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The Best

[] Best aromatic stroll

Hand-in-hand, of course. Sniffing plant medleys that smell like a hippie perfume shop. Herbs with names that sound like found poetry: Oriental Limelight and French Lace Lavender, Silver-edge Thyme and Green Santolina, African Blue Basil and Illumination Vinca. And that's all before you get to the flower garden, or the rainbow expanse of mums. At Secret Garden Herb Farm there's plenty to browse and discover, from cast stone garden statuary to dried-flower wreaths, from sundials to Victorian gazing globes. Always wanted to trim a bush into a pair of entwined hearts or a bust of Mae West or Gwyneth Paltrow? They have the topiary plants and the advice. Melanie and Paul Paradis have both the name and the temperament to guide you through their bucolic little wonderland, as they've been doing since 1991. 177 Scott Road, Cumberland, (401) 334-0287.

Best scary date

Cheap, too. The closest thing to it is going to a horror movie for the adolescent Hold-me-I'm-frightened! advantage. It's the best adrenaline-rush ride you can have while sitting and not in a roller coaster. First you wait until it's been windy and stormy, then you drive down to Monahan's Dock at high tide. If you meet locals there, they'll know to stay safe and snug in their vehicle -- although they might tell you about the time a big wave crashed into the parking lot and blew in this guy's windshield. Or about seeing somebody smacked down when they stood too close to the seaside rocks -- or worse. (Standing on the rocks because storm waves are breaking short of them is suicide.) If Disney World could box this up, thrill-seekers would be standing in line all day. Narragansett State Pier No. 5, at Ocean and South Pier roads, Narragansett.

Best l'amour lessons on the move

Foxtrot and waltz too sedate for a date? Why not vary the rhythm? Learn East Coast swing, and rock 'n' roll will never sound the same. Learn to dance to the catchy Brazilian beat of the samba, and before you know it "Hot, hot, hot!" will be your anthem. The Cuban rumba is another way to go, as you start with a simple box step and learn turns, side breaks, and Latin walks. The cha-cha, also from Cuba and all the rage in the '50s, can provide another brisk workout. And then there's the tango, born in the Buenos Aires slums and ever since a dominant/submissive psycho-sexual hoot. Two for Tango dance instructors Paul and Roxanne LaCroix will even work on your sense of humor, so that when you do their signature dance with a rose in your teeth you feel like a gaucho rather than gauche. 3 Charles Street, Newport, (401) 295-0349,

Best pick-me-up meal

Whether you're headed to the beach or to a thick rug in front of a cozy fireplace, it's a romantic gesture to save the cooking by picking up a meal. The menu options at Geralyn's are not your run-of-the-mill deli fare. Their delicious homemade soups are soothing in fall and winter -- split pea, cream of butternut, or spicy chicken and bean will warm you up -- and refreshing in the spring -- asparagus, avocado, or broccoli almond. Summertime calls for pasta salads, generous wraps, and homemade breads filled with a variety of swirled fillings, such as ham-and-cheese or seasonal veggies. And then there's always dessert -- from Geralyn's family recipes -- homemade cookies, biscotti, cupcakes, muffins, and more. 683 Boston Neck Road (Hamilton Plaza), Wickford, (401) 295-0546.

Best temptress treat

In that famous creation story, Eve was lured by a shiny red apple as much as by the snake. You would be, too, if you saw the piles of Macouns, Cortlands, Golden Delicious, Macintosh, and Mutsu apples at the Appleland Orchard farm stand. Actually, it's the nectar of those apples, their own fresh-pressed cider, that has made juice addicts out of most who taste it. Appleland also dunks their apples, small and large. They gild the small ones with melted caramel; the bigger ones are even more decadent. A tart apple, such as a Mutsu, is covered with dark or milk chocolate, and then rolled in nuts or Heath Bar Crunch and decorated with drips of white chocolate. If you go for this monster, invite a few friends over -- it's far too much for two to finish. 135 Smith Avenue (Route 116, south of Route 44), Greeenville, (401) 949-3690.

Best 17th-century birthday cake

Steeped in tradition is one thing. Made from a 1696 hand-written recipe is quite another. At Ursula's European Pastries, the Austrian Linzer torte (owner/chef Ursula Bernier's homeland) is made from that very recipe -- with red currant jam and an almond-and-butter pastry. Another historic favorite is the Sacher torte (1832 recipe), a "masculine" chocolate cake created for Prince Metternich, with apricot filling and a chocolate glaze. You can drop by the shop and choose two pieces of torte, tart, gateau, or streusel for a romantic birthday dinner (about $5) or order an entire cake for a party -- each usually feeds 14 to 16 for $22 to $32. Either way, it's a bargain for the taste sensations that await you: extra-fat butter, fresh fruits, real liqueurs or rum (no artificial flavorings), melt-in-your-mouth meringues, and delectable cream fillings. Plus, Ursula's nut tortes are a terrific wheat-free treat. 1860 Broad Street, Cranston, (401) 941-4122.

