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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 63.0° F  A Few Clouds
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A creative guide to Valentine's Day weekend

Play cupid at Inka Heritage

When people ask for restaurant recommendations, it's easy to rattle off a bunch of downtown options. But lately, I've been making sure to include Inka Heritage because it's just that good. The atmosphere is composed and naturally elegant with buttery yellows and warm oranges. It's a nice place to take your sweetheart.

It's also a nice place to eat heart. Before you tuck into your pescado a lo macho, order a plate of anticuchos. The word, generically, means "cut stew meat," but it most often means skewered beef heart, marinated with aji red peppers and then grilled. I can picture Cupid himself back in the kitchen, firing skewers into each silver-dollar-sized piece.

The seasoning and preparation are flawless, and the serving is perfect for a two-person starter. The heart, or corazón de res if you're into romance languages, is a little spicy and just chewy enough. It should get your appetite going for the rest of the meal. And being hungry for more is the best part of a good Valentine's date.

Spelunking and Sole Sapori in Mount Horeb

For those who prefer the lights off, Cave of the Mounds, just west of Mount Horeb, is open year-round and worth exploring with the object of your affection. The natural retention pools are as still and smooth as glass, and the rock formation called Polly the Parrot makes for an interesting novelty demonstration of mineral phosphorescence.

When you're done, the Italian restaurant Sole Sapori is only a few minutes down Highway ID. (You can do whatever you like on a highway named "ID.") Decadent dishes like spaghetti with sautéed clams and rigatoni bizzarro with mushrooms, artichokes and chicken await you there. Finish the evening with a simple, straightforward Italian dessert.

Tickle the senses at New Seoul

There's something about chopsticks. They're perfectly suited to a first or second date. I'm thinking of something early in a relationship, where two people are still learning each other's moves, testing the waters. A chopstick-centric meal lends itself to the romantic palpation that occurs between two people who are still figuring it out. And when that connection kicks in, a chopstick meal can turn into the food equivalent of a tickle fight.

New Seoul Korean Restaurant, on University Avenue, serves up one heck of a rock bowl bibimbop. It's a very sensual experience: sizzling, steaming, fragrant and delicious. Order that and a plate of galbi (grilled beef shortribs), and practice your chopsticking by stealing off each other's plates. But you'll have to go on Saturday, Feb. 13; New Seoul is closed on Sundays.

Suck the head at Liliana's

If there's an American home to passion and debauchery, it's New Orleans. (Okay, maybe Las Vegas, but Harry Reid will be mad if we keep on knocking Vegas' rep.) Bourbon Street, beads, rum hurricanes - all this and more make up the den of sin that we call the Big Easy. In Fitchburg, there's no Bourbon Street and not nearly as many beads, but you can get the hurricanes and more at Liliana's.

Chef David Heide has been doing big things with the menu at Liliana's, including a long-running series of themed three-course prix fixe dinners on Tuesday nights. On the regular menu, Liliana's mixes Cajun, Creole and straight-up French cuisine with dishes like filé gumbo, jambalaya and duck cassoulet.

Liliana's is one of many restaurants offering a special Valentine's Day menu (call for reservations), but if you can't get a seat on Sunday, try Saturday. That way, you can order the barbecue prawns. They're big and flavorful, and with all the saucy goodness there's a lot of finger-licking. Plus, if you're really serious about doing it Big Easy style, you must suck the head.

Morning-after brunch at Ironworks

For those of you who are past the age where the Walk of Shame is still in play, but aren't quite to the point of dropping the kids off at daycare, there's still the morning after. The date went well, but now there's that pesky issue of what to do for breakfast.

If you're scrambling on Valentine's Sunday, Ironworks Cafe at the Goodman Community Center will throw you the lifesaver of a simple, thoughtful and modestly priced brunch. The menu's always changing, but previous brunch offerings have included bacon-studded cornmeal waffles, savory vegetable bread pudding, and Scottish oats with maple-baked apple.

The cool thing about Ironworks is that it's in the midst of a bustling community center. There's a kids' open gym program running on Sunday around noon. If being surrounded by a dozen little scamps running around doesn't put your mate into a full-blown responsibility seizure, you may have found a keeper.

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