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The 4 Elements of a Romantic Restaurant, from the Award-Winning Mark’s American Cuisine

BY: Shannon Jewitt | Apr 22, 2016

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Chef Mark Cox doesn’t just think a restaurant’s ambiance is important. “I think it’s everything,” he said. That statement proves true at Mark’s American Cuisine, which has repeatedly been named one of Houston’s most romantic restaurants, and recently received the Ambiance Award in our first-ever Taste of Groupon Awards. Below, we asked Chef Mark to break down the components of a truly romantic restaurant.

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Above: Chef Mark Cox of Mark's American Cuisine


The interior of Mark’s American Cuisine (pictured at the top) seamlessly blends dramatic gold, cathedral-like vaulted ceilings and stained-glass light fixtures with warm, natural elements like brick walls and wood floors.

“We didn’t want to be intimidating. We wanted to be approachable."

Cox purchased the building in 1997—a church originally built in 1927—because of those elements, but renovations have also been key. Mark’s features two levels of seating, including The Alcove. The second-floor room originally featured a 42-inch wall, which Cox knocked down and replaced with ironwork to form a unique, intimate location where three highly-sought tables overlook the romantic restaurant below.

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Cox credits the building’s structure with creating a relaxing environment, but the staff also plays a key role in establishing the romantic setting.

“We like our guests to be comfortable,” he said. “We like to get to know them. We like to cater to their needs.”

That’s no small task with a clientele that ranges from locals to international business travelers. However, the staff has been incredibly successful, in part, by earning diners’ trust.

“We have people who come in and never read a menu,” Cox said. “Servers just make a recommendation to them, and they order from what the recommendations are.”

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Few things say romance quite like flowers. “If we know there’s an engagement, we’ll set the table with petals in the shape of a heart,” Cox said. And there have been plenty. The Alcove, for example, is often reserved for proposals.

“We get a lot of engagements—we didn’t really want to be a special-occasion restaurant, but we do an awful lot of birthdays and anniversaries, big congratulatory events there,” Cox said.

Often, Mark’s is filled with couples who are celebrating the location of their first date.

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Meals built around wine or a single ingredient can add a romantic touch to a meal, Cox said. And that’s certainly the case with Chef Mark’s eight-course dinner tasting menu, which include wine pairings that complement each dish’s flavors. And as the recipient of several Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence, Mark’s selection of reds, whites, and champagnes is specifically designed to enhance the menu’s New American cuisine.