Best way to turn the lights down low

It's not just theaters that use lighting to set a mood. And it's not just wattage that varies the softness of the light. At Altamira Lighting, Michael Lamar and Gibb Brownlie have come up with decorative one-of-a-kind lamps, both floor and table variety, that combine the best of handcrafted and production design parts. The stems are colored resin that look like glass; the bases are ceramic or wood. But it's the handmade lampshades that give each lamp its own personalty. Some are rice paper with flowers and leaves pressed into it; others have cutouts; still others are made of fabric. They might be conical, cylindrical, or even square, but the glow that emanates through and from beneath the shade can turn a cold evening warm or a warm evening even hotter. 20 Joyce Street, Warren, (401) 247-7676,

Best products for pampering him or her

There's nothing like the aroma of herbs in bath and body care products to make you take a deep breath and relax. And the feel on your skin can be alternately soothing or tingly, astringent or emollient. Lisa Gartner has 13 years of experience as an herbalist and she has very carefully applied that knowledge in making her Essential Herbs. Your face alone can be scrubbed with an oatmeal-almond cake, steamed with dried herbs, masked with lemongrass, and/or "quenched" with lavender, tangerine, or "sunshine" (a blend of summer herbs). You can give yourself a "deep feet treatment" or apply a carrot-and-chamomile cuticle cream. The great thing about these is that very few leave any lingering fragrances, so guys can share the luxurious experience of bath salts, body mists and foot baths. (401) 789-2279,,

Best honey for your honey

Pooh Bear had the right idea. Nothing is more soothing than a little toast and honey. Or tea and honey. Or, in his case, just plain honey. At Arson Alley Apiary, you can choose your honey for taste -- the crabapple-like knotweed, the molasses-like buckwheat, the light and sweet black locust, or the spicy pepperbush -- depending on the nectar the bees have sipped to make it. You can choose texture and dispenser: creamed or syrupy, glass jar, or plastic bear. And for a real hit, you could light a pure beeswax candle and inhale that sweet honey fragrance. Arson Alley owner Louis J. Chassé was a fire investigator for North Kingstown for 27 years and started beekeeping in 1980. He now mentors beekeepers all over the state and is an ardent spokesman for honey's versatility, from its nutritional and even medicinal properties to its use in a homemade furniture polish! 420 Congdon Hill Road, Saunderstown, (401) 295-0888.

Best place for guy gifts

No, not the auto parts department of Home Depot. We got more conversation in us than power tools, ya know? And at Saywell's, a gift shop specializing in contemporary American crafts, there's plenty to appeal to our non-mechanical sensibilities. (Although their kaleidoscopes are pretty cool, and the wall clocks that utilize local marine charts would accent a den nicely.) Non-lumberjack wood crafts are in wide selection: graceful letter openers with exotic grains, business card holders, dried-flower vases, chessboards, cabinets, and boxes. The ultimate guy gift here? If he's not still eyeing that Makita router, remember that Marcie and Jerry Saywell offer a selection of money clips, pocket knives, belt buckles, and even a bolo tie clasp, all decorated with scrimshawed tusk of wooly mammoth -- yup, the critters that died out 25,000 years ago. For the Fred Flintstone in your life, priced from $19.50 to $185.50. 406 Main Street, Wakefield, (401) 783-0630.

Best Valentine Day's practice

Why wait till February? Do you think your sweetheart's expectations are that dull and conventional? Or is she just not worth the extra fuss -- is that what you're saying? There she is, making few demands, just quietly waiting, observing your attentions through eyes that have gradually narrowed to slits . . . . Maybe you'd better get your favorite chocoholic a special treat at Parvenue soon, before it's too late. Choose truffles, Florentines, clusters, or their signature "holiday tree" -- a chocolate evergreen decorated with almond slivers and white chocolate trim. Proprietor Carol M. Urofsky opened her retail shop three years ago, after establishing a successful wholesale business. She makes chocolates only in cooler weather, from October to Mother's Day. She also makes pastries in the "European style." One regular customer from Paris makes sure to stop in and satisfy her cherry-almond tart craving whenever she's in town. 40 Market Street, Warren, (401) 247-9900.

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Issue Date: November 22 - 28, 2002