You’ve met someone interesting. You’ve worked up the courage to invite them out for a proper, grown-up dinner date. Now you face the hardest part of the entire process: selecting the right restaurant.
No pressure, but a bad choice here could make the odds of a continued conversation with the object of your affection a lot longer (we actually believe that if it’s meant to be, one bad date is not going to wreck you, but why roll the dice on that? You could laugh about it later, or just get it right the first time.)
Best to prepare in advance, as you would for any other important event in your life. To guide your decision-making process, we assembled our Dandelion Chandelier global team of epicures and asked them to give us their picks in cities all over the world for the ideal choice for a dream first date. If you’re in the luxury class – or would like to appear to be, at least for one evening – we hope this will help steer you in the right direction. This is part three of a three-part series, in which we have also explored the ancillary issues of who pays, who should order, and whether or not dinner is even the right idea for a first date.
Now, on to the list! The Bureau Chiefs of Asia, Paris, Switzerland, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Texas, Brooklyn, the Upper East Side, and Chicago – plus our Style Editor and the West Coast Wine Editor – all generously contributed their ideas, leaving me very little to add (but I’ve tossed in a couple of suggestions anyway). BTW, in case you’re wondering, the guys on the Sports Desk are sitting this one out, and said we should call them when we want to write about March Madness, which we will do. Our patented 4-point criteria for an ideal first-date restaurant guided our selections, as they have throughout this investigation.
–Interestingly, many of our correspondents recommend Japanese restaurants for an elegant first date in New York. The Asian Bureau chief reports: “Tempura Matsui in Murray Hill is phenomenal. Very refined tempura in a beautiful setting right out of Kyoto. Only about a dozen people can dine in the restaurant – with a staff of about 6 people.” The restaurant states that its staff has worked tirelessly to perfect the batter, which is as thin as possible, to just coat the ingredient, and not weigh people down (they call it “The Matsui Way”). Dinner is a multi-course menu which includes sashimi. Bring your titanium credit card – the menu starts at $230 per person. Even more over-the-top? Sushi Ginza Onodera recently opened on Fifth Avenue opposite the NY Public Library. “Although there are a few booths, everyone always seems to sit only at the counter. There are only 2 menus: one for $300 and one for $400 per person. All of the fish are flown in daily from Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market, and the chef got his start at Onodera in Ginza.” Our Brooklyn Bureau Chief votes for Sushi Nakazawa, owned by Chef Dasuke Nakazawa, the protégée of famed Tokyo chef Jiro Ono. Located downtown, dinner is 20 courses, and each one is explained in detail. Whether you and/or your date are novices or foodies, you’ll leave having a learned a great deal.
–You can never go wrong with old-school French: the temple of seafood, Le Bernardinranks 24thon the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and is a guaranteed elegant and lovely time. La Grenouille is staggeringly beautiful – bouquets of flowers everywhere, golden light that makes everyone look their best – and the service is exquisite. The food is traditional and delicious, and you can imagine the same room filled with notables of the past who made it their own: Sir Laurence Olivier, Salvador Dali, Yves Saint Laurent, and Diana Vreeland. Be forewarned: the romance quotient is high, and it will be really hard not to fall in love.
–We also love Del Posto, The Modern, Minton’s, Daniel and Eleven Madison Park (but hurry, because its closing June 9 for a total makeover this summer, with plans to reopen in the fall). Red Rooster is a fun first-night-out option. Other ideas? Estela was Former President Obama’s choice for date night with the First Lady when the couple came to town. And One if By Land, Two if By Sea seems to appear on every single list of romantic dinner spots in Manhattan.
Brooklyn: Truly creative types in New York may be happiest over the river on a first night out. Our Brooklyn Bureau Chief recommends Olmsted, a hot new “farm to table” concept in Prospect Heights from Chef Greg Baxtrom and farmer Ian Rothman; The River Café, a beloved classic in Brooklyn Heights; and James in Prospect Heights, which is an intimate boîte helmed by Chef Bryan Calvert and Deborah Williamson with great atmosphere and food.
Washington DC: Even in today’s polarized capitol, love can bloom if you choose the right place. Our savvy correspondent suggests Minibar by Jose Andres, which has only 10 seats; Fiola Mare, a lovely restaurant by the river in Georgetown; 1789, an icon located in an old house in Georgetown; and Rose’s Luxury, which he warns “is not as luxurious as the name might suggest, but Bon Appetit named it the best new restaurant in the country a few weeks back.”
Chicago: Our Chicago Bureau Chief strongly recommends
—Alinea, Grant Achatz’s acclaimed restaurant (currently number 15 on the World’s 50 Best List); she says that his cocktail restaurant, The Aviary and his innovative restaurant Next – which changes its prix fixe menu and dining experience completely every four months – are great first-date choices, too.
