Anne Marie Panoringan

Voice of OC’s food columnist — reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s prior work includes writing about food for eight years at the OC Weekly in which she interviewed more than 330 chefs, restauranteurs and industry professionals for her weekly “On the Line” column. She has been recognized by the Orange County Press Club and she also is a recurring guest on AM 830’s SoCal Restaurant Show.

If you asked my better half about our first Valentine’s date, he would recollect screwing up the evening because he forgot to make a reservation at Red Lobster in West L.A. What I consider our first Valentine’s was the year before (technically it was also our first date back in 1996), when we braved traffic to Universal CityWalk and dined at Gladstone’s. I still remember walking around with foil-wrapped leftovers in the shape of a swan — or was it a duck?

Lately, practicality tends to overshadow creativity when it comes to planning our weekend, with Target runs and familiar dining rooms replacing fun date nights alongside my significant other. I was tapped out of ideas and thought reaching out to other busy spouses for advice would do the trick. 

Instead of a general rundown of what restaurants are doing for Feb. 14, I took the opportunity to chat with couples who represent a range of cuisines, cities and price points at their own restaurants. These pairs are not only husbands and wives, but owners, chefs and management. They shared with me their favorite date activities, preferred places to dine at, where they like to get take out, plus they described how each of their restaurants plan to celebrate the upcoming holiday.

Nasim and Brian Clark of Everyday Eatery

Easygoing afternoons along the coast are what Everyday Eatery owners Nasim and Brian Clark gravitate toward when they go on a date. They like cruising down PCH to Treasure Island Beach behind the Montage resort in Laguna. “It’s a beautiful place for a sunset walk, and in summer it’s great for swimming. We think it’s one of the most beautiful places in Orange County. Plus we can take our dog,” says Brian Clark.

When it’s time to decide on lunch and dinner destinations, Persian (Nasim is half Persian) and Thai cuisines are the couple’s favorites. Over at Irvine Cafe, a hearty Persian stew called ghorme sabzi consisting of beef shank and kidney beans is a regular takeaway meal of theirs. The papaya salad and green curry at Thai Cafe remind them of visits to Thailand. When they want to dress up a little, the two favor Cucina Enoteca and Marché Moderne for a night out.

One of the secrets to their own restaurant’s success is how Everyday Eatery reflects both Brian and Nasim’s preferences toward the brekkie/brunch/lunch concept. According to Brian Clark, they envisioned the daytime-only spot in Irvine to be the kind of place they like to spend dates at. “Nasim often picks the place, and she prefers clean lines, a bright atmosphere and a few clean-eating options; whereas I’m happy if I can get a breakfast burrito or indulge my sweet tooth,” he said. 

For Valentine’s, the two of them predict “French Toast Forever” (a shareable menu mainstay) to have breakfast fans swooning with its berries and chantilly cream. Any of Everyday’s drinks made with house-made floral syrups such as the cardamom-rose and lavender lattes will likely generate many orders as well.

Ying Chang-Adamson and Robert Adamson of Strong Water Anaheim

Owners Ying Chang-Adamson and Robert Adamson of Strong Water Anaheim. Credit: Photo courtesy of Sarah King Photography

Date nights have been few and far between for the wife and husband team behind Anaheim’s shipwrecked bar Strong Water Anaheim. “All of our activities outside of the business and homeschool life include activities strictly for the family/kids. We love spending time with them and just want to see them happy, educated and safe,” Ying Chang-Adamson said. Zoo excursions, aquarium visits and Legoland are popular destinations.

At-home couple time is their preference for date nights, with ordering takeaway meals in lieu of dining out. When the two initially began dating they shared a love of sushi. Nowadays, the Adamsons might treat themselves to Orange Roll & Sushi to-go for quality seafood. As for their other favorite meal, they indulge in Detroit-style squares from one of my favorites, Focaccia Boi. “Hands down, best pizza in town and truly such a treat. We love passionate people and just want to support the locals as much as we can!” Chang-Adamson says.

The key to Robert and Ying’s success as business owners is relying on each other’s strengths. He oversees creative aspects including menu design and custom tiki mug curations (allowing him to work remotely plus look after their two children); she is in control of hiring, training and day-to-day operations. “We’re both able to be hands-on during the daytime and live a non-mainstream lifestyle – which we love,” Chang-Adamson says. 

Strong Water will have all hands on deck this Valentine’s weekend thanks to incoming Galley Master (Ahoy, chef!) Steve Kling. Opening three months pre-pandemic, their restaurant is celebrating the holiday for the first time. At $90 per couple, the prix-fixe menu includes a choice of starter, entree and shared finale. “Things are starting to look a little normal around here, and we’re thrilled to have an amazing chef to help us execute our vision,” Chang-Adamson says. Starting tastes include miso-dressed greens with fresh crab and pork wontons in ginger broth. Entrees are a choice of vegetarian coconut curry, grilled ahi and New York strip. Featured beverages showcase a rum flight as well as rose-hued cocktails. 

Paige and Matt Riordan of Scarlet Kitchen and Lounge

Chef Paige Riordan and Matt Riordan of Scarlet Kitchen and Lounge enjoying some outdoor time. Credit: Photo courtesy of Scarlet Kitchen and Lounge

Prior to immersing themselves in the restaurant world, chef Paige and general manager Matt Riordan of Rancho Mission Viejo’s Scarlet Kitchen were both certified personal trainers, so hiking and gym sessions are some of their pastimes. In fact, the two tend to get pretty competitive against one another when they workout. Their ideal date night is a hybrid of dining out then staying in for a movie or catching up on a series. “You have to take advantage of the relaxing times while working in this industry,” Paige Riordan says.

