Ambience, service, food and the variables that combine to make a night out extra special
Diners enjoy their meals under 100-year-old blooming wisteria on the patio at Bella Union in Jacksonville. [Courtesy photo]
Cucina Biazzi is housed in a small cottage in Ashland, with patio dining available. [Courtesy photo]
Wood, brick and brass give Harvey’s in Ashland a posh pub vibe. [Courtesy photo]
Garden dining on a summer’s eve at Peerless Restaurant in Ashland. is a popular spot for a romantic dinner out. [Courtesy photo]
Diners have their choice of romantic dining indoors or outdoors at Porters in Medford. [Courtesy photo]
What is it that makes a restaurant a great place for a romantic evening out?
For some, preparing a dinner at home for your loved one can be the most romantic gesture for a special occasion. For others, a picnic in a park can be a sweet option.
“For romantic dining when the weather’s nice, my husband and I like to eat in Lithia Park,” said Angela Decker of Ashland. “We’ll grab a slice from Martoli’s or a sandwich from Mix and find a spot near the creek. Lithia Park is always gorgeous, and a perfect place to canoodle with your honey.”
But sometimes, the occasion demands an all-stops-out restaurant dining experience.
While the food is important, other elements come into play as well: lighting, noise level, table linens, soft music, service, stemware and décor.
Even memories of a previous experience can amp up the romance factor on a repeat visit. Celebrating an anniversary, for instance, at the same restaurant where she proposed can make the evening more special.
For some, no romantic dinner is complete without a special dessert, preferably chocolate. Restaurants will tell you that a couple’s proximity to each other and surrounding tables is important. The two should be close enough to be able to engage in conversation, but not so close that legs and elbows get tangled — unless intended.
Attentive but not hovering service is appreciated. When someone is tending to your food, silver, wine and comfort, you can tend to your partner.
It all adds up to ambience. The challenge for the restaurant is in the mixing and matching of all the variables to cater to individual tastes and expectations.
The Rogue Valley is blessed with a multitude of excellent dining options, thanks in part to the lively arts scene and tourism. But several stand out for heightening the romance factor. And with the pandemic waning, a celebratory dinner might be just what the doctor ordered.
In no particular order, following are some that receive high marks for their romance quotient.
Bella Union Restaurant and Saloon in Jacksonville charms its diners with the ambience only an historic, 1864 building — and the 100-year-old wisteria on the patio — can deliver.
“We’ve seen many proposals and other celebrations out there,” said hostess Sara Smith. “I also think the happy employees come across in the friendly, relaxed service.”
With a diverse menu, Bella Union is at the gateway to the Applegate Valley wine region. It has a full bar with an extensive list of wine and craft beers to complement the dining experience.
“It depends on the occasion,” Smith said, “but we offer a free dessert for a birthday, and our mud pie is a common choice.”
Angie Knight and Don Walker of Central Point celebrated their anni-versary at Bella Union.
“We always enjoy great food,” Knight said. “That night, a couple at the next table were having crème brûlée for dessert. Don commented that it better not be the last one, because I love crème brûlée.
“When the check came, we discovered the other couple had paid for our dessert, which made the evening even more special.”
Porters, Dining at the Depot, located in Medford, is nostalgically named in honor of the men and women who work professionally aboard passenger trains.
The classic American restaurant features steaks and seafood, the usual accompaniments, and a few surprises in a romantically lit atmosphere with a taste of old-town Oregon history.
“People like our private booths where they can pull the curtain for privacy,” said Jeff Gray, a member of the management team. “And we don’t rush the diners. We figure 90 minutes for a four-course meal and a bottle of wine.”
Porters also offers a complimentary birthday or anniversary dessert.
Steve and Andrea Shapiro of Ashland are regular Porters.
“We like the intimate privacy of the booths, the generous wine pours, and especially the sinful desserts,” Andrea said.
Peerless Restaurant and Bar in Ashland gets great reviews as a lively, sophisticated place to dine.
Paul and Priscilla Arnold of Ashland count Peerless as one of their favorites.
“An early summer evening dinner in the garden area of Peerless is about as romantic as can be,” Priscilla said. “The food and wine are always very good, and it’s a place we like to take visitors too.”
People love the ambience inside as much as al fresco dining. Reviews have cited the warm, relaxing atmosphere and the “delectable” food.
“Our goal is to give diners an intimate space to celebrate,” said host Ayanna Barnes. “And our service is designed to give them space for their private moments and conversation while providing good food and service.
“We keep things running smoothly so they can con-centrate on each other,” Barnes said.