—Boka in Lincoln Park is thriving under its new chef, Lee Wolen (formerly of Eleven Madison Park); known for creating incredible roast chicken, you can order his cooking a la carte or via tasting menu. If you’re going for a grand gesture, Grace – with three Michelin stars – is the most expensive restaurant in Chicago; Chef Curtis Duffy’s tasting menus are precise and refined, while partner Michael Muser’s wine and service are exemplary.
–For a more casual and unique first date, locals suggest Parachute, a Korean-American restaurant in Avondale; the mom-and-pop restaurant is helmed by a former “Top Chef” and has garnered ecstatic reviews.
–At Intro, the concept and chef change every six months, so you can practically guarantee your date a fresh new dining experience – plan ahead, as tables are only available via a ticketing system.
–Sushi is a popular recommendation for first date choices the world over, and that’s the case in Atlanta, too. We’re told that Sushi Hayakawa is the best in the city, so reserve ahead. Umi Sushi in Buckhead is also a glamorous option – its omakase is famous.
–For updated Southern food in more casual settings, Miller Union and Cast Iron are good choices. Iconic restaurant Aria recently reopened with the same chef but a more modern look and feel: the main dining room now sports canary yellow curtains and mounted mirrors on the walls (once white and now dove grey); the overall mood is brighter and more relaxed, with no-reservation dining options at the bar and neighboring lounge.
–One of our favorite spots in Atlanta is Park 75 Restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in Midtown; a party of 2 can enjoy the Chef’s Tasting Dinner based on personal preferences and complemented with wine pairings; reservations can be booked up to one year in advance and the cost is $150 per person.
–However, the loveliest meal we’ve ever had in Atlanta was at the Botanical Garden after dark. The walk through the garden to the restaurant sets the right conversational mood, and at the beginning of this year, a new chef – Jason Paolini – took the helm. Renamed Longleaf, the two-level contemporary glass structure is in the heart of the Garden; the ground level offers views of the Anne Cox Chambers Southern Seasons Garden, while from the rooftop terrace displays the beauty of Storza Woods, Alston Overlook and the Atlanta skyline. The restaurant’s new name is inspired by the longleaf pine, the resilient evergreen conifer indigenous to Georgia and the Southeast. Good metaphor for your persistence in this courtship!
Dallas: Our Texas Bureau Chief counsels:
–“To start your evening, Parliament in the St. Thomas neighborhood of Dallas is a really great cocktail bar. The bartenders there are really knowledgeable and make beautiful craft cocktails. Even if you’re not a gin fizz person, order one. The process of making one is fun to watch and the drink is as good as it looks. Fun fact: they offer happy hour pricing whenever it rains.”
–A friend with family in the Lone Star state reports that Abacus is an old standby that’s still excellent; and Uchi is a great sushi spot run by James Beard award-winning chef Tyson Cole.
–If you really want to please, make a date at the rooftop Mirador Restaurant at luxury specialty store Forty Five Ten’s new downtown location – shopping plus food is always a winning recipe.
–If you’re a “never dinner for a first date” type, our Bureau Chief says that a brunch date at Sissy’s Southern Kitchen is a great alternative: “People take brunch very seriously in Dallas. It is basically a 3-4 hour event with lots of food that isn’t good for you (but is delicious) and mimosas/Bloody Marys. This place can’t be beat for brunch. The fried chicken is unbelievable.”
–If your first Dallas date is a good one, start your second one by bringing your paramour a treat from Dude, Sweet, a great specialty chocolate shop in the Bishop Arts district.
–Our correspondent suggests Casa Tua, a celebrity hangout in a little house in Miami Beach. Warm lights spill from the doorway, a quiet garden awaits, and the service is friendly and personal – which makes sense at a place whose name means “Your House.”
–Other places sure to impress: Bazaar Mar by José Andrés, showcasing fresh seafood with a tapas-style menu in the newly opened SLS Brickell; in the same hotel, Fi’lia by Michael Schwartz is Italian with a twist, offering Caesar salads prepared table side, pastas, wood-fired pizza, and six different versions of the Italian Spritz in a charming setting.
—Forte dei Marmi is another hot Italian restaurant; run by two Michelin-starred chef Antonio Mellino and his son, Raffaele, it features classic Italian dishes in a chic 1938 Mediterranean-revival building right on Ocean Drive.
—Olla is a full-service Mexican restaurant on Lincoln Road serving traditional fare: guacamole prepared table-side, a variety of moles sauces and all kinds of meat, including roasted pig. The décor is sleek and energizing, and the bar is open late.
—Upland Miami is the second location for one of our favorite New York restaurants, and it would be a great first-date choice (so would the one in Manhattan, actually). As in New York, in Miami the menu is “California-inspired cuisine” with crazy-good food and an extensive list of wines and specialty cocktails.
