"We all went out for a beer afterward, at the Mount Royal Tavern," she said. "We had a lot of people, and Winston and I broke off as usual and talked to each other. My friend was mad because we weren't talking to her. She said, 'I don't know why you two just don't go out.' That was our epiphany. We kind of looked at each other and Winston said, 'I don't know, why don't we?' "

Blick didn't propose a date then, but he drove up a few days later to Atlantic City, N.J., to surprise Dadant, who was doing environmental work there during the week. "'I'll never top this,'" Dadant remembers Blick saying. "'I just shot myself in the foot.'

Ten years, a house and one child later, Dadant said that she and Blick try to make the most of their time off. "We're sort of like: work, kid, work, kid. For us to go out to eat, and this may be true of all restaurant couples, it's a really big deal. Because we're always in the restaurant doing stuff. You try to make the most of it."

Getting away

"We try to get away as much as we can," said Ted Stelzenmuller, who runs Jack's Bistro in Canton with his wife Christie Smertycha. "Here's the way I look at it. I'm 39, and I've been in the business for 20 years, longer than I haven't been."

Stelzenmuller said he and Smertycha have come to value their time away from their restaurant, whether it's scheduling an annual vacation for the first weeks of January or going on impromptu getaways.

The couple has made a tradition of flying off to distant locations on New Year's Day — which also happens to be Stelzenmuller's birthday — sometimes mere hours after locking up the restaurant. This year, they went to Thailand. Diners coming to Jack's Bistro in February will find items on the menu like Somboon mussels, a Thai-style preparation with lemongrass, basil, mint and a rich fish sauce. And Stelzenmuller periodically takes his crew on culinary excursions to dining destinations like Chicago.

But two weekends before Valentine's Day, Stelzenmuller and Smertycha closed up their restaurant on Super Bowl Sunday and hopped down to Key West, Fla., for a long weekend.

"We had a nice three-day weekend," Stelzenmuller said. "It was absolutely a Valentine's Day thing. This one was just me and Christie."

Back in Baltimore and rested, Stelzenmuller and Smertycha will throw themselves headlong into Valentine's Day with no envy or regrets. "It can be a very stressful evening for diners," said Stelzenmuller. "We try to make Valentine's Day special for people."


On the cover

Cecilia Benalcazar and Kevin Perry, the owners of Liv2Eat in South Baltimore.

About the shoot

On him: Gian Marco suit, $1,575; Edward Armah pocket square, $80; Henry Arlington shirt, $275; Italo Ferretti silk tie, $165; all from Gian Marco. Michael Kors watch, Handbags in the City, $680.

On her: Laundry dress, $145; Kate Spade necklace, $260; both from Handbags in the City.

Photographed by Lloyd Fox, The Baltimore Sun, at Liv2Eat, 1444 N. Light St. Styling by John-John Williams IV, The Baltimore Sun. Hair and makeup by Leah Sarah Bassett, T.H.E. Artist Agency

The stores:

Gian Marco Menswear, 517 N. Charles St., Mount Vernon. Call 410-347-7974.

Handbags in the City, 840 Aliceanna St., Fells Point. Call 410-528-1443 or go to handbagsinthecity.com.

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