Valentine’s Day comes with high expectations. Oh, the pressure to create romance.
Add to that an expensive dinner in a restaurant overburdened by so many romance-seeking customers, and the evening often ends in disappointment.
I remember one Valentine’s Day dinner, at a top New York restaurant famous for its magnificent cheese course, which it presents on a rolling cart. The most fun part of the meal, for me, would be discussing the various selections with the knowlegeable and enthusiastic cheese master, learning about his offerings, and then tasting our choices.
Photos by Molly Yeh
I love a good fried chicken. I love schnitzel, I love katsu, I love anything fatty and breaded and crispy. If my Valentine presented me with a heart-shaped schnitzel on the 14th, I think I’d propose right then and there.
The problem is, I also love feeling good and fitting into the cute Valentine’s Day outfit that I’ve had picked out for weeks. In other words, I want my Valentine’s Day dinner to be as yummy as a schnitzel but much healthier than one.
Oven frying (baking a breaded cutlet, rather than deep frying it) is an obvious answer but I’ve never been a fan of it. With the fake fried food experience, I feel sad and cheated, and cheated is the last thing anyone wants to feel on Valentine’s Day. So… Za’atar to the rescue! It’s one of my favorite spice blends and I am a firm believer that za’atar, like chocolate, can make anything better.
Let’s also not forget that Valentine’s day falls on Shabbat this year. The amazing earthy flavor of za’atar with the crunchiness of panko on this chicken is a beautiful thing, and it is bound please a crowd for your Friday night dinner or a special date without an overwhelming amount of prep. This dish will leave you feeling great, and you may even gain a whole new respect for oven fried chicken like I did. It’s breaded without being heavy or oily and it’s paired with a sweet balsamic date chutney, to add a little extra sweetness to your night.
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Max Brenner isn’t ashamed of his unconditional love of chocolate. “I can’t go a day without chocolate,” says Brenner, whose real first name is actually Oded.
In 2009, the Israeli-born Brenner penned a book of recipes — a kind of ode to all things chocolate — entitled “Chocolate: A Love Story.” In it, he draws similarities between his relationship with chocolate and a long-term love affair.
Brenner is first and foremost the Bald Man of Max Brenner, Chocolate By the Bald Man, an ever-expanding chain of restaurants that focuses on all things sweet. Sure, the restaurant serves savories (a couple of dishes even meld savory and sweet, such as French fries dusted with cocoa powder and onion rings served with a dark chocolate ranch sauce), but the desserts garner most of the attention. Customers go crazy for the chocolate fondue (recipe below), chocolate egg rolls and chocolate pizzas (there’s even a very popular chocolate syringe).
The Max Brenner chain began as a store in Ra’anana, near Tel Aviv, in 1996. In Israel, Brenner is a bona fide culinary star, a true chocolate icon. But his empire now extends to 34 locations worldwide — including Australia, the Philippines and Singapore. There are three locations in the U.S. — one in New York, one in Las Vegas and one in Philadelphia. A Boston restaurant is set to open in two months.