Dishes for two on Valentine's Day

No petite portions with real meals for 2

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Enzo Pagn

Enzo Pagni prepares the flaming cherries jubilee at Sabatino's restaurant. (Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune / February 4, 2014)

I don't know when "shareable" became attached to "small" in the dining realm, but waiter patter has included the phrase "small, shareable plates" — spoken without a trace of irony — for some years now.

And even though it makes no sense — small dishes are harder to share, not easier — we accept this, gleefully passing our saucer-size plate of grilled shrimp (contents: two shrimp) and hoping we get some back. Shareable? We should call these dishes sacrificial plates, because that's what you're doing: sacrificing the dish you wanted so that others, who never asked for the dish in the first place, can enjoy it.

Well, in honor of Valentine's Day (a sharing holiday if ever there was one), I've decided to list a few plates that are really shareable — big, massively portioned dishes that were conceived with two (or more) diners in mind.

Cafe la Cave. Once upon a time, this restaurant was a single-room establishment along Mannheim Road, but the owner rolled the dice on a grand restaurant-and-banquet facility in 1991 and came up a winner. Banquets clearly drive the business these days, but there is still that charming cave, a dimly lit dining room done in faux-stalactite splendor, where an old-school menu still revels in such entrees for two as chateaubriand and rack of lamb, the latter roasted in an herbed-breadcrumb crust. Tableside carving is de rigueur, of course, and both dishes are accompanied by a surfeit of vegetables and a good-size portion of potatoes dauphinoise. Top-notch service and a reasonably priced but sizable wine list are major pluses. 2777 Mannheim Road, Des Plaines, 847-827-7818

Chicago Cut Steakhouse. There's plenty here to delight the sharing-inclined, including the shellfish bouquet ($31 per person) and double-cut portions of chateaubriand, porterhouse steak and a bone-in rib-eye. Chicago Cut is also home to the best slab of prime rib I've ever had in my life, and while it's expensive ($59), it's USDA prime (most prime ribs are not) and plenty of beef for two. 300 N. LaSalle St., 312-329-1800

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse. There are 10 Del Frisco's restaurants scattered about the country, including the year-old Chicago location. Here, the sharing starts early; the shellfish plateau offers a vertical presentation of shrimp, king crab legs, oysters and crab claws; it's market price, but currently $78.50 for two and $151.50 for four. If that doesn't sate you, you and a friend can split the wagyu-style long-bone rib-eye, which arrives with its dramatically french-trimmed rib bone intact. It's a 32-ounce beast that will be a challenge to finish. 58 E. Oak St., 312-888-2499

Eddie Merlot's. Of the 10 Eddie Merlot's locations in the country (two more are scheduled for 2014), three are in the Chicago suburbs: Burr Ridge, Lincolnshire and Warrenville. Of the designated-shareable plates on the menu, the iced seafood platter is the most dramatic; the assortment of shrimp, oysters and king-crab legs arrives on dry ice, for an '80s-rock-concert effect. It's not as massive as some other seafood platters in the market, but at $48 for two, it's relatively affordable. The chateaubriand for two ($92) is much more old-school, presented whole and carved tableside; the dish comes with your choice of sides, and the Eddie's potato, diced with jalapeno pepper and blanketed by a cheese gratin, should be one of those choices. 185 N. Milwaukee Ave., Lincolnshire, 847-276-2000

Fat Rice. Bring at least two hungry friends to this wildly popular, no-reservations Macanese restaurant before taking on the arroz gordo (literally, fat rice), the restaurant's signature dish. I liken it to paella on steroids; a base of sofrito rice and a rich broth supports a protein parade of shredded duck, Chinese pork-liver sausage, linguica sausage, chicken thighs, char sui pork, clams, spicy prawns, hard-boiled eggs and a few other things I'm forgetting. The only disadvantage to this dish is that it will leave you too full to explore the rest of the menu's delights. 2957 W. Diversey Ave., 773-661-9170

Perry's Steakhouse. The signature dish at this steakhouse chain (which reached the Chicago market in late 2013) isn't even a steak (though the steaks are terrific here). It's a monstrously large, slow-smoked pork chop, which arrives in all its 6-inch-tall glory before being deftly sliced for your convenience. Here's a dish you can pass around a table of six without fear. Desserts are predictably hefty as well, and the tableside-flaming desserts (bananas foster, among them), while not marketed as shareable, have all the romance (and caloric impact) of a dessert for two. 5 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook, 630-571-1808

Sabatino's. "We don't skimp on portions," says co-owner Angelo Pagni, in the understatement of the year, about his 36-year-old, Northwest Side institution. Everything in this venerable restaurant is designed to satisfy; the dishes designed for two include chateaubriand, rack of lamb and the Continental classic, steak Diane, cooked tableside with the requisite flambe finish. The steak Diane runs $54 but is made with two hefty New York strip steaks (closely trimmed), and, like all entrees here, includes soup, salad and potato (or pasta). Strolling musicians add to the romantic charm. As for desserts for two, flaming cherries jubilee is a classic, and bananas Foster is so popular, Pagni says, "we buy bananas by the case, and that's the only thing we use them for." 4441 W. Irving Park Road, 773-283-8331

pvettel@tribune.com

Twitter @philvettel

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