Table (and room) For Two

Valentine’s day isn’t techincally a long weekend, but you can extend your time with a loved one by cutting out the travel and staying close to home for some fine dining and romance.

We all enjoy the idea of spiriting our sweetie away for a luxurious hotel vacation – so why are we hesitant to do it closer to home? Staycations are suddenly very hip. When you already travel for work and have young kids, as Mr. Sexton and I do, it’s challenging to plan a romantic trip out-of-town unless you have Grandma at the ready for multiple nights of childcare duty. And indulging in more wine than usual seems, well, strategic for Valentine’s Day – unless you have to drive home via a bewildering number of freeways and, in our case, treacherous canyon roads. 

In the name of research, we recently explored several local hotels with tempting Valentine’s Day packages at the ready. Because I appreciate great food, we focused on both modern and classic properties that offer serious dining, not just boring hotel fare. I hear the Gershwin refrain in my mind already, and yes, it’s nice work if you can get it. Consider these locales for your Valentine’s Day table for two and book that room for two while you’re at it. For those of us with a whole lot of Dora the Explorer valentines to distribute, some grown-up R&R is definitely required this February.

I am convinced that the Miyako Hybrid Hotel in Torrance may be the best-kept secret in the South Bay. “Miyako” in Japanese references a center for business and entertainment. The “hybrid” part references its forward-thinking, silver LEED-certified eco-design, which co-exists nicely with its tranquil, Zen décor.

During the work week, the MHH is over-run with Japanese businessmen who are all about efficiency. But on the weekend, the MHH is often under-booked, which means you can score incredible deals on rooms that feature heavenly, deep soaking tubs worth a visit in and of themselves. The on-premise spa, Relaken, is also a find—try the “ganban-yoku,” or waterless bedrock bath for a truly unique treatment.
With the Mitsuwa martketplace just a stone’s throw away and a vibrant Japanese population clustered in Torrance, food at the MHH had better be good. Wisely, they’ve partnered with the powerhouse Gonpachi group to anchor their dining experience.

A signature item worth trying is the soba noodles made in-house, something fairly unusual for a Japanese restaurant and akin to Mexican joints that hand-prepare tortillas to order. Highlights from the traditional side of the menu include the “Flying Dragon,” a spicy tuna roll topped with unagi tempura, and the miso-marinated black cod now ubiquitous on every Japanese menu. Less traditional items like edamame sprinkled with truffled salt and a New Zealand lamb chop served with wasabi mashed potatoes are also tempting.  Sake and shochu selections abound, although the wine list could use a tune-up. 

A quick search online revealed a Valentine’s weekend stay at MHH for just $194 per night —pair that with Gonpachi’s prix-fixe menu at $35 per person, and you’ll have plenty of cash left to splurge on spa treatments.
—21381 South Western Ave. in Torrance. 310-212-5112,

For a maritime getaway, consider a classic Redondo favorite that locals and tourists alike give high marks —the Portofino Hotel and Yacht Club. The Portofino is one of those gorgeously situated properties that could coast on its ocean views and spectacular sunsets; that it doesn’t is one of the reasons I like it.  I spent a bridesmaid weekend there a while back and came away impressed by the gracious service as much as the location. A recent $11 million renovation has spiffed up the interiors considerably.

They do a brisk wedding and conference business at the Portofino but also offer some tempting packages for locals looking for a romantic option in their own backyard. Check out their winter specials online for incredible deals as low as $109 a night for a marina view room. You can borrow beach cruisers for free and go for a spin after some pool time—fun. 

Dining at the Portofino has never been better—its signature restaurant, BALEENlosangeles, is quite good. I think attaching the “Los Angeles” is a not-very-subtle attempt to convince tourists that this restaurant is much nearer to the heart of the city than it actually is. 
Dinner at BALEENlosangeles offers patrons a variety of choices with an emphasis on seafood. I like it that the dinner menu wisely suggests sharing larger-sized entrées and sides and that it also offers “simply grilled or sautéed” proteins for those who might not want elaborate sauces and mousses. Start with some freshly shucked oysters smartly paired with watermelon granita, or try the duck carnitas with cornmeal crepes and chipotle apple slaw. 

The view from the dining room ranks as one of the finest I’ve enjoyed in recent years, so order an extra glass of wine (or three) this Valentine’s as you relax and listen to the sounds of sea lions frolicking in front of you.
—260 Portofino Way in Redondo Beach. 310-379-8481,