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Love Bites

This Valentine's, stick with the tried-and-true -- but not the expensive or stodgy. Chocolates plain and fancy that'll ensure a mouthful of kisses.

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As merchants gear up for the sweet frenzy of Valentine's Day, it's easy to forget that classic gifts like flowers or chocolate -- instead of, say, Palm Pilots or Bentleys -- are perfectly worthy. For those who find a little gold box of Madison Avenue truffles just too twee, here are a few alternatives.

For minimalist, industrial-style quantities of chocolate, head to Dairyland, supplier to some of Manhattan's toniest food shops. Slabs run from $2.50 per pound for Van Leer to $5 per pound for Valrhona. A ten-pound bar of French Cocoberry ($30) is sure to impress.

Old-fashioned hand-dipped Valentine's confections from Li-Lac draw huge crowds. Chocolate bears are $8.50, heart-topped cups are 92 cents each, foil-wrapped pops are $2.75, and a pound of chocolate-dipped strawberries (twelve to fifteen) is $24.

Tasty treats are inexpensive at Wolsk's Gourmet Confections. Milk-, white-, and dark-dipped nuts are $6 per pound; nut clusters, pretzels, or caramels are $12; almond bark is $10; and chic broken-up hunks are only $4. Discounted name brands include Droste and Perugina. Mix in penny candy, marzipan fruit ($8 a pound), nuts (cashews are $6 a pound), or chocolate-covered coffee beans ($6.50 a pound).

Tired of the same old shapes? Mold your own with these supplies from New York Cake & Bake: Bulk chocolate ($3 to $12 per pound) and thousands of plastic candy molds ($1-$7). Would-be pastry chefs can find every imaginable baking pan, cookie cutter, and sugar flower. Pretty red boxes ($2 or less) make presentation a piece of cake.

Dairyland, the Chef's Warehouse, 1300 Viele Ave., Bronx (718-842-8700); Li-Lac Chocolates, 120 Christopher St. (242-7374); Wolsk's Gourmet Confections,81 Ludlow St. (475-0704); New York Cake & Bake Supply, 56 W. 22nd St. (675-cake).

Picks of the Week

Language, the NoLIta style-setter, is unloading all winter clothing at 50 to 70 percent off: Antonio Berardi Lurex dress, was $960, now $288; Bella Freud coat, was $870, now $348. 238 Mulberry St. (431-5566); A.E., M.C., V., checks; Mon.-Sat. 11-7, Sun. noon-6; 2/8-2/22.

Joel Name Optique deParis's frames and sunglasses from last season are now up to 70 percent off. Gucci styles that were $155 are $93; Calvin's, were $175, now $123; and Armani's, were $245, now $95. French and Japanese styles on sale, too. 65 W. Houston St. (777-5888); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Fri. 11-7, Sat. till 6; 2/8-2/28.

Barneys' Warehouse Sale is here. You know the drill: long lines, odd lighting, and fab deals. 255 W. 17th St. (450-8695); A.E., M.C., V., checks; Mon.-Fri. 9-9 (8-9 on 2/11-2/12), Sat.-Sun. 10-7; 2/11-2/28.

Richards Interior Design custom upholstery is now 20 to 60 percent off: selected shades, were $18 and up per square foot, now $12; queen headboards, were $595, now $295; furniture samples, up to 60 percent off. 1390 Lexington Ave., at 92nd St. (831-9000); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Fri. 10-6, Thurs. till 7, Sat. till 5, Sun. 11-5; 2/8-3/1.

Olive & Bette's sale features trendy winter clothes for women at 40 percent off: Jill Stuart dresses, were $266, now $150; Daryl K pants, were $204, now $125. Sizes 2-10. 155 W. 72nd St., fourth floor (712-9761); A.E., M.C., V.; Fri. 9-7; 2/12.

Anna Sui winter styles are all 40 to 70 percent off: mohair jacket, was $530, now $160; knit dress, was $230, now $70. 113 Greene St. (941-8406); A.E., M.C., V.; Mon.-Sat. 11:30-7, Sun. noon-6. 2/13-2/28.

ALWAYS A DEAL

I See London, I See France...

For Valentine's-Day lingerie, head to Tati, a French discounter whose selection is always 60 to 70 percent off. Labels currently include Lina Rosa, Simone Perelle, and Carven (a lace Lina Rosa bra is $15; the panties are $10), but stock's always coming in, and you could stumble upon a stash of La Perla or Hanro. If you're planning the big event, pick through thousands of European wedding gowns from Sybilla, the Emanuels, Harrods, and others. All cost less than $600. 475 Fifth Ave., near 41st St. (481-8284).


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