Old World Romance at Hotel St. Michel

Built in 1924, the Hotel St. Michel feels like a time capsule into the past with its European-style rooms and historic brass elevator, which moves via crank. Twenty-eight rooms, a small gym, and the ground-floor restaurant comprise the entirety of the hotel, which is delightfully quaint and classically beautiful.

Here, you don’t receive a card to open your room door, but a real key. The elevator door and grate must be pulled back by a trained operator. The appliances are all modern but the décor and the building itself speaks of something much older. History seems alive in a real way, how you might feel about an ancient building in Rome. It’s also, conveniently, right in the middle of downtown Gables.

Hotel St. Michel

With a few hours until our dinner at up-scale Italian restaurant Zucca (on the first floor of Hotel St. Michel), we took advantage of St. Michel’s prime location by going for a walk around the downtown. We stopped in at Bulla for happy hour, perused a selection of cute Valentine’s gifts at Coco Bella (a jar of V-Day cookies for me, a small guitar-shaped clock for him), and then hurried back to our cozy room to change for dinner.

As Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” While love was, indeed, the reason we were there, our love for Zucca’s painstakingly crafted dishes was perhaps even more unifying. I suspect too, that if I had found — in the moment I took my first bite of the restaurant’s best- selling fried zucchini with goat cheese and truffle honey ($26) — that the chef who had made it was single, I would’ve spent my romantic night with him instead.

However, since Chef Manuel Garcia did not appear to whisk me away, my partner and I instead continued our meal with the center-cut filet ($72), an eight-ounce Angus steak topped with foie gras and plated on a bed of truffle-braised potatoes and leeks. Foie gras is optional but should be embraced. Dessert was an off-menu item recommended by our waiter: the apple strudel. Tangy and sweet, happily paired with a scoop of soft vanilla ice cream, it was a refreshing end to an otherwise quite heavy meal.

Even more exceptional was the wine — Zucca’s selection has five times won the Wine Spectator Award. We chose an Italian red, of course, and, after dinner, returned upstairs to finish it off on the balcony of our room overlooking Alcazar Avenue. Framed by gauzy curtains and polished wooden doors with brass handles, the scene felt straight out of a Parisian romance novel.

Between sips of wine and Coco Bella cookies, we ruminated on romantic topics — like, for instance, when he was finally going to propose, when we would travel to Europe for real, and how either of us was ever going to return to our busy lives after this fleeting romantic escape.