Scottsdale, AZ: Our Style Editor has three top picks for an ideal first date location:
—The House Brasserie (locally referred to as The House), was formerly a private home (built in 1939) and is the second-oldest residence in Old Town Scottsdale. “It’s quaint and chic at the same time, with antique chandeliers and velvet wallpapered walls. The lighting at night is gorgeous, especially at the bar. Another option, and my fave, is brunch. They have a lovely patio, bottomless mimosas and the best eggs I have ever had in my life. EVER. Grab the table by the outdoor fireplace and don’t forget to check out the massive tree in the back. Planted in 1943, it was the original family’s first Christmas tree.”
—Elements, located in The Sanctuary Resort on the North Side of Camelback Mountain, is helmed by Food Network Star Chef Beau MacMilan, who serves seasonal American cuisine with Asian-inspired accents. “The views of Paradise Valley are so beautiful, especially if you get there early enough to have a cocktail and watch the sunset.”
—Olive and Ivy “has a very cool vibe. It’s dimly lit by what feel like hundreds of empty wine bottles hanging from the very high ceilings. The dining area sits in the middle of the open kitchen, bar and the large outdoor patio, so there is always something to look at or distract you if your date conversation is not up to par.” She reports that the food is excellent – with a Mediterranean flair – and there’s an adorable market where you can grab gelato on the way out. Bellissimo!
San Francisco: Our West Coast Wine Editor keeps a list of recommended restaurants for his visiting friends to refer to, and for a first date in this restaurant-rich city, he suggests the following four:
—Lazy Bear requires advanced planning, as you must buy tickets beforehand. An evening at the restaurant kicks off with a cocktail hour of passed appetizers in the mezzanine before you head to the loft-like dining room, which has communal seating at two long tables. Chefs deliver modern American dishes to the table themselves, and invite you to come into the kitchen to peer over their shoulder while they work – a perfect way to keep the conversation flowing with your date.
—Saison is a tough reservation to get, and its tasting menu runs $398 per person, not including an optional wine pairing of $298. But fans say it’s totally worth it. Joshua Skenes’s cooking will give you plenty to talk about: you might be served sea urchin, abalone, and hairy pig, for example, or a mound of caviar paired with biscuits fresh from the oven.
—Benu, run by head chef Corey Lee, opened in 2010 and still garners rave reviews. Lee was the chef de cuisine at The French Laundry before he opened his own place, which bridges East and West in inventive and gratifying ways. Tasting menus are the only option, and start at $195 per person.
–If a tasting menu feels like too much of a time investment and too fraught if this doesn’t turn out to be a dream date, head to Leo’s Oyster Bar in the Financial District. With raw oysters and clams, excellent cocktails and a cool retro vibe, this is a good choice to make a strong first impression. And it won’t last more than 90 minutes, unless you want it to.
–From another of our correspondents comes a vote for Bix in San Francisco, which is an old-school live jazz venue; should you choose to venture further afield, she says the restaurant at Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur is “a real game changer.”
Los Angeles: Our LA Bureau Chief counsels that in his city, additional criteria for a great first grown-up date spot are places where you can actually get a reservation in a reasonably short period of time, and places that are not too casual. His inside tips? (BTW, he’s excluded sushi restaurants and steakhouses, of which there are many):
—Providence is a sustainable seafood-lover’s paradise where meals are beautifully plated and arranged; Michael’s in Santa Monica has a new chef at the helm who’s been getting great reviews. Both are reasonably quiet.
–If you’re looking for something a bit livelier, the Bureau Chief votes for Republique (American cuisine in a 1928 building built by Charlie Chaplin and the former home of La Brea Bakery and Campanile); Redbird (modern American, located downtown); or Bestia (regional Italian in the Arts District).
–He also recommends Osteria Mozza (whose centerpiece is a white Carrara marble Mozzarella Bar where chef Nancy Silverton composes small dishes featuring fresh imported mozzarella as well as ricotta and cream-filled burrata; the restaurant is the brainchild of Silverton, Mario Batali, and Joe Bastianich); Spago (Wolfgang Puck’s classic in Beverly Hills – try the California Tasting Menu); Gjelina (farm-to-table by chef Travis Lett in Venice – ask for patio seating, as it can get loud in the main dining room); and Capo (Italian in Santa Monica).
–We’d add a couple more LA faves. With European-inspired archways and columns, gorgeous floral arrangements, and lit candles, Il Cielo is a lovely and sophisticated choice; Maude is Curtis Stone’s intimate restaurant in Beverly Hills, with just 25 seats and seven tables; every month the chef writes a new nine-course menu based on one key ingredient (note: you’ll need to reserve well in advance). And we love the Old Hollywood glamour of the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel (sit outside if the weather is fine).
As we wrap up this series on first date dinner locations, let’s end with a hopeful statistic from our friends at Statista: a January 2017 survey of over 1,000 American adults revealed that 87% believe in true love.
If you’re in search of yours – or if you’ve found your bae and are looking for ways to nurture your bond – the power of a lovely dinner date should never be underestimated. Go forth, Dandelions of the world, and good luck! You got this.
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