You take your lady to a nice restaurant and they bring out the food. It looks awesome! All the things the menu said it was going to be and more. It said grilled rib-eye, but this looks like a gift. It's so neatly wrapped in grill marks, and inside, the meat has been coaxed to a cook state, very carefully so the juice wouldn't run away. The vegetables to the side have definitely seen some attention, but they still retain their personality. They crunch and snap like they should, stationed on the plate, ready to perform. And the mashed potatoes? Did they get a Tahitian dancer to whip them by hand? Doesn't matter, this dish has impressed before you even took a bite.
This is what you must shoot for when cooking for love. No matter how good the food tastes, you can make it look like garbage (or worse, leftovers) even though you took all that time to prepare. Like any good finish, your dish should be finished strong.
That's where plating comes in. This is more than piling food on a plate like a Biggest Loser contestant at a buffet. You need to break the foods down to their elements:
It's like having a trophy, you have to put it on a base or pedestal. It may be a good idea to put it in front of a poster showcasing the victory.
This dish is an example:
The rice is my foundation, the vegetables (yellow squash, yellow bell pepper, yellow onion) are the accompaniment to the main attraction, the seared Ahi. Dipping sauce is on the side, a simple soy agave sauce.
This is just dinner. It's not a special occasion. But every offering should be special. The entire dish took 15 minutes, 45 seconds of that was arranging things nicely on the plate. If you have the principle in mind, you'll know how to plate.
You'll know that barbecue ribs can drape over garlic mashed potatoes next with grilled zucchini and eggplant to the side. You'll know what you want to showcase and how the other parts of the dish support it.
And she'll know you care.