There's no clear consensus on what makes a restaurant suitable for a first date, as we discovered when we polled our contributors for list candidates. Is it preferable to meet a potential mate at a quiet restaurant, where you can fall into deep, uninterrupted conversation? Or should you pick a really loud brewpub, where it won't matter so much if conversation lags? Should you choose a restaurant renowned for its innovative cooking - or find a place where eating quirks, food allergies and dietary restrictions are less likely to be an issue?
No matter what you value in a first date restaurant, we've got you covered with this list, compiled by Erin Thompson and randomly ordered, with the exception of the first-place finisher. Have fun out there.
LloydMartin, a thoroughly manly joint named for owner Sam Crannell's grandfathers, is a kind of haute-cuisine hangout, where folks can repair for a glass of wine or plate of pasta without first consulting the calendar. This restaurant has a delicious talent for game meats and big red wines: Crannell's elk-ragù fettucine, which should be permanently exempt from seasonal rules that forbid year-round menu items, is a bold, earthy example of near-perfection, and many of his other dishes don't lag far behind. The dimly lit restaurant briefly switched to an all-reservations system when walk-in traffic proved inadequate, then permitted walk-ins again. As more diners catch on to what Crannell's doing, reservations may again become necessary.
It's pretty tough to beat the outdoor seating at the Pink Door, one of the only Market spots that stays packed from July through August but never feels like a tourist trap. The interior is quirky and low-lit, and the Italian-leaning market cuisine at this popular trattoria doesn't shy away from pow-wham-bang cookery. Gorgonzola spread is served with two ripe heads of roasted garlic and an antipasto platter is freighted with pickled hot peppers.
In the years since Maria Hines first opened Tilth, her certified-organic restaurant, her creativity has taken flight. A truffled cauliflower flan with bits of Meyer lemon and fried capers is as unctuous as a French triple-crème cheese, and a sablefish fillet cooked sous-vide has the texture of a poached marshmallow. Hines' servers can muster all the polish of a much pricier restaurant without dumping the friendliness befitting a restaurant housed in a tiny Craftsman.
Sometimes the most successful first dates are casual ones, and that's why there's nothing wrong with a brewpub date. The organizing principle at Brave Horse Tavern, the most successful of the restaurants Tom Douglas debuted in 2011, is beer. If a dish screams for a brew, it's probably incredibly well-made here. Initial hoopla centered on the soft and doughy Bavarian pretzels, but the menu's studded with successful, subtly Germanic dishes that answer a drinker's call for salt and heft.
Monsoon is a crisp, tidy place to dine: The hybrid Vietnamese cuisine is never too fussy, nor does it try to cram too many ingredients or flavors into one dish. The vibe is clean and minimalist, like the room. Enduring favorites on the menu include a caramelized Idaho catfish, an Asian pear salad, and prawns in yellow curry. Portions aren't huge, which encourages you to order and share more dishes; and a surprisingly deep wine list can do some damage to your wallet but earn you points with your dates.
The city's most blessed culinary address may be 2238 Eastlake Avenue, the strip-mall storefront which housed Sitka & Spruce and Nettletown before Charles Walpole painted the room's walls red and christened it Blind Pig Bistro. Walpole, formerly of Anchovies & Olives, is relishing the freedom of self-employment: He serves what he wants when he wants, which means that even flawless dishes tend to fall off the ever-changing menu when he tires of making them. Fortunately for diners, Walpole's culinary choices are impeccable. His dishes are so instinctively pleasing that it's easy to forget how much skill is required to make mackerel, turnips, chorizo, and red onions work together. Your date is sure to walk away impressed.
The thoughtfully casual Fremont eatery Revel is the food-baby of culinary power couple Rachel Yang and Seif Chichri. People who like food tend toreally like Korean food, which is often funky and bold. But Revel isn't just drifting on gourmands' goodwill: The kitchen plays with chancy flavor combinations, demonstrating something like genius by sandwiching chili ice cream between chocolate-chip cookies, and tempers its daredevilry with delicacy, folding thin-skinned dumplings around ricotta scented with Earl Grey tea. Revel is such an upbeat place to dine, you'll have fun even if your date doesn't turned out to be as heated as expected.
Chef Ethan Stowell's Ballard outpost, Staple & Fancy, flawlessly cranks out everything from pork cheeks and gnocchi to whole grilled fish and fried oysters. Stowell knows diners will have a hard time narrowing their choices, so there is a $45 "fancy" menu available, which puts the decision in the kitchen's hands. Your entire table has to participate in the family-style four-course feast, but your participation will be rewarded, and the wait will give you plenty of time to get to know your date. Each course includes anywhere from two to four dishes, depending on your party's size. Let the staff know if there's anything you don't or can't eat, sit back, and let the feasting begin.
More often than not, Asian fine dining is a cerebral fusion whose aesthetic and cuisine depart from the culture that inspired them. Enter Tamarind Tree, which bridges a sophisticated, modern decor with unquestionably authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Their signature spring rolls are probably the best in town, seemingly flowering with noodles and lettuce in a perfectly sticky rice wrapper. If you can't get enough of them, order the ban cun tráng tay (steamed rice paper) and wrap your pork, crispy shrimp, or shiitake mushrooms yourself. While most rave about Tamarind Tree's specialty noodle soups and the whimsical crepes-shells of rice flour packed with scallops, prawns, and pork and covered with coconut milk, the salads are also fantastic.
1. La Rustica
If one were to Weird Science a slew of optimal first-date characteristics into one restaurant, West Seattle's cozy La Rustica would be it. Let's start with the style of cuisine: Italian, perhaps the most agreeable of them all. There's an endless supply of free, hot focaccia that will come to your table for that portion of the date when you want to keep the alcohol from going to your head, and plenty of hard liquor for later, when things stand to get a little, um, looser. There's a patio for when it's warm, and a back room for drink-sipping when there's a wait. There's a sunset view of Puget Sound, and a very good selection of pasta dishes priced in the teens. But best of all, La Rustica boasts such a unique location (around the bend from Alki Point) that simply stopping the car in front of it will make your date consider you a person of considerable geographical intellect. And nothing gets the drawers dropped like a big, hard . . . brain.
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