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Thursday, Feb. 10, 2005 09:05 am

Treat your sweetheart to a romantic dinner

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Fond of dessert fondue? Z Bistro offers three varieties

There are many culinary ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but for Abbas Zolghadr, it’s all about chocolate sauce, a little liquor, and a match.

“Anytime you can introduce chocolate sauce and flambé, you have a recipe for romance,” says Zolghadr, the owner of Z Bistro. “It is a perfect finish to a meal.”

Z Bistro, the area’s only fondue restaurant, offers three varieties of dessert fondue: caramel topped with white rum, dark chocolate with orange liqueur, and peanut butter–chocolate. The warm concoctions serve as delicious dipping sauces for fruit, pound cake, chocolate wafers, and marshmallows. (The liquors are set on fire, burning off most of the alcohol.) What could be more romantic than dipping skewered bananas, strawberries, and marshmallows into rich, melted chocolate and feeding them to someone you love?

“There are so many things that make fondue dining a romantic experience. I think the most important thing is the participatory aspect,” Zolghadr says. “Fondue dining is a chance to slow down and really focus on the meal because you are actively participating in its preparation.”

The intimate 60-seat restaurant, lit by candles and the glow of fondue flames, is one of several local eateries that can provide a romantic setting on Valentine’s Day.

Z Bistro is offering a special today (Feb. 10) through Feb. 14: a four-course meal featuring a choice of cheese fondues — Swiss, Cheddar, pepper Jack, or a three-cheese blend (Swiss, Gruyère, and Cheddar); a caesar salad; an entrée of beef, chicken, shrimp, and scallops; and a chocolate, caramel, or peanut butter–chocolate dessert fondue for $49.95 per couple. For $65 per couple, a bottle of wine and after-dinner drinks are included. Each woman will receive a complimentary red carnation.

“Most men view fondue as a ‘chick’ meal — something they do to make their partner happy, but most times the men end up having the best time. They lose their food in the fondue pot, or they make some type of huge mess, or they try to orchestrate the cooking schedule — it makes for lots of humor along with the intimacy,” adds Zolghadr.

And who says you have to have a significant other to enjoy the holiday? “Large groups also have a great time, for many of the same reasons,” he adds.

If your idea of a romantic dinner is a panoramic view of Springfield, Capisce? Ristorante Italiano’s prime location on the 30th floor on the Hilton Springfield is a good option. The restaurant’s modern décor — incorporating aqua walls, bold floral artwork, and abundant use of glass and mirrors — provides a comfortable, sophisticated setting. Dine at one of the U-shaped booths facing the windows for a great view of the city lights while enjoying a plate of pasta, steak, or fish.

And what would Valentine’s Day be without still more sweets? Incredibly Delicious, located on the first floor of the restored Weber House, is the perfect spot for a romantic lunch, which you can follow with one of owner Patrick Groth’s special Valentine’s Day pastries — chocolate Bavarian cake, almond petits fours dipped in pink-tinted white chocolate, cocoa truffles, sugar cookies in the shapes of hearts and lips. Ginger-pear tarts will be offered for the non–chocolate lover.

Z Bistro is located at 220 S. Sixth St.; 217-522-4049. Reservations are required. Incredibly Delicious is located at 925 S. Seventh St.; 217-528-8548. Lunch is served 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Capisce? is located on the top floor of the Hilton Springfield, 700 E. Adams St.; 217-789-1530. Hours: 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Reservations are recommended.

Food for a good cause

Several local organizations are serving up food at fundraisers later this month.

• Sugar & Spice, the 12th annual chili supper to support Sparc programs, will be held noon-7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26, on the west campus of Sacred Heart-Griffin. Red and white chili, hot dogs, homemade desserts, and beverages will be served. The event features a silent auction, music, a raffle drawing, clowns, face-painting, and other activities for children. Tickets, which cost $6 for adults and $3 for children ages 6-12, are available at the door and at area sites. For more information, call 217-793-2100.

• The Roman Cultural Society Italian Dinner, benefiting the Rutledge Youth Foundation, will take place 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27, at the Knights of Columbus Hall located at Meadowbrook and Iles streets. The dinner, the organization’s sixth annual benefit, includes penne pasta and meatballs, salad, garlic bread, cannoli, and beverage. Tickets are $7. Children 6 and under are free (dine-in only). Call 217-525-7757 for tickets. Carryout is available.

•  A chili cook-off to support the Mia Ware Foundation for Cancer Education and Research will be held noon-6 p.m. at Don’s Place, at 207 W. Morgan in Jacksonville. Judging begins at 3 p.m., and the winner will be announced at 5 p.m. For information, call 217-243-2112.

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