G-SPOT: Restaurant and dining treats to help you sink your fork into Valentine's
At Flora, you could choose your meal by throwing darts at a menu pinned to the wall and still have one of the best dining experiences of your life. This Oakland hotspot, which serves up fancified American cuisine and art deco elegance, changes its menu frequently. The orgasmic caramel pudding topped with sea salt, however, seems to stick around and would make a fantastic choice to top a sexy Valentine's meal. An added bonus: if you get tired of looking at your date, check out the charming old-timey decor and adorably suspendered waitstaff and bartenders.
1900 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 286-0100, www.floraoakland.com. $15–<\d>$30
Serving up innovative Caribbean fare, newcomer Hibiscus is already creating a buzz in foodieland with its casual yet chic atmosphere, friendly service, accessible prices, and on-point cuisine. Expect to be blown away by the crispy plantains with garlic oil, refreshing cocktails with homemade syrups, pepperpot stew, fried chicken, and pretty much everything else on the menu.
1745 San Pablo, Oakl. (510) 444-2626, www.hibiscusoakland.com. $15–<\d>$25
With its shabby pink awning and Tenderloin location, Pagolac ostensibly maintains a total lack of affectation. But much like Dr. Parnassus' Imaginarium, once you step through the threshold, you enter a radically different world. Well, sort of. The interior is still modest, but the sparseness creates an elegant minimalism that highlights the authentic homey Vietnamese food. The signature dish is the seven-course beef, but cheaper options, like the make-it-yourself wraps, are just as fun.
655 Larkin, SF. (415) 776-3234, $10–<\d>$20
I've never eaten here for lunch or dinner because the brunch is just that good — among the best of the East Bay. Mainstays are the light and nutmeggy challah bread French toast, the lemon ricotta hotcakes, and the banana Nantucket flapjacks, but you really can't go wrong with any of the menu choices. The coffee drinks are also phenomenal, especially the mocha with Chantilly whipped cream.
2327 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 540-5950, www.venusrestaurant.net. $10–<\d>$15
STREET FOOD CARTS
If you're looking to get more bang for your buck (and yes, I just made a tasteless semi-ironic pun), then take your sweetie out on the town for a street food adventure. From crème brûlée to adobo to empanadas, it's out there waiting for you like some big edible treasure hunt. You can follow the vendors by their Twitter accounts.
BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE CAFÉ
For a simpler Valentine's Day excursion, skip straight to dessert and have a hot chocolate at Bittersweet. Personally, I'm convinced that the Spicy!, with its pepperiness and delicate note of rose, is direct evidence that there is a God and that s/he is kind and benevolent.
2123 Fillmore, SF. (415) 346-8715; 5427 College, Oakl. (510) 654-7159; 730 Camino Ramon, Suite 120, Danville. (925) 837-9900, www.bittersweetcafe.com. $5
Another option for the truly cash-strapped: grab a morning bun or croissant and enjoy the living theater of Dolores Park.
600 Guerrero, SF. (415) 487-2600, www.tartinebakery.com. $5