by Brian Clarey

Sure we’ve got some local food news arriving in fits and spurts as befits this chilly and barren time pf year, but first let me remind everybody to make their Valentine’s Day restaurant reservations now. The big day is on a Monday, and believe me, area restaurants fill up fast.

Triad chain restaurant fans, hold on to your socks: Darden Restaurants is opening a combination Red Lobster/Olive Garden outside Orlando. Let’s hope they don’t do the same here, lest the folks who drive in for a “real restaurant dinner” from out in the county have nothing to discuss on the ride.

Noteworthy: Taco Bell has responded to a lawsuit over its taco meat with an ad campaign featuring the basics of its secret recipe, one they maintain has 88 percent USDA ground beef… though they refrain from revealing the grade of beef they use.

Way to get out there, Taco Bell. Also of note: My Three Sons Gourmet, working out of Greensboro’s Nussbaum Center business incubator, is now selling its gourmet cheese spreads at local Fres Market grocery stores.

Wednesday sees a free wine tasting at Sushi Republic — the one on Tate Street and not the newest incarnation at FantaCity, though a wise chowhound might want to beat the downtown crowds by hitting the locale on West Market Street during, say, a big restaurant holiday like the one coming up.

All weekend Greensboro’s Fresh Market holds its regular wine sampling, paired with a regular meat and seafood sampling that runs between 2-6 p.m.

On Saturday, the Grove Winery reminds us that it’s the time of year when the grapes have had enough simmering and finally come of age. The Grove releases its syrah on Saturday, and the tasting room will be open from noon-6 p.m.

Also on Saturday, Whole Foods in Winston-Salem holds its annual Big Game Chili Cook Off beginning at 11 a.m. There will be football boosterism, trivia, a raffle and, naturally, chili prepared by teams from all of Whole Foods’ departments. Smart money this year is on Team Produce.

And Tuesday is the Big Eat in downtown Winston-Salem. Get a signature dish for half off, just for showing up at participating restaurants.