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Heart’s desire

Top five picks for Valentine's Day

Urban Element's Anna March is teaching a Valentine's Day cooking class.

Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be totally predictable. In and around Ottawa, there are ways to escape the cheese often associated with the holiday. Here are our top five picks.

Drink up
 
Chitchat over a bottle of wine is a standard symbol of romance, but beer and spirits have become so trendy you can instead impress your date with a reservation at an eatery specializing in these libations. Mix it up and sample from the bourbon collection at the southern food joint Union Local 613, or run the taps at Brothers Beer Bistro — they even have beer-infused dishes.
 
Union Local 613, 315 Somerset St W, and Brothers Beer Bistro, 366 Dalhousie St. union613.ca, brothersbeerbistro.ca
 
Be naughty and nice
 
Put on your best cosplay and take in a show. For their first performance in Ottawa, Toronto’s Nerd Girl Burlesque is headlining a heroes and villains bash. Expect routines inspired by comic books, video games, internet memes, cult movies — all things nerdy. Catch local performer Rhapsody Blue, of Rockalily Burlesque, as Fire Mario playing with fireballs and fire fans in an outdoor pre-show. A totally different kind of cheese than what you would expect on Valentine’s Day. Prizes for best costumes. Babylon, 317 Bank St. Thurs, Feb 14; doors at 9pm, show at 10pm. $12 advance, $15 door. babylonclub.ca
 
Cook up a storm
 
Take romance from a simmer to a full boil. Here is an evening to arouse the senses: a social, hands-on cooking class and communal dinner for 16 people. The host is the Urban Element, a cooking school nestled in a gorgeous old fire hall. Resident chef Anna March will teach attendees how to prepare a menu chock full of aphrodisiacs, including beef carpaccio, pan-roasted mushroom risotto with truffle oil, and frozen passion fruit and lime parfait. The educational format will fill in those awkward moments for new couples. 
 
Urban Element, 424 Parkdale Ave. Thurs, Feb 14, 6–9pm. $150 per person. theurbanelement.ca
 
Flock together
 
For lovers looking for wholesome or first-date fun, feeding the semi-tame wild birds on the Anderson Road trails in east Ottawa will delight. Chickadees (which sing chickadee-dee-dee-dee-dee) and nuthatches (which let out a nasally yank-yank-yank) living here will eat right from your hand. Listen for the birdies, stick out a handful of black-oil sunflower seeds, and they will come. The best spots are near coniferous trees. The trails are part of the Mer Bleue Conservation Area, managed by the National Capital Commission. 
 
The Anderson Road trails are near the intersection of Anderson and Ridge roads.
 
Reach new heights
 
Rock climbing for two is just right for the adventurous couple, or for those who simply want to avoid chocolate and candy-calorie indulgences. Vertical Reality gym has beginner to advanced climbing routes laid out on 20,000 square feet of wall space; instructors are on-site to help. Be sure to check that your date is not afraid of heights.
 
Vertical Reality, 161 Middle St, Victoria Island. $12, $6 after 9pm. verticalreal.com