MUSIC has been called the food of love, but it takes a back seat to the love of food of love, but it takes a back seat to the love of food. Be it painstakingly planned or speed-of-light spontaneous, nothing is as neccesary to a satin-smooth seduction as "The Romantic Dinner." Everyone has a hidden weakness.
So go ahead. Excite your valentine with exotic, erotic entrees in a setting tailored to his or her personal fantasies.
It's not necessary to travel far from home, or blow your tax refund on out-of-season specialties. But use your imagination. You don't have to overwhelm him or her in a daze of wine and roses. It's been done before. With a little bit of thought you can concoct a meal as poetic and even more memorable than "a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou."
We asked several well-known people who should know--those for whom your pleasure is their business--how they would set the stage for their ideal romantic dinner: JOHNNY MATHIS, the cre me de la cre me of cuddle-up crooners, has written his own cookbook: "Johnny Mathis Presents Cooking For You Alone." But since cooking alone is not very romantic, Mathis offered this scenario:
For me, the ideal romantic dinner would be to invite another couple over and cook for both couples. I'm a great believer in good wines, and I keep a well-stocked cellar. Actually, my house was built by Howard Hughes for Jean Harlow. What is now my wine cellar was rumored to be a tunnel built between their two houses. Now that's romantic. I'd open a really good bottle of wine and have everyone in the kitchen with me while I'm cooking.
I'd probably do a shrimp dish, since you can do so much with it, and some vegetables and rice. After dinner, maybe a dip in the swimming pool, which I've just covered with a glass roof, and then, hot toddies in the Jacuzzi--it has a 180-degree view from L.A., west to Catalina Island.
As for music: some rhythm and blues, Dionne Warwick, Leslie Uggams, Stevie Wonder. If we're romantic and nostalgic, some Nat "King" Cole and Erroll Garner. And if all else fails, I can put on some Johnny Mathis records.
DR. JOYCE BROTHERS, counselor and talk show veteran, author of "What Women Should Know About Men":
I know as a psychologist that if I want to set a romantic mood for a man, the worst thing to feed him is liver and spinach, and the best is steak and chocolate ice cream. We're talking about pleasing a man here.
Research shows that the tryptophan in steak is a precursor to seratonin. That puts a person in a relaxed mood; in fact, it can put someone to sleep. But you don't want to go that far. It also makes him receptive. Also, the chocolate in chocolate ice cream contains a chemical similar to the love chemical, so you're producing feelings of love and romance.
If I wanted to persuade him to love me, I would do that at the very start of a meal. The first few bites are the most persuadable time. I wouldn't try this at breakfast. No man can be persuaded to do anything before 10 a.m.
As far as atmosphere goes, candlelight, of course. My husband and I are very romantic--we even fight by candlelight. And as for setting, much better than the Riviera is our own home. I prefer it because it's closer to our bedroom.
MELVIN LINDSEY, velvet-voiced radio announcer, host and originator of WHUR Radio's "The Quiet Storm," a nightly program of lush, romantic ballads:
For me, a romantic setting would be inviting my lady friend to my home. I hate to cook, so that really would be saying something. Just the idea that I would have slaved to cook a meal itself would be romantic.
Most important is the music. Since I wouldn't be on the air, I'd probably make a tape of some of my favorites--soft, slightly jazzy stuff. Carmen McRae, "The Man I Love," some Roberta Flack, "Making Love," "Killing Me Softly."
A little candlelight, some soft Quiet Storm music. I'd make chicken Normandy; that's chicken, apples, brandy, mushrooms. A little rice and a salad and a white wine. The dessert would be us.
ROSEMARY RODGERS, best-selling author of such steamy romance novels as "The Insiders" and "Love Play," who says she may be a grandmother, but hasn't given up on having fun:
You know what I think would be a wonderful romantic dinner? Now, this is not the X-rated version; you'll have to read the books to find that out. We'd be sitting up in a king-sized bed with Dom Perignon on ice within reaching distance. Also, bluepoint oysters on the half shell and all kinds of wonderful finger foods; they're very sensuous. We would feed them to each other.
Now, if we were in my Big Sur house, we could do it in front of a roaring fire (and there would be a fire inside us!). Or in the hot tub, with the steam rising in the air, and the surf crashing below below us. For music, I would have Wagner, just the music, not the singing. "Tristan" or "Gotterdammerung." Wagner's music is so sensual.
So we would eat finger foods and lick each other's fingers. And from there it does get X-rated!
JEFF ELLIS, President, Ridgewell Caterers:
My fantasy: I probably would take a day in January that I knew there would be a snowstorm coming through. My wife and I would hop a private jet to the Bahamas, probably Walker Cay. I'd have the captain pick us up in a small Danzi speedboat and take us out to the sportfishing yacht, 60 feet. Ellis says he's buying one. We'd go snorkeling for lobsters for dinner that evening. Then we'd rest with a cold drink in the Jacuzzi. Just before dinner, I'd toast my wife with a frozen mango daiquiri. We'd eat at a table for two set on the fantail stern in the middle of the lagoon. The only light we'd have is from the fishing tower and the moonlight. Dinner would begin with conch ceviche; the captain would cook the lobster and fresh vegetables. For dessert, all the passion fruits: mangoes, papaya, casaba, Chinese gooseberries, soaked in Dom Perignon, plus very light chocolate truffles. During dinner, we'd be serenaded by a floating native combo band, just offside, with violin and steel drums. As I pop the cork of the Dom Perignon, fireworks begin in the Cay, spelling 'I Love You.'
Just after dinner, when we've relaxed and enjoyed the night thoroughly, I bring the captain down to the stern and tell him to start the engines, because I want to be the first out, first in the box on the first night of the annual Broadbill Swordfish Night-Fishing Tournament.
LEO BUSCAGLIA, PhD, bestselling lecturer and author of "Love" and "Living, Loving and Learning":
My idea of a romantic dinner probably would not be anyone else's idea of a romantic dinner. I'd get together a group of the people who mean the most to me, and invite them over and cook for them. I'd probably make a great big pasta dinner, with some good red wine and a terrific antipasto, and for dessert, zabaglione. I'd want to have all these people together just to relate to them that I love and care about them.
If it had to be with a single person, it would be a similar thing. I wouldn't want to go out anywhere. I'd like to be fully responsible for everything, from the music to the flowers to the wine selection to the table arrangement.
CHEF TELL ERHARDT, television cooking teacher in 102 markets with advice on everything from choosing the right dishes to doling out desserts:
Anyone can buy a bunch of flowers and make a reservation for dinner. Everyone could go out and spend $100 on an evening. I think if half the men in America used a little imagination and surprised their girlfriends or wives by trying to cook something, everyone would enjoy Valentine's Day more.
I'll have my date in from San Francisco tomorrow, so this is what I'll probably do. A little champagne, perhaps some American caviar, or some foie gras or goose liver pa te'. Or maybe some smoked Westphalian ham on a little black bread. I'd probably prepare some veal. I could care less, I'd probably prepare something simpler, but she's Italian and she loves veal. I'd saute' it with fresh mushrooms, some white wine. Serve it with fresh asparagus, if possible. If not, I'd make a stir-fry with brussels sprouts, spaghetti squash and--what do you call them?--snow peas. I'd have a white burgundy or California chardonnay. I have an expensive wine cellar, so that's no problem.
For dessert: fresh raspberries. It's the most sensuous food, maybe with a cre me l'anglais. If you have raspberries on your tongue, it's the most sensuous feeling there is, when it comes to food, anyway.