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Valentine's chocolates and cupcakes

Plus: Triangle Wine Experience, Have a Heart Purrfect Pairs Valentines Benefit

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Let's start with raspberry buttercream, shall we? Oh right, that's later (see below). In all seriousness, before we discuss the upcoming Valentine's Day dining fest, we need to share a little love with some of our neighbors. The Triangle Wine Experience (www.trianglewineexperience.org) is all over town this weekend. It's not just one event, it's a whole conflagration of wine-centered stuff—dinners, tastings, gala, auction—to benefit the Frankie Lemmon School, the only preschool in Wake County for children with special needs (developmental delays, language impairments, learning disabilities or mental retardation). Money raised means kids attend school free.

This year, the event aims to raise $1 million, according to the folks at Bin 54 Steakhouse (1201 Raleigh Road, Chapel Hill, 969-1155, www.bin54restaurant.com), who will host a dinner at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, featuring the wines of Chehalem Winery. Chelaham's chief winemaker, Henry Peterson-Nedry, is a UNC graduate. Cost for this dinner is $125 per person, and reservations must be made through the Triangle Wine Experience (see Web site above), not the restaurant. The TWE site also contains details about other wines, wineries, restaurants and events.

Or, if four-legged friends warm your heart, consider attending Independent Animal Rescue's Have a Heart Purrfect Pairs Valentine Benefit, 3 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 10, at Rigsbee Hall (208 Rigsbee Ave., Durham). It features tastings of grower champagnes produced by R. H. Coutier, Allouchery, Renaudin, Jacquesson, Moncuit, Barnaut, Diebolt-Vallois and others, as well as food, music and a silent auction. Tickets are $30 per person or $50 per pair, and all proceeds benefit IAR (www.animalrescue.net), an independent, all-volunteer nonprofit. For tickets, call 403-2221 or e-mail animalrescue@mindspring.com.

On to the big day. Where to dine on Valentine's Day? Pick your spot now, because you need to make reservations. In all likelihood, your favorite place has something special planned.

Start the holiday by sampling chocolates and wine from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 10, at the Hillsborough Wine Company (118 S. Churton St., 732-4343). The free event features samples from chocolatier and chef Matthew Shepherd.

Oh, and if you think candy, flowers and reservations are just, like, soooo card-store-manufactured-holiday, be creative and buy your cupcake some cupcakes. Artisan Cupcake (260-8235, www.artisancupcake.com) makes small batches from scratch and will deliver them to your door. Artisan's special V-Day flavor is Chocolate Raspberry Passion—chocolate cupcakes with a dark raspberry core, topped with raspberry buttercream and chocolate chips—but they have several other flavors, including vegan-friendly ones. Cakewalk Carrboro (260-9416, www.cakewalkcarrboro.com) also makes cupcakes and will also deliver. Cakewalk's special V-Day flavors are red velvet and spicy cinnamon chocolate. Orders at both companies are due by Sunday, Feb. 10.

Next week: all chocolate, all the time. Be ready.

Know about a special food happening in the Triangle? Send it to Now Serving at food@indyweek.com.

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