Love potions Champagne's a classic, but Valentine's Day libations run the gamut. And they don't have to be alcoholic to heighten the mood for romance.

Posted: February 13, 2002

I took my troubles down to Madame Ruth

You know, that gypsy with the gold-capped tooth

She's got a pad down on 34th and Vine

Sellin' little bottles of Love Potion No. 9.

- The Coasters

The Coasters (and later the Searchers) had Madame Ruth. But who, I wondered, is brewing the hottest love potion in Philly?

It's no hypothetical question, considering that tomorrow is Valentine's Day.

And whether or not you've made restaurant reservations, planned a special dinner at home, or bought your sweetheart a box of chocolates - and especially if your answer is no to all three - it can't hurt to have an easy seduction secret up your sleeve.

The right drink can go a long way. And it doesn't have to contain alcohol.

A survey of some of the region's best mixologists has turned up a variety of libations to choose from.

Champagne, of course, is the most common liquid canvas for a romantic meal. The Blue Angel in Center City adds an ounce of amaretto almond liqueur to a glass of sparkling wine for its Cupid's Kiss.

Terry McNally, co-owner of the London ]Grill in Fairmount, says she is partial to an old-fashioned Kir Royale, replacing the classic creme de cassis with a splash of Chambord black-raspberry liqueur.

"I just love all those little bubbles hitting me in the face," McNally says. "And I like it pink on a holiday like Valentine's."

But there's more than one way to give your cocktail a suggestive blush.

At 333 Belrose, the New American grill in Radnor, bartender B. K. Henry has created Love Potion No. 333 just for Valentine's Day, tinting a blend of raspberry vodka and peach schnapps with cranberry juice and three raspberries.

In the baroque-cocktail department, Ken Casciato and Christopher Robin at 32 Degrees, a new lounge in Old City, coat the rim of a glass with granulated raspberry gelatin. Then they drizzle pink Marshmallow Fluff inside for what sounds like a martini dressed up as a boudoir.

The drink? A simple blend of white Godiva chocolate liqueur, Chambord, raspberry vodka, Bailey's Irish Cream, white creme de cacao, grenadine and heavy cream. They also call it, coincidentally, Cupid's Kiss.

If your date cringes at the thought of froufrou cocktails, you might listen to Rose Parrotta, owner of the Happy Rooster at 16th and Sansom Streets. She, too, bristles at what she calls this "corny holiday's corny drinks."

Instead, she twists a potent whiskey manhattan into something feminine with an elegant candied rose petal. "I call it a Rose-hattan," she says.

What is perhaps my favorite red drink, however, has no booze at all. It's a liquefied blend of beet, carrot and ginger sold at the Four Season Juice Bar in the Reading Terminal Market at 12th and Arch Streets.

The beet gives a crimson hue and a soft, earthy sweetness. The ginger, according to Ellen and Michael Albertson in Temptations: Igniting the Pleasure and Power of Aphrodisiacs (Fireside Books, $14 softcover), increases desire and combats impotence.

Contrary to some stodgier sources, such as the Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford University Press, $65), which casts a skeptical eye at purported aphrodisiacs, the Albertsons passionately embrace food's seductive possibilities.

They also offer fascinating recipes culled from archaic cultures, such as an Egyptian fennel tea, a licorice love potion stirred with a green feather, and another milky fennel brew (fennel was apparently a staple at Greek orgies) that even calls for a few tears, triggered with the help of chopped onions.

While much of the book seems tongue in cheek, Temptations gives serious attention to bona fide love magnets such as oysters (loaded with zinc to spike testosterone levels) and chocolate (which contains an amino acid called phenylethylamine that reportedly simulates a "love high").

Oyster shooters - shots of vodka with a briny mollusk chaser - will be a Valentine's Day staple this year at the Sansom Street Oyster House in Center City. A sweet dark beer called Love Stout, made with real oysters by the Philadelphia-based Yards Brewing Co., will also be on tap.

The Oyster House's chef-owner, Cary Neff, is also concocting another potentially romantic seafood cocktail, a sake and tomato-water martini garnished with sea urchin, the slippery, creamy creature that is among the ocean's most sensual foods.

Chocolate, of course, is an easy play, perhaps even a little cliche. But there is no doubting its gentle persuasiveness, especially at the London Grill, when it comes by the cupful in a Godiva liqueur-spiked martini called - you guessed it - a Chocolate Kiss. Or frothy and hot in front of your fireplace.

Pastry chef Robert Bennett, who is about to open a patisserie called Miel in Cherry Hill, makes a Parisian hot chocolate so rich that a demitasse cup more than suffices. Elegant and to the point, it's also one love potion that won't weigh you down.

Craig LaBan's e-mail address is claban@phillynews.com.

Robert Bennett's Parisian Hot Chocolate

Makes 8 servings

1 cup water

1/3 cup European-style, Dutch process cocoa powder

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1 pint (2 cups) heavy (whipping) cream

1/2 cup milk

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (minimum 67 percent cocoa butter), chopped

1. Bring the water, cocoa, sugar and vanilla bean to a boil. Whisk over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the cream and milk. Cook until the liquid forms a "skin"; remove from heat.

2. Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl. Pour the milk mixture over the chocolate, stirring until chocolate is melted and mixture is well-blended; strain. Serve in demitasse cups.

Per serving: 337 calories, 24 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates,

21 grams sugar, 27 grams fat, 83 milligrams cholesterol, 39 milligrams sodium.

B. K. Henry's Love Potion No. 333

Makes 1 cocktail

3 ounces Stolichnaya raspberry vodka

1 1/2 ounces peach schnapps

1 1/2 ounces cranberry juice

Ice cubes

3 raspberries

1. Mix the vodka, schnapps and cranberry juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Stir gently to chill.

2. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with raspberries.

Per drink: 316 calories, no protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, no fat, no cholesterol, 2 milligrams sodium.

Rose Parrotta's Rose-hattan

1 3/4 ounces Canadian whiskey

1/3 ounce sweet vermouth

1 candied rose petal (recipe at right; see note)

1. Add the whiskey and vermouth to a tumbler filled with ice; stir.

2. Garnish with a candied rose petal.

Note: Candied rose petals are sold in 1-inch-by-3-inch boxes ($10) at Assouline & Ting, 505 Vine St., 215-627-3511.

Per drink: 175 calories, no protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams sugar, no fat, no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.

Candied Rose Petals

1 rose, separated into petals (see note)

1/2 cup water

1 cup extra-fine granulated sugar, divided

1. Immerse the rose petals in cool water and swish gently to remove any soil. Drain and tenderly pat dry or let air-dry.

2. Combine the 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of the sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from heat; stir. Let this simple syrup cool to room temperature.

3. Place the remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a small dish.

4. Dip the rose petals into the cooled syrup and shake off any excess. Coat with sugar. Place on a cooling rack or grid (or a plastic crochet mat) to dry overnight.

5. The next day, place petals in a plastic container. Cover and store at room temperature.

Note: Use candied rose petals to garnish other drinks and desserts, too.

Be sure to use a pesticide-free rose from your garden or a nursery. California spray roses, also known as sweetheart roses, are least likely to contain pesticides, according to Bill Neely of Indian Rock Produce, a grower and distributor of organic produce in Quakertown. Miniature rose bushes sold in garden centers and larger supermarkets are also among the safer choices. Avoid roses grown in Holland or South America.

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