As to where they dine, they are regulars at San Juan Capistrano’s Ciao Pasta; favorite dishes by chef Pasquale include a crudo grana pizza, rotelle pasta in vodka sauce and brasato — a short rib recipe from the chef’s mother in Puglia. They also enjoy frequenting Harvest at The Ranch in Laguna Beach and Ramos House Cafe in San Juan Capistrano for brunch. When it comes to take-out, the sweet chili and barbecue wing flavors at Mission Viejo’s Epic Wings rank up there along with its breadsticks. Local eatery Natraj’s Indian Bistro in Rancho Santa Margarita is the duo’s go-to place for vegetable samosas, mango corn soup, lamb tikka masala and malai kofta (vegetable croquettes and paneer in almond cream sauce). 

Scarlet Kitchen will not only have the full menu available, but two prix-fixe menus available for Valentine’s. The first prix-fixe menu will be based on Scarlet’s existing selections while the secondary one contains more luxe offerings, including squid ink risotto in a spicy tomato sauce with halibut and various shellfish, a nod to the couple’s honeymoon in Greece and chef Paige Riordan’s New England background. Molten chocolate cake finished with fresh strawberries and candied rose petals will be the evening’s signature dessert. Guests looking to sip beyond both prix-fixe’s complimentary glass of bubbles may want to order The French Cowboy featuring Luxardo cherry juice, cranberry, Angostura bitters, star anise and your choice between bourbon or vodka — created by bar manager Jackie Pember.

Amelia and Florent Marneau of Marché Moderne

Kicking back with a glass of wine, established restaurateurs Amelia and Florent Marneau of Marché Moderne have no reservations going beyond O.C.’s borders for a little relaxation. “We make dinner, and the times we are able to have a true date night escape, we go to San Francisco,” Amelia Marneau says. They’ve also got a modest camper that they’ll trek to San Diego in to explore its dining scene at places like chef Eric Bost’s Jeune et Jolie in Carlsbad, where they had an incredible meal.

Although most of the Marneau’s leisure time is reserved for destinations further away, every so often they’ll end up at Pico Rivera’s Dal Rae Restaurant for a veal chop. “We like the old school L.A. vibes and owner Kevin Smith is a great host. We sit in a booth and just relax,” Marneau says. For takeout cravings, it’s Heritage Barbecue’s curbside pickup for beef ribs and brisket – but they’re dying to try the brisket banh mi. 

Normally closed on Mondays, Marché Moderne will celebrate Valentine’s Day from Feb. 11-14, with seatings on Monday at 4, 6, and 8 p.m. Instead of a prix-fixe menu, to switch things up the kitchen will offer its à la carte menu along with a few specials. “We’ll be doing cured gravlax caviar appetizers and a winter black truffle risotto served with whole lobster. For our steak lovers, there will be a 14-ounce ribeye, too,” Marneau said. Chef Amelia also will be doing a special Vacherin (layered meringue) for dessert. 

Additional Valentine’s Suggestions

Every holiday season my inbox receives a slew of notifications promoting a restaurant’s participation in (insert major holiday here). Narrowing down the list to a few highlights means that I’ve combed through listings and have specific reasons for wanting readers to learn about a particular place. 

Bosscat Kitchen

Bosscat Kitchen’s Red Velvet Churros. Credit: Photo courtesy of Bosscat Kitchen

It makes my heart happy when places strive to go beyond what customers normally expect – especially when it comes to supporting a nonprofit. Celebrating with a “Month of Love” theme, both the Orange and Newport Beach branches of Bosscat will be donating $1 from the sale of every Scarlet cocktail and red velvet churros dessert to the American Heart Association. The tequila-based beverage includes fresh pomegranate, lime and ginger. Churros are served with a side of cookie butter frosting and dusted with cinnamon-sugar.

Dublin 4 Gastropub/Wineworks for Everyone

Deciding to forgo the standard prix-fixe route, the adjacent South OC dining rooms with a shared kitchen owned by the Coyle family are instead offering a couple of specials on top of Dublin 4’s and Wineworks’ respective regular menus. This means guests won’t feel the pressure of spending more money than usual when in Mission Viejo. Seared diver scallops in a sunchoke puree alongside hedgehog mushrooms will be the sea option, while a maple leaf duck breast that includes foie gras and a sour cherry reduction represents land.  

Balboa Bay Resort

Live entertainment, dancing and an all-you-can-eat dinner were the trifecta I wasn’t expecting from a restaurant. This romantic evening is set in a French-inspired buffet that includes prime rib, oyster and crab raw bar, plus a crêpe flambé station at Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach. Themed as “A Night in Paris,” the evening features a performance by Michael Buble tribute singer Scott Keo, accompanied by a four-piece band next to a beckoning dance floor. Private seating for two and shared tables are available. More details can be found on Eventbrite

Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at ampanoringan@voiceofoc.org.


» Stay connected with the arts scene with our weekly newsletter.


Since you value arts and culture,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good arts and culture journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, Voice of OC’s arts and culture reporting is accessible to all. Our journalists are focused on keeping you connected with the artistic and cultural heartbeat of Orange County. This journalism depends on donors like you to thrive.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.