LET'S IMAGINE for a moment that Valentine's Day really is a crucial part of mating in America. Let's consider the possibility that decisions we make on that day actually link to subconscious animal-mating behaviors that prove our sexual and social fitness for possible partnering. If that's the case, taking your date to dinner on Valentine's Day is a fool's game. What does it prove?

"Hey, look! I can make reservations!" Big deal. "Hey, I've got enough scratch to cover the bill! Drop your pants!" Uh, no. "Hey! I'm the alpha-whatever because I can condescend to this waitperson." I'll find my own ride home, thanks.

There are better ways to use the act of dining to prove you're a worthwhile mate. The best way, of course, is the lost art of the picnic. A picnic proves that you are both hunter and gatherer. You are a provider, outdoorsy, even rugged. A picnic proves you're a creative individual, a unique problem solver. Also, it's romantic as hell. Also, it will get you laid. Possibly outside.

Where do you start? Location, location, location. Consider places with fantastic views, natch. Mt. Tabor is the obvious choice, with plenty of cover, benches, and tables. But why not go out of your way? Consider Silver Falls State Park, just east of Salem, with nearly a dozen waterfalls. Or go for the local Niagara and scout out a spot at Multnomah Falls in the Gorge. Nearer to home, Council Crest in Southwest Portland offers fine views but less shelter, while Powell Butte in Southeast is rustic, with large expanses of tall grass perfect for semi-concealed make-out sessions. If all else fails, think altitude and seclusion.

Now you need supplies. A blanket will be necessary (if only to conceal post-meal snogging). Also, go with actual silverware and plates, please. No plastic or paper. Actual glassware is a nice touch. The key is not to appear cheap, though sometimes necessity may lead you to carry your picnic in a box or bag rather than a basket. Should you be at a total loss, local gourmet emporium Foster and Dobbs (2518 NE 15th, 284-1157) will rent you a picnic setup along with three cheeses, two meats, crackers, olives, dried fruit, nuts, and cookies. The package has all you need (except beverages, condoms, and lube) for $40.

Rather put the meal together yourself? Think sandwiches. Hit Bunk (621 SE Morrison, 477-9515) for some down 'n' dirty grub, like their delicious tuna salad sando. You could also stop by Laurelhurst Market (3155 E Burnside, 206-3099) for smoked pork shoulder on ciabatta. On the Westside, you can pick up some sloppy goodness from Kenny and Zuke's SandwichWorks (2376 NW Thurman, 954-1737). After all, nothing says love like dabbing juices from your sweetheart's chin after tearing through a ratatouille sammy.

Basically, pick any food that travels well—charcuterie for instance. Cured meats (salami, mortadella, guanciale, pancetta) have a way of bringing out animal urges. You can find the good stuff at a Pastaworks location (pastaworks.com), along with crackers and sides. You can also pick up some great options at the butcher counter at the Nob Hill neighborhood's City Market, Chop (735 NW 21st, 221-3012).

Round out your spread with cheese from Steve's Cheese (2321 NW Thurman, 222-6014), where they'll be happy to help you pair your dairy with your meat. Augment it all with some tart, briny goodness from Picklopolis, whose delicious wares can be found among the olives at any New Seasons Market.

Don't forget dessert—and by dessert, I mean "chocolate." Local makers Alma Chocolate (140 NE 28th, 517-0262) are always a good bet. How about an anatomically accurate chocolate heart gilded in 23-karat gold? Perfect.

What else do you need? Well, you're probably not getting laid without getting your picnic partner liquored up. You'll want wine. Why not stop into Cork (2901 NE Alberta, 281-2675; 1715 NW Lovejoy, 501-5028). They recommend their house zinfandel from vintner Will Bucklin: 2007's Topolos Ranch Zinfandel, which pairs well with robust peppery foods and chocolate. Plus, 10 percent of all profits from this $20 bottle of zin are donated to Dove Lewis Animal Hospital. Nothing's sexier than charity.

So the stage is set for you to prove your biological and mental fitness. All that's left is to add smoldering looks across the blanket, sweet nothings, and a few push-ups just to show off. With the pre-spring pheromones flowing and a little assist from the weather, you can consider the deal sealed.