The myth and the mission of Valentine's Day is that we'll all end up on a romantic adventure with the one we love. It's the holiday for lovers, we are told -- a giant prom night for adults, with dinners for two, champagne toasts and so many expectations that it's a miracle anyone goes home happy.
Our idea for a hot date is more literal: We sought out the hottest dishes around town and found five different kinds of heat: from a spicy-hot Tex-Mex stew to a trendy-hot Vietnamese sandwich to a sultry-hot chocolate layer cake. This doesn't mean that, on Val-Day night, we won't throw on the animal-print or spritz ourselves with cologne. But we'll save our panting for what's on the plate.
Pho at Bamboo Pho and Springroll
Warm your soul and your lover's, too, at this upscale Vietnamese fusion restaurant, with a steamy bowl of pho, the most famous of Asian soups. First, show how wise and worldly you are by pronouncing "pho" correctly, then say it together with a wink: "fuh." You can order pho plain, with beef, or with chicken, giving you an immediate opportunity to check your compatibility. Are you two peas in a pod who order alike? Or do your pho differences reveal trouble down the road? You'll be served a bowl with rice noodles in a steaming hot broth whose complex flavors -- beefiness with sweet-and-savory spices such as lemongrass, cinnamon and star anise -- are nearly as hard to describe as love itself. You'll get an assortment of fresh goodies -- chopped cilantro, bean sprouts, deep green jalapeño slices and a fresh squeeze of lime -- you add to your taste. Will your date go hog-wild and throw in every ingredient? Or avoid the jalapeño like the plague? You'll dig down into the broth and pull up a long noodle, which you'll slurp between your lips in your most seductive manner. Hopefully, your date won't go running for the exit.
Bamboo Pho and Springroll: 3330 Matlock Road, No. 102, Arlington. 817-465-5746.
Hot and trendy
Bourbon & Coke "banh mi" at Woodshed Smokehouse
3201 Riverfront Drive, Fort Worth. 817-877-4545
If trendiness were measured by actual degrees, then Tim Love's new-age barbecue spot would scorch your fingertips if you tried to touch it. His menu boasts all the benchmarks of modern dining: burgers, tacos, barbecue, small plates and veggies. It also includes the hottest sandwich out there: bánh mì. The boilerplate rendition of this Vietnamese sandwich has a crusty French roll with pork, liver paté, pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro, jalapeño, soy sauce and mayo, applied with a restrained hand. But Woodshed's is a trendy bánh mì, a "banh mi" in quotes, wherein Love takes liberty with the formula and creates his own loopy version. His has a heap of stewed pork shoulder that has been brined, then smoked with bourbon and Coke. The pickled veggies are his own. Standing in for the baguette are house-made flatbreads and corn tortillas for a roll-your-own effect. It's absolutely unrecognizable to the traditional bánh mì fan, but isn't that what a hot-and-trendy bánh mì is about?
Woodshed Smokehouse: 3201 Riverfront Drive, Fort Worth. 817-877-4545. www.woodshedsmokehouse.com
Hot and spicy
Chile verde at Salsa Fuego
Some dishes on this list get by just being hot. The chile verde at homey little Tex-Mex restaurant Salsa Fuego goes one better: It is not just hot, it is also spicy. That one-two punch makes it the ideal item to set a trap for your commitment-phobic lover. It hits them up first with heat. Then, when their defenses are down, it comes in with a spicy kick to lay them at your feet. What a disarming dish it is: It appears to be nothing more than a gentle, slow-cooked stew with pork carnitas and green peppers over mellow rice, and three corn tortillas on the side. Nothing suspicious there, no sir, just a hearty porridge. But within that stew lurks a heady mix of garlic, onion, green chiles, roasted jalapeño and crushed red pepper, whose collective bang will bring tears to your lover's eyes and have him or her begging for mercy. You wouldn't expect any less from a place called Salsa Fuego. Fuego -- it means fire, you know.
Salsa Fuego: 3520 Alta Mere, Fort Worth. 817-560-7888. salsafuegofw.net
Eggplant stack at VSpot Cafe
Well helloooo, baby -- you sure are stacked. I've seen tall food before, but never as statuesque as you. Like any well-built edifice, you've got a solid base: barley salad, with plump, slightly chewy pearls of barley. (This still-underappreciated grain is definitely ready for its close-up!) Perched atop the barley is a thick slice of eggplant, dipped in a tempura batter and fried until crisp and golden as a California tan. Then come roasted veggies -- onion, zucchini, broccoli, mushroom -- topped by another slice of tempura-fried eggplant, and a fetching slaw with slivered carrots and sprouts. How agile and balanced you are; have you ever thought about joining Cirque du Soleil? Your pool of tawny curry sauce could not be more inviting. I know you hang out at V Spot Cafe, the chic vegan restaurant on Henderson, but would you consider coming home with me? Because you are hot, hot, hot.
VSpot: 1908 Henderson Ave., Dallas. 214-821-5555.
Ugly Pug chocolate cake at Central 214
Don't be put off by the word "ugly" in this sultry Valentine's Day chocolate confection. Ugly here is beautiful: It's Ugly Pug, the beloved black lager brewed by Rahr & Sons in Fort Worth, and it makes a terrific ingredient in a chocolate cake. Dark and malty, with notes of coffee and dark chocolate in the flavor, the beer gives the cake added richness and moisture. Chef Graham Dodds, Central 214's new executive chef, doesn't stop there: He adds another shot of the beer to the icing, a whipped milk chocolate that he slathers between layers of the cake in this three-layer gem. Individually baked in ring molds, the cakes get drenched in a rich ganache that leaves a glossy, mirror finish when it dries. Chantilly cream gives a finishing touch. If romance were the only thing on your mind, you might order one to split with your date; we recommend getting your own, just to keep the peace.