The way Marion Ohlinger sees it, most of us are celebrating Valentine’s Day all wrong. This time of year, many Americans hungry for love make plans with their sweetheart to head out to a restaurant for fettucine alfredo or some other heavy entrée finished off with cheesecake or another dense dessert.
That’s a poor prescription for romance, says the Morgantown restaurateur. “If you go out for Valentine’s Day and order a meal with a lot of cream and butter, all you want to do afterwards is go home and go to sleep,” said Ohlinger, who co-owns Richwood Grill with his wife, Alegria Holland.
At his eatery, the West Virginia native takes a different tact, crafting an upscale, globally influenced Valentine’s meal that weaves in more than a half-dozen ingredients believed to be aphrodisiacs, from avocados and artichokes to asparagus and apricots.
Healthy ingredients and lean protein for energy are other hallmarks of Ohlinger’s multi-course dinner, a February staple at the restaurant on Richwood Avenue.
“When we first created this menu seven years ago, we did a lot of research first,” the executive chef explains. “We set out to find foods that scientists say boost humans’ sex drive and provide other positive effects.
“It’s proper fine dining without all that heaviness. This is a meal that at worst is delicious and won’t leave you feeling weighted down. At best, you’ll be enjoying foods from all over the world that are known to have aphrodisiac qualities.
“And we hear feedback that our dinners do, in fact, have the aphriadisiac effect. Every year, we get calls from customers after Valentine’s Day, to say thank you.’’
This year with Valentine’s Day falling on a Thursday, Richwood Grill will serve its special aphrodisiac dinner on the holiday and through the weekend.
The meal begins with an aperitif, a hibiscus flower-infused cava. The candied hibiscus lends the drink a lovely pink hue, Ohlinger said, and the minerals in the bubbly white wine get the meal underway with aphrodisiac flair.
Next up, Ohlinger serves a salad-appetizer course of a broiled avocado filled with blue crab and artichoke hearts, set on a bed of spring greens with a ginger-passionfruit vinaigrette.
The meal’s second course is a double-cut free-range filet mignon served alongside a pair of broiled petite lobster tails with a spicy-sweet citrus chili butter. Served with this main course: grilled asparagus, rosemary-infused black beans and saffron rice.
For dessert, the diners share a platter of edible orchids, a single-origin heirloom chocolate torte with lavender-infused honey, served with apricot fig chutney and mixed berries in sweet cream.
Ohlinger, who grew up on a farm family in Mason County in the southwestern edge of the state, first came to culinary work as a high school student and then as a way to pay his way through college.
After years studying psychology and sociology at West Virginia University and Fairmont State University, Ohlinger completed his degree and landed his first office job – only to realize how very much he missed working with food.
“I fought it for a long, long time,” he said, “but I ultimately came to see that cooking, planning menus, the artistic and creative outlet that this work offers – all the other tasks involved in running a restaurant – are exactly the right fit for me.”
Today, Ohlinger and Holland bring to their Morgantown business good ideas hones from their nearly half-century of combined experience in the business. The duo have held positions amid the cutting-edge food scenes of Vail, Colo., Scottsdale, Ariz., downtown Seattle and elsewhere.
Ohlinger and Holland’s work has become increasingly well-known. Their eatery has taken home a number of culinary awards and was named to the state Department of Tourism’s “101 Most Unique Destinations in West Virginia.”
Richwood Grill attracts diners not only from Morgantown and the surrounding area to its home in a renovated 1923 Studebaker garage with a dazzling view of downtown, but from throughout far-flung West Virginia and even out-of-state customers from Pittsburgh and elsewhere.
“West Virginia has a cultural and agricultural diversity that isn’t always recognized or appreciated,” Ohlinger said. “That’s one of the things we’ve been able to do with our restaurant – really open people’s eyes to the amazing food culture and farming tradition that goes back so many generations here.”