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Cupid’s Carnival

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Mardi Gras krewes dish on their favorite romantic spots

We honeymooned here, but it wasn’t until my first Mardi Gras as a local that I fell crazy in love with New Orleans. Reporters who stay on Bourbon Street miss what can be an intensely romantic season of magical throws, dazzling floats, mysterious masks, white-tie parties (the only time I’ve ever needed elbow-long gloves), vintage love songs and cinnamon-spun cakes spread with sumptuous frosting. It’s no wonder our nieces and nephews think we live in fairyland.

This year, the link between Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day is a short seven days, so we checked in with krewe members and friends for their favorite love feasts:

Zulu. This year, glass artist J. Renée interpreted Zulu as a playing card King of Hearts and cooler than anything you’ll hold in a poker game. In keeping with the krewe’s theme, “From Zulu With Love,” she also dotted the limited edition, silkscreened poster with tiny Cupids. “It’s great to give as a Valentine’s gift,” said this native New Orleanian.

J. Renée’s pick for a romantic night in the city is Maximo’s Italian Grill. “The staff always seems to know to put you in a quiet corner or a booth,” she said. On her birthday one year, she and her significant other were seated on the balcony, and the owner sent out a bottle of wine as a gift. “We sat there a long time,” said Renée. “They let you take your time.” She favors Maximo’s fire-roasted chicken and sausage, as well as the fire-roasted scallops—all sautéed in pepper-infused olive oil and layered with warm vegetables. If the owner brings out house-made grappa, you’ve just been dealt a winning hand.

Muses. Lt. Col. Raquel “Rocky” Deckert of the Marine Corps Reserves isn’t usually free on Valentine’s night. As the owner of New Orleans Party and Costume, she’s “back-to-back ballooning” for restaurants that buy her silver and red balloons as festive room fillers. For a special night—like their August 8 wedding anniversary—this member of Muses and her husband, Col. Paul “Bubba” Deckert, also in the Reserves, love the classic elegance of Restaurant August.

Last year they celebrated with rabbit sausage cassoulet and a savory seafood custard paired with caviar and brioche while Chef John Besh took a turn around the dining room. When Besh, a former Marine and war veteran, got to the Deckerts’ table, the trio clicked. “He’s naturally nice, laid back and confident,” said Rocky. Later, their dessert plate came out with “Happy Anniversary” written in chocolate. Charmed, Rocky wrote “thank you” in lipstick on the opposite side of the plate. “The food is absolutely fabulous, and they went over the top,” she said.

Krewe du Vieux. This irreverent krewe tapped Deon Haywood, executive director of Women with a Vision, as queen for 2012, honoring her agency’s outreach to economically and physically vulnerable women. “The krewe is putting our work front and center,” said Haywood.

Riding with her on the royal float —carriages, in this case—will be her partner, Shaquita Borden, who is the agency’s director of program development and at the same time, earning a doctorate at the University of Alabama. With their hectic schedules, “the most romantic time for us is two in the morning at Café du Monde when it’s quiet enough to talk and enjoy each other’s company,” said Haywood.

When it comes to a full-on feast, the ladies love Café Degas for its tropical patio and soft, low lighting. Haywood is partial to their egg-topped salad brightened with Dijon vinaigrette and crumbled Gorgonzola. On the other end of the menu, her favorite dish is a velvety rich sautéed calf’s liver in a wine sauce with caramelized onions and thickened with bone marrow and butter. “I’ll stick to any restaurant that’s true to New Orleans,” said Haywood.

Krewe of Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, 732 N. Broad Street, (504) 827-1661

J. Renée’s online art gallery: www.jreneeart.com

Maximo’s Italian Grill, 1117 Decatur Street, (504) 586-8883

Krewe of Muses, 5500 Prytania Street, No. 621, (504) 269-1422

New Orleans Party and Costume, 705 Camp Street, (504) 525-4744

Restaurant August, 301 Tchoupitoulas Street, (504) 299-9777

Krewe du Vieux, contact them by email at captain@Kreweduvieux.org

Women with a Vision, 215 N. Jefferson Davis Parkway, (504) 301-0428

Café du Monde, 800 Decatur Street, (504) 525-4544

Café Degas, 3127 Esplanade Avenue, (504) 945-5635

-ANNE BERRY