The link between food and love may be ancient, but it continues to thrive in modern times right here in the Upper Midwest. Wherever you travel in Minnesota, there's likely to be a romantic culinary getaway awaiting you.
Domacin Restaurant & Winebar, Stillwater
For those who have been to Europe, the glory of dining there is not so much the five-course, white-tablecloth affairs -- not that they're unpleasant, but they often pale in recollection beside that glass of wine and plate of cheese enjoyed at a casual seaside cafe. Domacin picks up on that casual but refined vibe and brings it to the shore of the St. Croix River. And if there's a cozier place to eat in Stillwater, we haven't found it.
The Kenwood, Minneapolis
Chef Don Saunders has a reputation as one of the Midwest's brightest culinary lights, and it comes through in his food, which is rich, beautiful and deftly balanced. The Kenwood feels like a tasteful old hunting lodge magically transported to the cozy Kenwood neighborhood, and it's a place where couples can make themselves abundantly comfortable.
Lord Fletcher's Old Lake Lodge, Spring Park
Few things are finer than enjoying a Minnesota summer by taking in a lake view along with good wine and serious seafood. And there are few better perches from which to do this than Lord Fletcher's, a venerable lake lodge with an unparalleled patio view of Lake Minnetonka and all the boats and related tomfoolery that come with it.
Meritage, St. Paul
French cuisine walks hand-in-hand with romance, thanks to its tradition of rich, sophisticated comfort. And there may be no better example of French food done right than the menu at Meritage. The St. Paul institution has made some recent strides to top its own game with the addition of a raw bar that can stand proudly alongside its cousins on the East and West coasts. From absinthe to cassoulet to oysters to cocktails to profiteroles with an insanely rich dark chocolate sauce, Meritage doesn't miss a trick.
Tycoons Alehouse & Eatery, Duluth
The Fitger's dining, music and brewing empire made a bold move when it converted Duluth's historic city hall into Tycoons Alehouse. The restaurant's stone and woodwork tells a tale of when Duluth was "the zenith city of the unsalted seas," and the menu is celebratory but accessible. The story behind the restaurant's steak is almost worth the trip by itself -- the cattle are raised on spent grain from the Fitger's brewery, and you can -- and should -- enjoy it with a Fitger's beer on the side.
Tutto Bene, Bemidji
From oxtail cannelloni to walleye cheeks to wild snow crab ravioli, the menu at Bemidji's Tutto Bene offers up a level of sophistication that befits its college town locale. If you're in the area, load up on pasta or the pescato del giorno (fish of the day) at one of Minnesota's hidden gems.
Organic Roots Bistro, Ely
As the gateway to the Boundary Waters, Ely has a reputation for being rustic yet sophisticated -- a place where you can outfit an expedition but also grab a great bite of grub. Organic Roots offers thoughtful, delicious food that would pass muster in downtown Minneapolis in a charming small bistro environment, and it's a perfect place to mark your triumphant return from the woods.
Finding great seafood in the Midwest can be tricky, but there are restaurants that rise to the challenge with aplomb. Rochester's Pescara is one of them -- its fresh-from-scratch dishes made with seafood have a delicacy and liveliness that recalls coastal dining. Handmade cocktails are a perfect support for the food, which includes scallops, lobster bisque, cioppino, and some locally inspired fare like walleye a la Milanese.