Restaurant Review - Your love's not cheap, but dinner can be

Affordable romantic dining for Valentine's Day

Love it or hate it, Valentine's Day is upon us. Unfortunately, the economy's in a tailspin, which makes it hard to feel good about blowing out the bank account for one night. Or maybe you just don't go for the $100-dinner-equals-love equation. Either way, you don't have to settle for fast food. You can be thrifty without skimping on romance. Here are 10 restaurants whose prices won't force you to live on the contents of your heart-shaped box for the rest of the month.

VIOLETTE. 2948 Clairmont Road. 404-633-3363. It's said that the French are the best at spreading l'amour, but normally it takes a big bite out of le wallet as well. This quaint restaurant offers a romantic setting along with great French food for not a whole lot. The four-course fixed-price menu is a deal at $29 per person, and features a choice of appetizers, salad, entrees and desserts. For starters, there's pate de campagne with pistachios, Dijon mustard and cornichons, or a crab cake with aioli sauce. Entree choices include honey-glazed chicken breast with apricots and almonds, peppered prime rib with veal jus, or salmon filet with lobster coulis. Finish it all off with a French meringue with raspberry coulis, or marquise au chocolat.

CAFe DE NICE. 580 Pharr Road, Buckhead. 404-264-1678. It's always so nice at Cafe de Nice. And Valentine's Day is even nicer with a $35 three-course prix-fixe menu. For an appetizer, choose the sauteed shrimps Provencal salad or the carrot and ginger soup. Entree choices include sauteed chicken breast over potato gratin and asparagus with an old-fashioned mustard sauce, or roasted salmon filet with ginger over saffron rice and asparagus with spicy bell pepper coulis. For dessert, revel in bananas Foster, coffee, chocolate strawberries and a glass of champagne. Reservations recommended.

PASTA DA PULCINELLA. 1123 Peachtree Walk, Midtown. 404-876-1114. Ciao bella! Next to the French, the greatest lovers are the Italians. With pasta made fresh daily, this is your chance to indulge without visions of debtors' prison. Of course, if you get a bottle of wine, appetizers and dessert, this isn't a budget selection. Order a glass, stick to the carbohydrate offerings and leave dessert for a more private occasion, and you can leave the table without topping $50. The pasta with Granny Smith apples and sausage is so good it will make you want to get naked and cry. Now that's amore.

FLYING BISCUIT. 1655 McLendon Ave, Candler Park. 404-687-8888. www.flyingbiscuit.com. The cozy, comfy Candler Park joint continues its fixed-price Valentine's menu tradition. The vegan-friendly selections are a surprise, but the price should range between $29-$35 per person. Start planning now; you'll need a reservation for the evening. Or you could take the day off, saunter in after a passionate morning and order up a plate of love cakes. It's your choice.

CAFe SUNFLOWER. 2140 Peachtree Road, Buckhead. 404-352-8859. 5975 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs. 404-256-1675. www.cafesunflower.com. A chilled-out vegetarian atmosphere — complete with stained glass window — complements the menu's complex but comfortable tastes. Feed each other vegetable dumplings and pray they're serving the carrot ginger soup. Many of the dishes are hearty enough to satisfy meat eaters. Several V-Day specials, but no fixed-price menu. Entrees run $9.95-$15.95.

CAFe TU TU TANGO. 220 Pharr Road, Buckhead. 404-841-6222. www.cafetututango.com. Ah, the art of love at art-themed Cafe Tu Tu Tango. If you don't have a date, mosey on down anyway — you're bound to find someone at pickup central. This special includes alcohol — as rare a find in an inexpensive special as true love. The V-Day prix-fixe dinner is $50 (tax and tip included) per couple and includes one wine bottle of sangria (red, white or passion fruit), a selection of any four appetizers and, for dessert, a chocolate and raspberry mousse "martini." Reservations recommended.

QUEEN OF SHEBA. 1594 Woodcliff Drive, North Druid Hills. 404-321-1493. qsheba.com. Love and dinner are sometimes messy. Eat Ethiopian cuisine with your hands or, better yet, from your Valentine's hands. Entrees are served on a communal plate and eaten by picking them up with pieces of injera (a sourdough pancake-like bread). Sit at a regular table or add to the exoticism by sitting at a drum-like wicker basket table. Meat and vegetarian entrees run $6-$16, though most are under $9. Beer, wine and liquor are available. No Valentine specials, but the place is unique and quite a bargain. Try one of the combinations for a bit of everything. And don't worry about messy hands; moistened towelettes come with the check for easy cleanup.

APRES DIEM. 931 Monroe Drive, Midtown. 404-872-3333. www.apresdiem.com. Cozy, continental Apres Diem always sets the mood for love. Indulge in a little MacPherson Shiraz and perhaps the salmon farfalle from the regular menu, or opt for the two-course V-Day special ($23.95). Appetizer selections includes both Maine lobster whipped potatoes with chive creme fraiche and sherried mixed greens with candied red onion. For an entree, try chef Kristian Murphy's passion tower filet of Argentinian beef or wicked sashimi tuna. After a lovely dinner, maybe you'll be ready to carpe diem.

BARAONDA. 710 Peachtree St., Suite 200, Midtown. 404-879-9962. www.baraondaatlanta.com/index2.html. This casual little place full of polished wood and warm vibes doesn't have a fixed-price V-Day menu. But it will have lots of delicious specials (served up by those delicious-looking waiters) to go with its regular menu. A glass of the house red, an appetizer and a special shouldn't set you back too far. Entrees run $8-$14.50.

SWEET DEVIL MOON. 350 Mead Road, Decatur. 404-371-3999. Is your love hip yet unpretentious, exotic but not wild, tasty but not overwhelming? Then your food soulmate is funky, fanciful Sweet Devil Moon. Celebrate with the V-Day special: A pitcher of sangria or a bottle of red or white wine and your choice of five tapas. $60 per couple. Plus live entertainment.

Jane Catoe, Jerry Portwood and Andisheh Nouraee contributed to this article.??