Image: The River Café, New York
Kelly Kollar via Travel+Leisure
The real romance at the The River Café in New York City is the iconic view, looking out to the Brooklyn Bridge and Statue of Liberty. But unlike some view-focused restaurants, the American menu lives up to its iconic surroundings (and has a Michelin star to prove it), featuring stone crabs from Florida, chicken from the Pennsylvania Amish, beef from Nebraska, and foie gras from the Hudson Valley.
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updated 2/14/2011 9:37:36 AM ET 2011-02-14T14:37:36

You know the clichés: long-stemmed roses, soft lighting, strolling violinists.

Well, forget all that. Real romantic restaurants have cut the fluff. Instead, they’ve focused on what’s really important: great food and wine, excellent service, and an authentic ambience.

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Of course, many elements of the traditional romantic restaurant haven’t changed. Creating an environment that makes guests want to linger is still key, says Michael O’Keeffe, founder of the River Café in Brooklyn. For O’Keeffe, that means a Michelin-starred menu, a stellar wine list, a well-trained waitstaff, and tables set well apart from each other.

Slideshow: America's Most Romantic Restaurants

A great view can only help. And the River Café’s iconic setting, looking up at the Brooklyn Bridge and across to Manhattan, just adds to its romantic cachet. In Chicago, Everest restaurant offers a different perspective on its city. From the 40th floor of the Stock Exchange Building, the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows see eye-to-eye with the Sears Tower and its architecturally inspiring sisters.

But a mesmerizing view isn’t a requirement to be one of America’s most romantic restaurants. At The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., it’s the restaurant’s team of sommeliers and 100 pages of wine offerings that seal the deal (its three Michelin stars don’t hurt). From local Napa Valley cult bottles to little-known gems handpicked from around the world, the expertly edited wine selection makes impressing a date with your choice a slam dunk.

And sometimes, dialing in romance just requires a little seclusion. For that, it’s tough to beat Little Palm Island Resort, off Florida’s Key West. A seaplane or boat ride is the only way to reach this tropical oasis, where you can dine at a candlelit table right on the white-sand beach. A French and Pan-Latin menu rounds out the experience, with a special Valentine’s Day menu of Blue Point oysters and Key West lobsters.

We think it’s pretty simple: a great romantic restaurant should make you feel the way a great romantic partner does — appreciated, special, and like you’re the only person in the room. From cozy mountaintop huts to candlelit seaside enclaves, here’s where to find America’s most romantic restaurants. For that great partner, though, you’re on your own.

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

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