Chef Melia Marden Makes Monday Evening Romantic
Creative tricks for elevating any weeknight meal to date-night status.
Executive Chef at The Smile
New York City
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When you’re busy, date nights are often the first thing to go. In order to keep the romance alive through the upcoming insanity of the holidays, we asked Melia Marden, new mom and executive chef at popular NYC spot The Smile, for her tips on pulling together easy weeknight date-nights-in. “I’m in the thick of this,” she tells us. “We put the baby to bed and then we try to make a nice dinner so it feels special and not like we’re eating just because we have to.” As it turns out, with a well-stocked kitchen and a little creativity, you can turn any Monday night meal into a romantic dinner.
1. Keep a stocked pantryI always have canned tomatoes and kalamata olives in my pantry. It’s also good to have exotic spice mix on hand, which you can find at any specialty grocery store. You can use it on everything—toss it with roasted vegetables and you’ve got a delicious side or use it as a meat rub for a quick, tasty main-dish.
2. Buy wine by the caseIf my husband and I find a wine that we like, we’ll get a case to have at the ready for romantic dinners. When you’re out at a restaurant and you both find something you like, make a note of it to buy for your next spontaneous date-night-in.
3. Splurge on good cheeseI get cheese from Murray’s Cheese. Instead of buying it at the supermarket, go to a specialty store—they carry better quality cheeses, they know how to keep it properly and they sell more of it so their current stock is always freshest. Look for something with a low water content, like an aged goat cheese, so you can keep it in the back of the fridge.
4. Have special desserts on handKeep high-end artisanal ice cream, like the Il Laboratorio gelato we serve at The Smile, in the freezer for impromptu date nights. Add seasonal fruit for a pretty, fuss-free dessert. You can also pick up pastries from a local bakery you both love. I like to bring home dessert for my husband from Smile to Go.
5. Lighting is keyIt’s the most important thing for setting the mood. Changing the lighting before you eat separates dinner from the rest of the day. Turn off the overhead lights and turn on a few lamps to help phase out of the day and into a relaxing evening.
6. Take extra time to set the tableUse cloth napkins, nice dishware and candles. It takes almost no time at all, but it makes whatever you’re eating feel instantly more elaborate and elegant.