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debora smail

What sweet, after-dinner comestible says “I love you” on Feb. 14 more than a chocolate-dipped strawberry? Actually, plenty of things, depending on what sugar-and-flour-smitten neck of the woods you’re in when you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day. Here are a few regional, two-fork–worthy specialties that really say “I love you.”

Houston: Tres Leches Cake
Houstonians are infatuated with this moist Latin American dessert, and the secret is in the sauce — a custardy three-milk combo (condensed milk, evaporated milk and whole milk or heavy cream) that the cake soaks up like a sponge. Ibiza Food & Wine Bar serves one of the city’s fancier versions: a succulent square of rich yellow cake that is bathed in sweet creams, lightly topped with a meringue butter-cream icing and complemented by a minted tropical-fruit salad and coconut sherbet. 2450 Louisiana St., (713) 524-0004, www.ibizafoodandwinebar.com

New Orleans: Bread Pudding Soufflé
Anywhere else in the world, bread pudding may be as sexy as gelatin. But in the Big Easy, the Creole version of it, popularized at Commander’s Palace, remains the most arousing dessert in one of the country’s most time-honored dining rooms. Ultralight but ambrosially rich, the French bread, cinnamon, nutmeg and egg-white creation is lovingly baked in a ramekin and drizzled with warm whiskey cream right at the table. Pure New Orleans romance. 1403 Washington Ave., (504) 899-8221, www.commanderspalace.com

St. Louis: Gooey Butter Cake
Gooey Butter Cake. The name alone suggests a passionately sugary, buttery, messy concoction best shared with a soul mate who understands your ridiculous sweet tooth. Preferably in St. Louis, where this super-rich coffee cake packed with butter and powdered sugar (the goo factor) has been a hit for more than 70 years. It’s the signature cake at McArthur’s, an old-fashioned, family-run bakery that’s been making it with pecans and cinnamon (or customized with seasonal fruit, if you call ahead) since the whole gooey-butter craze began. Yes, they’ll pack some chocolate-dipped strawberries for you too — if you insist. Three locations, (314) 894-0900, www.mcarthurs.com