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Meals that can melt hearts

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That makes a dinner romantic can be as difficult to define as love itself: a candlelight meal on a ship at sunset; a dinner in the quiet corner of an intimate bistro. Or even a picnic for two amidst a crowd under a sky of fireworks.

With the approach of Valentine's Day, would-be Cupids and Cyranos may be casting about for inspiration. In the spirit of seeking the essence of dining romance, several Monitor staffers offered to share their most intimate meals.

"There is nothing more romantic than when a guy makes dinner," says one editor. "That he took the time to clean up his place and plan and cook a complete meal leaves quite an impression. It's even more romantic if he tells you there's absolutely nothing you can bring but yourself," she adds. "Just the idea that I was on his mind and he went all out to please me."

From a Texas correspondent: "Romantic evenings are made of soft lighting and hushed conversations, at a place where you don't have to shout over a Knicks game. The appetizers should be just enough to stimulate the taste buds. Between courses, you pause to listen to a recording ... Maria Callas, Billy Holiday perhaps.

"The restaurant fills, and you don't care. Nobody's going to take your table or speed you up.

"After the entree, dessert is one Crme Caramel for two. After dinner, you walk into the crisp blue night, hugging tightly to fend off the chill."

Another editor discusses romantic dinners after marriage and kids.

"When my wife and I were dating, a romantic dinner was sharing a vegetarian biryani with poori bread and onion chutney at a favorite Indian restaurant.

"After we were married, romance was breakfast at a cozy caf in Paris at Christmas time, or dinner together anywhere there was candlelight and we could hold hands across the table.

"Now, with three boisterous young sons, a romantic meal is ... anywhere quiet. Anyplace where kids do not drop their forks three times during a meal or need to be reminded that one may not use one's fingers to eat spaghetti.

"And if my wife and I can hold hands occasionally across the table without setting them down in something wet (ketchup, milk, or worse), well then that's just fine."

Location, location, location ... is what this writer believes makes a dinner romantic.

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