photo of Seasons Dining Room

The Sampler’s Valentines

Winter holidays are important.

Valentine’s Day is strategically placed in the coldest, darkest time of year, relentlessly gray, grim, and inhospitable, but it is a holiday devoted to romantic love. What better to warm the cockles of our hearts? I believe it was Duke Orsinio in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” who said, “If music be the food of love, play on!”

But what if food is the food of love? After all, the common wisdom is that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Surely this is not a characteristic of one gender only. The probable fact is that a romantic evening depends largely upon stimulating all of the sense in various ways, thus awakening the more sensual instincts and—dare one say it?—desires. So one will want the soft embrace of good music, the arresting scent of fresh cut roses, and attractive clothing in bright colors to easily allure the eye.

I usually take Mrs. Sampler out to eat on Valentine’s Day. Back when we were courting, I used to try to impress her by whipping up fancy little intimate dinners showcasing my culinary knowledge and abilities. (Or, alternately, the less subtle approach of searing a huge hunk of steak over red hot coals.) Now, we prefer to avoid the preparation and clean up, and, in fact, to avoid the half-hour drive to Bloomington or Columbus, and to make our little love feast at some local eatery.

There are a lot of places you can go, but we hit a few different places, make an evening of it. We start out, like civilized people with cocktails before dinner; we like the upscale look of Darlene’s on top of the Hotel Nashville. The bar overlooking the golf course at Salt Creek is also classy. But on this occasion, we end up at the new, improved Pine Room, which has been upscaled considerably.
For dinner, we like the dining room up at the Season’s Lodge. It’s not really fancy, but it’s nicely appointed and has, if not a formal, a somewhat reserved feel to it that fits with a nice dinner out. I like to sit by the long bank of windows along the southern end of the dining room and look out over the Salt Creek Valley and Snyder Farm.

Now, a note about the romantic dinner. Food may in fact be the food of love, but try to remember the overall agenda. If you are like the Sampler, a huge enormous feast is generally followed by a stuporous, food-induced coma. Most experts recommend dining on the lighter side on occasions where romance is likely to come into play.

The Seasons has a very nice soup and salad bar, which may prove ideal because of these considerations. Mrs. Sampler and I have tried it many times and highly recommend it. Since the idea of a love feast is to sample many flavors and textures to stimulate the senses, you might want to nibble on an appetizer. Try the crab-stuffed mushroom caps or the coconut shrimp with apricot sauce.

As much as I love the fried foods, I am avoiding them as too filling for the occasion. No fried chicken (much to Mrs. Sampler’s surprise!) no fried catfish, and, for good measure, I’m going to pass on the great fettucini alfredo on the Season’s menu and also skip the Chicken Oscar, one of my favorites.

What you want, though, is protein; fuel for the engine of the body.
And there’s something primal about a good piece of beef; it arouses the carnivore within. I now know Mrs. Sampler well enough to know she will have the lean, choice, Filet Mignon, served with sauce Bearnaise.

I think long and hard about a kind of surf and turf thing with the baked orange roughy stuffed with crabmeat dressing and a ribeye topped with sautéed mushrooms, but instead veer at the last second into a grilled salmon steak with the house herb dill butter and garlic redskin mashed potatoes on the side.

The food is delicious, the service excellent, and the ambience satisfying and comforting. We dine at a leisurely pace, enjoying one another’s company.

Despite my acute predilection towards a good dessert at the end of a fine meal, I will share with you one last observation about the romantic meal; be aware of a certain look on your partner’s face; a slight cast of the eye, a knowing smile, that is signifying to you that, regardless of your preconceptions, the meal has ended and other senses beckon.

There will be many more desserts, but love waits for no one.
And, as Mrs. Sampler so happily observed, “Home is close by and there are no dishes to do.”

She was profoundly satisfied.