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A place where love is in the air

What constitutes a "romantic" restaurant? How far is up? Readers ask for "romantic" recommendations from time to time, and, without knowing them, I don't know how to answer.

Love is too subjective. One person's idea of romance is elaborate decor -- heavy drapery, deep carpets, lush music, lots of gilt.

But someone else may seek a simple, natural view. Billowy clouds, gentle breezes wafting through the hair -- you get the picture.

So, knowing full well I'm traipsing into sensitive territory I'll take the challenge this week. If you are contemplating a proposal (best of luck!) or an anniversary meal, or you just plain want to impress, here are some ideas. (There are many, many others; let me hear from you.)

You say you want decor as extravagant as your feelings and rich food to match? Consider Salvatore's Italian Gardens, 6461 Transit Road, Lancaster -- because, sometimes, nothing succeeds like excess.

This elaborately decorated restaurant picks up on the spirit of Rome by way of Las Vegas, and has good lighting, luxurious food and exceptional service. Now operated by the Joseph Salvatore family, the restaurant has been renowned for so many years that it has become a tourist destination.

Another place to try is the Melting Pot at the Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga. Sure, it's a chain restaurant, but there's a big pot a-bubbling in the center of the table, set on an electric burner that your server fires up. And in that pot are goodies. Maybe a mixture of cheeses and seasonings, maybe seasoned oil, or chocolate.

You and your partner take a long fork and choose from a tray of dippers -- bread cubes, vegetables, meat, seafood, fruit.

You dip into the hot stuff and eat -- all the better to enjoy conversation and long, long looks. Chocolate fondue for dessert ought to take things further. (Rice Krispie Treats -- ooh --are included among the dessert dippers.)

The Melting Pot is a maze of alcoves and rooms, so you can hide away. And the wine list is exceptional.

Many reviewers refer to the 31 Club, 31 Johnson Park, as "swanky" and that it is. This historic house offers sexy, witty decor. I love the zebra wallpaper on the stairway to the second floor. And there is a wide menu with a contemporary slant (try the duck fries -- they don't sound it, but at 31 they're romantic).

There are scenic patios and a big back room, but a good place to sit is in one of the front barroom's lavish circular booths.

You are in the center of the action, but you are also wonderfully tucked in and cozy.


Send your suggestions for a romantic night, and any questions you have about dining in Western New York, to longtime News restaurant reviewer Janice Okun at

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