Couples looking to cap Valentine’s Day with an amorous conclusion could do worse than sample the special menus of meats, seafood, and decadent desserts offered by some Rochester restaurateurs over the holiday.
But indulge with a grain of salt. The list of foods purported to induce sexual arousal is as long as the research into their legitimacy is hard, er, complicated. Very few have been proved scientifically to have a libidinous effect on any part of the body other than the taste buds.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t romance and a whole lot of fun in trying foods with aphrodisiac status.
The term “aphrodisiac” is derived from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and all things pleasurable. Fruits, root vegetables, spices, seeds, crustaceans, chilies, and even ground up animal horns have all been cited throughout history as enhancers for such things as fertility, sex drive, stamina, blood flow, and energy. Second-century Roman physician Claudius Galen categorized certain foods as aphrodisiacs if they were warm and moist — in hindsight, perhaps not the most scientific criteria. By that measure, a slice of greasy pizza would qualify.
But in modern times, countless nutritionists and food scientists have attempted to better measure sexual responses to food and the connections between aroma, emotion, and sensual experience. What they have mostly uncovered is that, while there are strong links between scent and sexual attraction, the business of aphrodisiacs is largely subjective.
The phallic symbolism of some fruits and vegetables of suggestive shapes, like bananas, carrots, and asparagus, are enough to propel them to the top of the list of erotic foods for some people. For others, peppers can mimic the quickened pulse and sweating of sexual arousal.
Oysters, of course, have long enjoyed a reputation for imparting sexual prowess, although the science backing that up is as murky as Long Island’s Great South Bay at low tide. Perhaps their standing is derived from the fact that they’re high in zinc, which studies have shown boost sperm count. Maybe that oysters have historically been thought to resemble the female genitalia has something to do with it. Or it could just be the sensual way the slippery shellfish is consumed — with a tilt of the head and a slurp.
Alcohol is widely considered an aphrodisiac for obvious reasons — for many, it has the effect of loosening us up enough to shed our inhibitions. Pair your favorite libation with other aphrodisiac foods, and you’re in for a fun filled evening (or morning, if avocado toast and mimosas are your jam). Try oysters with champagne (or a gin martini), dark chocolate and merlot, or hot honey fried chicken and a double IPA.
What if your entire meal was loaded with ingredients associated with provoking passion? Or better still, what if you could plan the type of experience you want to have based on what you consume? How great would a small, mood-altering superfood confection be?
Some venues are trying.
For the past five years, Mondays have meant $1 oyster night at the Erie Grill (@eriegrill). Located at the Del Monte Lodge in the Village of Pittsford, the grill offers two varieties every Monday (4 to 9 p.m. or until sold out) and they may shuck up to 800 of the magical mollusks on a given evening. The bubbly list includes cava, prosecco, and moscato at $5 a glass.
“Ice cold oysters and a glass of sparkling seem to always elevate any evening making the experience special and indulgent,” Executive Chef John Freezee said.
The Erie Grill has offered nearly 200 varieties of oysters, including Raspberry Point from Prince Edward Island with 3-inch cup, Beasoleil from Miramichi Bay, New Brunswick (a cocktail oyster with a 2.5-inch cup), and the extra large Pemaquid oysters from the Damariscotta River in Maine that grow up to 6 inches.
“Our restaurant’s ambiance paired with oyster night really enhances an intimate setting for all guests,” the grill’s food and beverage manager, Laura Hyland, said, referring to the Erie Grill’s modern and elegant Nantucket motif. “We see a variety of gatherings ranging from couples, to small groups of girlfriends, moms and daughters, father and sons, or just a few guys enjoying an evening out. It’s a fantastic way to get together while maintaining social distancing.”
For Valentine’s Day weekend (Friday, Feb. 12 and Saturday, Feb. 13), the Erie Grill is offering multiple specials that will include NY Prime Steaks, fresh seafood specials and decadent desserts as well as their usual nice selection of wines. For Valentine’s Day, which this year falls on a Sunday, a brunch special will be served until 2 p.m. That menu will include oysters.
Doing business as The Saucey Chef and working from a commissary kitchen, (@thesauceychef), Margherita Smith (known as “Saucey” to just about everyone) offers some of the sexiest takeout food in Rochester. Smith has not only raised the bar for elevated carry out cuisine, but she’s built a sensual brand based on innuendoes, risqué graphic design, and photos of her food that’ll get you salivating.
