it's three-course prix fixe ($132 per couple) dinner spotlighting crab and shrimp pupusas smothered with green salsa, mushroom-encrusted rack of lamb with chili corn pudding, and cranberry empanadas laced with goat-milk caramel.
Funky market upstart La Palette (256 rue Augusta, 416-929-4900) offers a three-course $30 prix fixe with romantic goodies like steamed mussels in saffron cream, grilled Muscovy duck breast and blueberries, raspberries and strawberries in an almond-sponge envelope.
Casanova wolfed them down before a romantic conquest. So did Don Juan. And the Romans shucked them by the bucketful at orgies. Though much apocrypha surrounds the oyster, not all of it is myth. From sea water, oysters filter and store great amounts of zinc, which is considered by nutritionists to be one of the most vital elements in human physiology, especially for men. Zinc not only enhances the production of testosterone, but also stimulates the male reproductive process. No zinc, no zing. Scientists say there's no proof that oysters have any aphrodisiac powers, but who has sex with scientists? When buying them live at local fishmongers like Lobster Island (169 Augusta, 416-591-6488), Mike's in the St. Lawrence Market (93 Front East, 416-368-0876) or Pisces Gourmet (1103 Yonge, 416-921-8888), make sure they smell fresh and that their shells are shut tight. Never open an oyster until it's about to be served, and make sure the meat hasn't shrunk away from the shell and that its briny liquor -- or, ahem, love potion -- hasn't dried up. Purists insist oysters are best served raw on the half-shell. Here's the classic ecipe for Mignonette sauce, a simple complement that brings out the best in any bivalve: combine 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar with 2 tablespoons of minced shallots and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground white pepper. Makes enough for a dozen fresh oysters.