Love and dining in the time of COVID-19

Published February 11, 2021, 8:36 PM

by Krizette Laureta-Chu

Valentine in this pandemic can be a good story if, as Ernest Hemingway once put it, ‘it is like Manila Hotel’

I remember this time last year, when COVID was a vague and hazy virus lurking in the shadows, worrisome enough that the government froze flights and stopped inbound tourism from certain areas, but still seemed harmless enough that we were still at malls, in a mad rush to buy gifts for loved ones, in packed restaurants trying to book reservations for the special day, in movie theaters catching the latest release. 

Ah, scenes from a lifetime ago. 

Had we known that life would change so drastically, that it would be the last time in a long time we would get to experience our “usual,” how would we have spent our “last” ordinary Valentine’s Day? (I would have spent lunch at my favorite buffet restaurant, walk around the mall and shop, spend dinner at another buffet restaurant, and then catch two movies after, and then go home to my beautiful hotel, where I’ll soak in a beautiful tub while eating chocolates I wouldn’t care if it was sanitized.) 

The pandemic has forced us to change our ways, altered the way we celebrated milestones like graduation, Halloween, Christmas, and it is now changing the most intimate celebration of all. What would Valentine be, without trips, without a hotel room full of petals, without furtive kisses at darkened cinemas?

But love is, as literature will tell you, a hard-won joy. And the more difficult the circumstances, the sweeter the story. The more chaotic the external, the more intense the internal (and all that jazz), as a tool for storytelling.

Love in the time of COVID-19, therefore, is a chance to express our extraordinary sentiments in these extraordinary times. Here are a few ideas. 

Practicality trumps everything

At a time when every peso counts, and resources can be scarce, level up your gifts to make sure they are practical even while romantic. (Please don’t gift someone a sack of onions—that’s not what we meant by practical.) 

Don’t just give flowers (unless they can be grown in a garden or a pot because cut flowers are expensive), make it spicy and serotonin-inducing by choosing chocolate bouquets instead. Chocolate bouquets are as equally as beautiful as flower bouquets, and can last for as long as our will or self-control does (in my case, one afternoon), and when we want to weep from the sadness of it all, we can bury our faces in the bouquet and sniff in the intoxicating smell of chocolates, and then pop one into our mouths for its endorphin-releasing power. When we get tired, stressed, sad, and lonely, and we eat chocolates which you gave us, we will associate the feeling of happiness with the giver.

Also, did you know: One of the more unique neurotransmitters released by chocolate is phenylethylamine? Called “chocolate amphetamine,” it causes changes in blood pressure and blood-sugar levels leading to feelings of excitement and alertness—just like amphetamines that increase mood and decrease depression and gives you that sugar rush. Phenylethylamine is also called the “love drug” because it causes your pulse rate to quicken, resulting in a similar feeling to when someone is in love. So if you’re still in the courtship stage, make sure you ply her with great quality chocolates.

Our pick is this breathtakingly lovely Valentine Praline Bouquet from the deli of the Manila Hotel. At only P980 (cheaper than expensive flowers!), it’s a round bouquet of hazelnut gianduja-based pralines, with highlights of rolled pistachio nuts. Or this Chocolate Strawberry Bouquet (P1,380), dipped in artisanal Belgian chocolate and interspersed with pink, combining the taste of juicy, plump strawberries and the comforting sweetness of chocolates. 

Pralines bouquet

If you like to keep it low key, The Delicatessen also offers other chocolate gift items in regular boxes and collectible boxes like heart-shaped sinamay containers, from Belgian chocolate bars to assorted pralines to heart-shaped concoctions. 

Deli Chocolates

Don’t rush and run the risk of being turned down with late orders, pre-order from The Manila Hotel’s Delicatessen, or by calling 85270011 or 09989501912. 

Make it a date to remember, but make it safe

Because our excursions are so few and far between, with sheltering in place still being the first choice, make sure our trips to the outside world are well worth the risk. For your Valentine’s Day dinner, choose restaurants that practice social distancing and since we rarely get treated out, pick a restaurant with meals so good they’re worth the extra hassle and resource spend. Going out nowadays feels like going out to war—making sure we have an entire battalion of stuff (alcohol, wipes, face masks, face shield) that the prize better be worth it. 

An idea: Spend V-Day at the most romantic room, Manila Hotel’s Champagne Room. Hands down, this is the prettiest, most awe-inspiring restaurant in all of the country. Proposals have been offered and accepted here in decades—and how can you say no in a setting that feels like its straight out of a movie? 

At a time when every peso counts, and resources can be scarce, level up your gifts to make sure they are practical even while romantic.

Imagine: Richly decorated with marble finishes, crystal chandeliers hanging from high walls, European paintings and tapestries adorning walls, with crystal palm trees, tasseled ceiling fixtures, floral upholstered chairs. But great food is still the centerpiece: For P4,500 per head and a gift of a single long-stemmed Ecuadorian Rose for the ladies, surprise your loved one with a romantic meal highlighted by either Chilean Sea Bass or Beef Tenderloin.

If you’re a buffet lover like me, and just love good food, hop on to Café Ilang Ilang which will be offering special Valentine’s Dinner selection on Feb. 13 and 14 for only P3,500 per head. 

And if you want to hit two birds with one stone and mark the turn of the Lunar Year with a sumptuous meal with family or friends, Chinese New Year Dinner can be celebrated at Roma Salon on Feb. 11 and 12. With three set menus to choose from, it will be a good night to start an auspicious Year of the Ox. 

For “A Dinner to Remember,” guests may make a reservation for Chinese New Year Dinner via www.manila-hotel.com.ph/dining/roma-salon; and for Valentin’s Dinner, via www.manila-hotel.com.ph/dining/champage-room/. Guests may also call the hotel’s trunkline 85270011 for operator assistance.