It’s a well-worn, even tired, question–what constitutes the perfect Valentine dinner? This month, reservations will surge in the city’s restaurants as people try to suss out the answer, likely with mixed success. Part of the reason, of course, is because food preferences are so subjective; one person’s delight can be another person’s horror. Too, Valentine’s Day falls in February, probably the nadir of fresh fare options–no sun-ripe tomatoes, fewer seafood choices, limited fruit. Age and familiarity also affect the holiday’s best potential menu. When you’re young and newly in love, a couple of oysters and a few sips of champagne can be sufficient to propel the evening’s itinerary. As we grow older, food may remain the way to a man’s heart, but longtime acquaintance often requires more elaborate persuasion, hopefully without inducing a stupefying “food hangover” that brings a dead-end stop to the occasion.

But none of this dissuades us from trying to seduce our loves with food. If you’re cooking at home, I suggest a light meal, centered on a favorite dish or two. Don’t make anything so laborious as to render you exhausted and cranky, particularly if your loved one has a tendency to be inadequately cognizant of heroic efforts. If you’re treating for a night out, make the very best arrangements, sufficiently ahead of time, to secure the favored restaurant or caterer or luxury provisions, and don’t forget the details–babysitter, candles, presentation, snazzy clothes.

In both cases, the food will be lovely, the drink gorgeous, and the circumstances ideal, because the occasion has been planned with love and appreciation for each other. That’s a perfect Valentine dinner.