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Anniversary-Worthy

If it's June, it must be time to go out to dinner

By Heather Irwin

It's that one night of the year when you feel like an awkward teenager again. New shoes pinch uncomfortably, hair is sprayed in ways that defy both nature and weather and it's hard not to feel, well, a little giggly and ridiculous around the person you've spent the last who-knows-how-many-years sleeping with. Happy Anniversary, dear!

Dinner must be had, and an anniversary-worthy restaurant is one that, with every bite, makes you fall a little more in love. It's that magical combination of ambiance, good food, attentive service and flattering lighting. But food makes the event extra special. This is a special night for indulgences and experimentation (even before you hit the bedroom). Resist the temptation to take your sweetie-pie anywhere that requires a bib or has PBR on tap. Expect to shell out upwards of $12 per entrée and to hear yourself ordering things like "asparagus terrine" and "pan-seared salmon with a balsamic reduction," tiger. Nervous? Don't be. We'll take good care of you.

The Happiest Hour. Leave talk of your co-workers back at work and shake off the day at the new Vintner's Inn Front Room (4350 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, 707.575.7350). The recently remodeled lounge is clubby and warm, with a grown-up vibe that says you're way past ordering Jägermeister with a beer back. This is more of a Crown Royal straight up vibe. Feeling frisky? Try the Aromatic Flight of cool, crisp white wines ($15)--mucho sophisticato. Even the fried calamari oozes charm when paired with a spicy green papaya salad and Thai basil dipping sauce. You're so grown up. Sit back, relax and stare into each other's eyes until you crack up and remember why you fell in love with the big galoob anyway.

Hey, Big Spender. You're so money. If you've got the cash (or a working credit card) and a taste for pomp, circumstance and some serious service, Cyrus (29 North St., Healdsburg, 707.433.3311) is the spot. Nestled into the super-exclusive Le Mars Hotel, the restaurant is old-school fancy-schmantzy. Lots of doting waiters in black, a dark, womblike atmosphere and enough champagne and caviar to impress a czar. When you arrive, the kitchen is alerted to your arrival, sending out warm amuse-bouche while you peruse the French-California prix fixe menu. You're almost famous. At $74 for five courses, the price feels pretty famous too, but reasonable compared to other top-flight restaurants in, say, Yountville or San Francisco. (You can also get a three-course dinner for $52, or really splurge for the $85 chef's tasting menu) Hey, this is your anniversary, after all.

Trés Nouveau. Press (587 St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena, 707.967.0550) is Napa's newest restaurant. With soaring ceilings in a post-industrial glass and steel building, this is a bright and airy space with a menu that's pure Napa. Every dish has a lengthy pedigree (Edge Hill honey, Taku River salmon steak, etc.) and more ingredients than probably necessary, but when you're spending upwards of $20 a plate, think of it as an investment. With open seating, Press isn't the place for a romantic first anniversary, but more of a second or third "let's have an adventure" anniversary. Because sometimes being seen is just as important as being together.

Isn't It Romantic? While the idea of lounging on a velvet sofa when feeding your lover is a lovely notion, it rarely turns out that way. You can give it a try, however, at the Martini House (1245 Spring St., St. Helena, 707.963.2233), where fireside sofas pull up to long tables in the upstairs dining area. More amusing, however, is the back corner of the downstairs bar, where you can steal kisses between courses.

Though it's been around a while, the Madrona Manor (101 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707.433.4231) is a perennial old-school dining experience in a lacy, tea-cozy-and-fringe sort of way. Despite the Victorian knickknacks all about, the menu is remarkably straightforward (halibut, salmon, beef, pasta) and elegant with a solid wine list. And, hey, there are rooms right upstairs should you need one after that last sip of port, you old dog.

Different Is Good. You got married in a wetsuit and named your kid Gunner. You're a little different. That's a good thing. So make your anniversary a little different, too. Kitchen (868 Grant Ave., Novato, 415.892.6100) is a hip, chef-owned outpost in a rather unlikely place: the middle of Novato. Featuring a seafood-laden menu, the food gets its attitude from Christopher Douglas, most recently from San Francisco's Foreign Cinema. Though it's got an enthusiastic local following, Kitchen is still relatively unknown north of Petaluma. And that, too, is a good thing. Another local favorite is Santa Rosa's seven-0-seven (1612 Terrace Way, Santa Rosa, 707.523.0317). Simple small plates are perfect for sharing. The lighting is romantic, with plenty of flickering candles and glowing sconces. The only drawback are uncomfortable wooden chairs that leave you numb after a few courses. But you're in love and don't feel a thing.

Budgetary Bliss. If you're spending more time at the Home Depot than Victoria's Secret these days, fear not. Jhanthong Banbua (2400 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707.528.8048) is a spicy journey to Southeast Asia--or at least Northeast Santa Rosa. And with the Gold Coin Motel just steps away, you can get dinner and a tumble with change left over for the Coke machine. The recently opened Ravenette Cafe (117 North St., Healdsburg, 707.431.1770) is luxury dining on a tight budget, in a super-charming, six-tables-only setting. From nearly every table (the best is the far left corner) you can chat with friendly neighboring eaters and watch the kitchen staff cooking mere feet away. It's not overly fancy, but with dishes like black-vinegar-braised baby back ribs with celery root purée ($13), it's not exactly the home of the Whopper, either.

Dessert. Here's where you score big. Forget the dessert. Jump in the car and break out your super-duper romantic anniversary kit. Yes, you've pre-planned, packing the following items: two blankets (one for the ground, one for you to share); two wine glasses; assorted fruits; and a bottle of Dolce 2001 Napa Valley Late Harvest Dessert Wine (about $60). If that's too hard on the pocketbook, try a nice Muscat or sweet Zinfandel. And don't forget a bottle opener.

Head somewhere secluded. Your backyard is fine, but sneaking into a park gets you bonus points (and possibly also arrested, so obey local laws), spread your blanket, pour a glass of sweet nectar, tell your honey cakes how much you love him or her. Cue fireworks.

Just be sure to name your first-born after us.

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From the June 8-14, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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