Elements Tapas Bar in Medford lives up to its name with a menu that includes small plates, perfect for sharing. Seafood, “landfood” and paella anchor a varied menu.
“We are warmly lit,” said bartender Blake Satre, “which I think is underrated. There are no TVs blaring. And on the bar side, the emphasis is on specialty cocktails, which make for a celebratory experience.”
Linen napkins on the tables add a touch of elegance.
Alchemy Restaurant and Bar at Ashland’s Winchester Inn is famous for its holiday Dickens Feasts, a multi-course dinner where the owner, dressed up as Santa, passes out gifts to the diners.
It’s also a popular spot for special occasions and celebrations. Casey Watson, who works at the Winchester front desk, summed up why:
“People love the lighting and intimate dining areas, the incredible chefs serving decadent food, and the complimentary little desserts for an anniversary or birthday,” he said.
Jacksonville Inn Restaurant & Lounge is located in the heart of historic Jacksonville. The dinner house offers a distinctive cuisine using fresh ingredients, many of which are grown in their gardens.
Tami Deese, who works in the inn’s wine shop, says people love the décor.
“The linen tablecloths in the dining room and the fun of our unique bar and bistro area combine for a memorable experience,” she said.
“Jacksonville Inn is a place of traditions, memories and many generations of diners. A complimentary champagne birthday cocktail is a tradition,” she said.
Cucina Biazzi, housed in a small cottage in Ashland with a wisteria-covered patio, is a traditional Italian trattoria. It’s small, intimate and warmly decorated.
Mark and Nora Knox like Cucina Biazzi’s romantic appeal.
“Its inside setting is intimate and the candle-lit lighting reflecting off the historic house’s redwood décor and white tablecloths with a bottle of chianti is memorable,” Knox said.
Its four-course meals finish with a small salad of mixed greens, feta cheese and walnuts, a European tradition.
Sous chef Eve Kemp says patio dining is a favorite with many customers.“It’s especially beautiful when the wisteria is blooming,” she said.
“I think it’s a great place for a romantic dinner because of the ambience of an historic building, our subdued lighting and the white tablecloths.”
Birthday and anniversary couples usually receive a complimentary pot of crème or tiramisu, depending on the night, Kemp said.
Bambu in Medford offers both indoor and outdoor dining, with limited seating. The menu features a blend of regional Asian cuisine, featuring flavors from Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Hawaii, Indonesia and the Philippines.
One thing that appeals to romantics are the small plates, allowing diners to share tastes with one another.
“We try to set ourselves apart with our one-on-one, attentive service,” said Veronica Ward, co-owner with husband and chef, Adam Ward.
“Bambu is run by a husband and wife who love each other very much, and we try to show that in how we treat our customers,” she said.
For long-time regulars, they have been known, with advance notice, to surprise them with a greeting card or special flower arrangement to celebrate a birthday or anniversary.
Hearsay Restaurant, Lounge & Garden in Ashland employs a modern take on American cuisine and cocktails but welcomes diners with the atmosphere and music of the 1920s and 1930s.
“It’s a warm and inviting space,” said restaurant manager Freddy Herrera.
“The speakeasy vibe, the elegant décor, the warm colors, and the larger-than-life artwork are a great combination.”
Piano music adds to the ambience Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30 to 8:30 pm
“We like to surprise anniversary couples with a free flute of prosecco to start things off,” Herrera added.
Gogi’s Restaurant in Jacksonville offers a full menu of appetizers, salads and entrees, with a large wine list and full bar.
Its entrees include some ambitious dishes, including confit of duck hindquarter, braised lamb shank, seared tuna, gnocchi and mustard-crusted filet mignon, to name a few. It’s a menu that reflects the seasons.
Harmony Duet, co-owner with partner and chef Gabriel Murphy, says the smaller space provides an intimate atmosphere that appeals to romantic couples.
“We course it out with attentive service,” she said. “That way we can tell whether the diner is ready for the next course or needs a little more time. We want them to have a fine dining and leisurely experience.”
Harvey’s Place in Ashland is a happening place, but not with a lot of noise. It’s a favorite spot for Bob and Jean Scott of Ashland.
“The lighting is subtle, not stark,” Bob said. “The décor and table linens make for a nice atmosphere.”
Harvey’s bartender Alex Bazzell said the wood, brick and brass give the restaurant a posh pub vibe. “People love our ambience,” he said, “with our small tables tucked away in little intimate spaces.”
For more information, to book tables, and to check menus, search these and other restaurants online.
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