Mouthful - My Funky Valentine

Reluctant suggestions for VD, Part Two

Valentine's Day is on a Saturday this year, which means the restaurant world will be nothing less than mayhem that night. Word on the street is that most top-tier places are already reserved to capacity. Still hell-bent on taking your sweetie out? Then it's time to get creative.

If you've been together with your significant other for a while and you're not necessarily out to wow but just have a good meal together, I've got two words for you: Buford Highway. Sadly, the decor at hardcore ethnic spots probably won't ignite passion. But there is something romantic about exploring unfamiliar culinary frontiers with someone you're excited to be with. At the very least, exotic food makes for engaging conversation.

A few places to keep in mind include Hae Woon Dae (5805 Buford Highway, Doraville, 770-458-6999) for Korean barbecue cooked right at your table; Panahar (3375 Buford Highway, Suite 1060, 404-633-6655. www.panahar.com), a Bangladeshi (much like Indian) spot in the Northeast Shopping Center whose owner, Mirza Ameen, is one of the most gracious hosts in the city; and Penang (4897 Buford Highway, 770-220-0308) for feisty Malaysian fare like roti canai and beef rendang.

A buffet may not come to mind when you're thinking l'amour, but the Persian spread at Shiraz (11950 Jones Bridge Road, Alpharetta, 770-751-7272) is no ordinary steam table. Persian, to me, is the most sensual food on the planet. Aromatic stews, delicate yogurt spreads and invigorating herbs all spark the libido. The challenge here, of course, is to refrain from overeating on a night when you'll most likely be gettin' some nookie. Good luck.

Just not into ethnic? Rustic Gourmet (1145 Zonolite Road, 404-881-1288) is an underdog in the Floataway complex near Emory where friends have booked late for Valentine's Day in years past. Its small room flickers with candles, setting the right amorous tone (the nonsensical French running round the walls doesn't hurt either). Prix fixe meals are standard here, so it fits the multicourse occasion as well. It's the night to splurge on a nice bottle of wine, and Rustic Gourmet's list is refreshingly quirky and budget-conscious.

I have two final suggestions: Belly General Store (772 N. Highland Ave., 404-872-1003, www.bellystore.com) is offering a five-course take-home meal for two. The menu includes heart-shaped ravioli with lobster, veal porterhouse and chocolate-dipped strawberries (they'll happily make a vegetarian menu as well). Personally, this sounds like a far more sane approach to dinner on this most hallowed of nights, but if you read my column last week you already have my opinion on this subject. I'll say no more.

Finally — you've simply blown it, there's no meal out, you're having leftovers for dinner and you're completely in the doghouse. At least spring for a seductive box of chocolates. For that you'll need a trip across town to a little house off Peachtree Industrial. Maison Robert (3708 N. Peachtree Road, 770-454-6442, www.maisonrobert chocolates.com) makes some of the most exquisite confections I've ever put in my mouth. If you choose to go the Russell Stover's route instead, don't say I didn't warn you.

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