For Valentine’s Day, Smith is dropping an orgasmic menu peppered with aphrodisiac ingredients, including chilis, honey, asparagus, strawberries, and chocolate. She’s planned out five entire-experience meals complete with catchy monikers and made to share with a date. The “Netflix & Chill” entrée features steak and nudes — marinated flank steak and garlic noodles coupled with twin 5 oz. fried lobster tails, veggie fried rice, and two of Smith’s signature chili sauces. Naturally, the meal comes in Chinese take-out boxes, with chopsticks and zodiac placemats.
Another option is the “Tacos 4 Lovers,” which includes six birria-style beef queso tacos, served with an addictive dipping consommé, chips, salsa, and queso. This labor of love takes two days of slow cooking the beef in a guajillo chili marinade.
There is also the “Bucket of Love,” an entrée of buttermilk-fried chicken served with hot honey, creole mustard-baked mac ‘n’ cheese, collard greens, and biscuits. Another is “The Lady & the Tramp” — spaghetti, sausage, and meatballs, with spicy Calabrian chili marinara to share. There’s also a few “Love Potion” cocktail mixers and a dessert course aptly named “Happy Endings.”
“We are serving an unforgettable food experience from a modest kitchen,” Smith said. “It’s a restaurant without four walls or limits. I am not limited to the confines of any food style or a setting that dictates what I serve.”
Chocolate’s reputation as an aphrodisiac has been exaggerated, according to food researchers, but there is no argument among them that its properties are pleasurable and romantic.
That cupid combination can be found at Hedonist Artisan Chocolates (@hedonistchocolates) in the South Wedge. Owner Jennifer Posey has created a classic French-style custom truffle packed with passion. It is built on a white ganache mixed with fenugreek, pistachios, saffron, ginkgo, and local honey all covered in dark chocolate and dusted with cacao powder. The flavors are a perfect balance of sweet, salty, and bitter, with a hint of mystery.
“We imagined a seductive treat with components we’ve experimented with over time, but this time all in one piece. Each ingredient has its own aphrodisiac benefits that we hope everyone will enjoy,” Posey said.
The truffles will be sold in 5-ounce bags for $20 — and no prescription is needed.
Coffee — Caffeine drives up dopamine levels, hopefully elevating desire, stamina, and mood.
Oysters — Slurping is sexy, and zinc helps testosterone and sperm production while dopamine increases libido.
Honey — This liquid gold contains nitric acid which dilates blood vessels for his and her benefit. Try honey infused with chilies for a real spark.
Maca — An Incan root vegetable (used in teas) sometimes called “natural Viagra,” is believed to boost energy, stamina, fertility, and libido.
Fenugreek — This powerful herb helps increase testosterone, which should increase sexual arousal and orgasms.
Hot Chilies — Capsaicin, the heat source of peppers, is responsible for an endorphin rush, stimulating nerve endings, and increasing the heart rate.
Avocado — This sensuous fruit, contains mucho folic acid, vitamin B9 (an energy booster), and B6 (a testosterone stimulator). Not convinced? Avocado is derived from an Aztec word that means “testicle.”
Champagne — Bubbles and booze are certainly mood enhancing, but there’s much debate on the science behind its clinical aphrodisiac properties.
Ginseng — This herb affecting the central nervous system and hormones, is widely believed to enhance libido and sexual performance.
Saffron — The stigmas of the saffron crocus are believed to increase sex drive and sperm motility. Cleopatra purportedly bathed in saffron-infused milk.
Figs — These evocatively shaped fruits are high in amino acids which contribute to increased libido and stamina.
Asparagus — Chock full of potassium and vitamin E, this veggie is believed to encourage blood and oxygen flow to the right parts of the body.
Dark Chocolate — With chocolate, the rule is the darker the better. This means a higher percentage of cacao, which contains phenylethylamine, a stimulant that increases arousal and energy.
Pomegranate Seeds — A natural antioxidant superfood, pom seeds can increase blood flow and, as a bonus, are a playful, tart treat to feed to each other.
Strawberries — One can never get enough vitamin C, which boosts both immunity and estrogen production. Dipping them in dark chocolate is a no-brainer.
Vince Press is a seasoned freelance writer, wannabe photographer, PR guy, and food + beverage enthusiast who will do just about anything for good bourbon or Asian noodles. He is a native Rochesterian and has also lived in Florida, Arizona, and Virginia before venturing back to his hometown. Instagram: @Vince_Press or Twitter: @VLPress
Feedback on this article can be directed to Rebecca Rafferty, CITY’s life editor, at [email protected]