All set for Valentine's Day? Let me guess: A) you're going to cross that love bridge if and when you come to it - and likely wind up doing nothing, or B) you're going to go to one of those same-old, same-old go-to places you go to most every other Valentine's Day.
OK, what do those scenarios say about the state of your relationship - do the words stale, stagnant or predictable come to mind?
I mention this because recently I thought of a Valentine's date that could really refresh and surprise your honeybunch. How about making reservations on the sly, then whisking off in the car with your sweetie pie and, while remaining zip-lipped, casually motoring north out of town.
Your paramour is guaranteed to be grinning with anticipation and "look at you" delight. When you pull up a short half-hour later to a spectacular brick mansion built in the 1800s which serves excellent food, it'll definitely be a Valentine's Day to remember. Welcome to Doc Henderson's in Marysville.
Christened for the Civil War-era physician who built it and listed on the National Register of Historical Places, Doc Henderson's certainly stands out among local restaurants. It's a carefully restored two-story house that's deep and stout and features stained glass, a dramatic staircase, lots of beautiful woodwork and carved-out, turreted rooms.
And the cuisine? Doc's jazzy preparations include enough raciness and richness to be always interesting but not so much risk-taking as to distract from the simple visceral pleasures of eating satisfying food.
So two dark-charred baby portobella caps ($8) came topped with a rillettes-like spread of duck confit, cherries and tart, creamy boursin cheese. That appetizer was decorated with a double helix of cherry sauce and a mango vinaigrette and its surprising yet familiar flavors would please even non-duck aficionados.
The Steak and Shrimp Bruschetta ($10) was another starter very easy to swallow. A couple of crunchy full-sized slices of grilled Italian bread were layered surf-n-turf-style with good warm roast beef beneath a cold shrimp salad made with finely diced celery and red pepper and just enough mayo to hold off a pleasantly aggressive bite of horseradish.
A phyllo-wrapped flaky package of oozing, rich cheese anchored the entre-sized Baked Brie Salad ($10). Fat loops of a bright raspberry sauce rimmed its well-chilled bowl and found matches in scattered fresh berries and counterpoints in pistachios and a bracingly tart champagne vinaigrette applied perfectly to bitter, tender greens.
On a more modest scale, but likewise pushing all the right buttons, were the house salad ($5 - with herby croutons and house-pickled cucumber slices deftly tossed in a semisweet thickish dressing) and a daily special tortilla soup ($3.50 - spicy and chickeny but not gloppy or run of the mill).
Doc's accomplished hand with buttery browned phyllo resurfaced in the fine Mediterranean Chicken Streudel entre ($21). Resembling an oversized, bias-cut egg roll were two split logs sprinkled with thyme, drizzled with a balsamic reduction and stuffed with big chunks of chicken breast (just juicy enough), pine nuts, spinach and a bit of feta. Keeping that company were buttery veggies julienned into noodles, a mound of perfect, rich garlic mashed potatoes and a lovely, lemony buerre blanc sauce.
My Crab-Stuffed Rainbow Trout ($22) was light on the crab and heavy on the garlic, but still a winner. A supple, juicy and tender filet was draped over its twin which was packed with a crab cake-like stuffing. On the side was an earthy medley of wild rice, rice and barely wilted spinach, plus a garlicky "tomato butter sauce" with a dairy fatness tamed by just enough acid.
If you only head to Doc's for lunch, you'll also be happy. The sandwiches (like an exceptional and delicate cornmeal-dusted walleye with Thai mayonnaise) arrive with good fries or even better house chips - crackly, substantial, dark-cooked and flaunting garlic.
Either way, don't skip dessert. Doc's has the sweet prescription for a guaranteed romantic repast and a cure for the common cold partner with winter warmers like a dense, cakey Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding served with an intense hot fudge sauce and great whipped cream. Warning: side effects can include dizziness, laughter and plate-sharing happiness.