Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Date Night: We Know Why You Want To Eat

Dim sum at Red Pearl -- Sharing food is an ice breaker
The only time that you must find the right restaurant is when you want to please someone else.

Let's be honest: You can eat your favorite dish at your favorite spot if you are eating alone.  (And for some of you, "favorite spot" can mean over the sink.)  You need a joint that sets the right mood when you're trying to entertain someone else.  We call that a date.

So what kind of joint do you need?  For convenience and a blog post, I see two distinct categories:  the dating restaurant and the "Date Night" restaurant.  Dating restaurant: You have a new person in mind, so you want a night that makes you seem intriguing.  A "Date Night" restaurant: You have a kid and probably a mortgage, so you need dinner worth a babysitter.

This is part of HowChow's 2012 guide to Howard County -- "Welcome Home."  Ten posts to prove there are dozens of places worth your time, that you can find great food all across the county.  It's written for someone new to Howard County (maybe a link you send a friend thinking about moving here), but hopefully it's useful to anyone.

Let's start with the first kind of restaurant.  Imagine a third-date restaurant.  You want good food.  Not too expensive, but a nice place -- a step up from the counter service at Maiwand Kabob or R&R Taqueria.  You definitely want a dessert option -- either there or nearby -- in case the date goes well.  You want your date to have options since you don't know what they like; but it would be great to have a few superb items:
  • Bangkok Garden 9 in Columbia.  Spicy Thai food in Oakland Mills village center.  Not the coolest parking lot, but there are Thai dishes that taste authentic and aren't on the average Thai menu.
  • Fuji Restaurant in Ellicott City.  Pretty space off Rte 40.  Try seafood udon soup and other Japanese items.
  • Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia.  Amazing burgers, then other foods circling up in complexity and price.  I remember liking that my girl relished a good burger.  The outdoor patio can be pretty even surrounded by cars.
  • El Azteca in Clarksville.  We love the salsas, the tacos, and the chicken mole.  Margaritas make for a good date.
  • Red Pearl in Columbia.  Go for weekend dim sum or a weeknight dinner.  Nice to walk around the lake if it's going well.  If it's going really well, you could make plans for next weekend at Sushi Sono next door.
Now let's talk Date Night.  You're paying a babysitter, and you're probably not doing this very often.  So grab a restaurant where you're guaranteed delicious.  Good food, beautiful place.  Somewhere that you'll be happy to relax and linger -- until you remember that you're paying a babysitter.
WKitchen: Worth driving
  • Aida Bistro in Columbia.  The highest-end Italian in Howard County.  A focus on wine.  We have eaten there twice, but I never got a good picture.
  • Iron Bridge Wine Co. in Columbia.  Little plates and entrees, many whimsical and many delicious.  Surrounded by wine bottles and advice to make sure you love what you drink.
  • Sushi Sono in Columbia.  Perfect fish.  Fantastic rolls.  Delicious green tea.  Sake if you're in the mood.
  • Bistro Blanc in Glenelg.  Seasonal menus that draw from local farms and pair with the wine that they stock in overwhelming supply.
  • Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore.  Just because you moved here doesn't mean that you need to stay here.  Woodberry's seasonal, small dishes make this our favorite single place.
Regular commenter RDAdoc agreed with my analysis of the "date night" requirements.  She and Mr. RDAdoc ate out frequently when they lived alone in Baltimore.  Along the way, they have picked up a 3-year-old, a 1-year-old and a more-focused view of eating out.  She highlights two of my choices:
Since young children’s behavior is quite unpredictable, I only take my children to restaurants frequented by other people with young children as to not torture anyone paying good money for a relaxing dinner. Recently a few good friends have shared their babysitters with me, so Mr. RDAdoc and I are able to start going to adult restaurants again. However, when we do go to a restaurant now I want to make sure it’s a worthwhile experience.  A couple suggestions for meals at two of my favorite Howard County restaurants that are definitely worth getting a babysitter for:  
Iron Bridge's salad
Iron Bridge Winery - I love just about everything on their menu but a few of my absolute favorite are their fall greens salad with roasted pumpkin, sour cherries, cherry tomatoes and mustard vinaigrette, their roasted squash soup, and their flatbreads.  I was there for lunch recently and for $15 got a salad and sandwich combo that was both reasonable and tasty!  
Bistro Blanc - Just like with Iron Bridge, I love almost everything on their menu. I have enjoyed their petite green salad, grilled brie, flatbreads and risotto. My husband recently had their lamb burger and said it was outstanding.
What I Don't Know: I purposefully avoided Indian, Korean and most sushi because there will be a post that concentrates on our "Big Three" cuisines.  Where do you take a date?  Where do you go for Date Night?  On the high-end side, Barbi wrote last month about Stanford Grill in Columbia.   For a third date, what do people think about Tino's Italian Bistro in Columbia?  People talk up the pastas.


Marcia said...

We recently went to Tino's for the first time, for a Friday lunch. They have done a nice job of remodeling it and it really is a pretty restaurant now. I had the Eggplant Parmesan which had a side of pasta. The eggplant was very nicely done, a very light breading and not the least bit heavy or greasy. My husband had very good homemade ravioli. It was crowded, but the service was just right.

kam said...

My husband and I very much enjoy Cafe de Paris at 108 and Center Park Drive. Despite the unassuming office building outside, it's really a lovely place inside and the food is great.

The Crepe Cafe attached to the restaurant would work well as a brunch/more casual date restaurant.

We also enjoy Portalli's. I'm fond of the seasonal gnocci and the variety of other pasta dishes.


Alicyn DelZoppo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alicyn DelZoppo said...

I would definitely add Ranazul in Maple Lawn to the list for either category. You have the option of the small plates and the ability to keep the cost down or you can go all out and order small plates and entrees. The crab and shrimp arepas small plate is OUT OF THIS WORLD! The ambiance is nice as well. I'd also add Facci to the list for either one as I feel that it has a "hip" atmosphere for your first date (not an awkwardly quiet place, but you can certainly hear each other) and also affordable for any occasion - not to mention the food is great!

Julie said...

Since you brought up a Baltimore restaurant, I'll add Samos in Greektown. It's a more casual place, but the food is insanely good! Cash only, bring your own wine, no reservations. Totally worth the hassle!

We are going to try another restaurant in Greektown tomorrow night for our V-day date night sans kids. We're going to Ikaros. I've heard good things and we have a Groupon.

AnnirRie said...

A place not mentioned that works on so many levels is the Elkridge Furnace Inn. The tavern, with its small plates menu, is a good weeknight out for a date.

The tavern or the restaurant are good for date nights, with your SO. We go there mainly for celebrations to the restaurant, but the tavern is nice too.

And, Friday nights at King's Contrivance. Our date night with friends or alone. For me, ordering the seafood risotto, and a lovely bottle of half price white wine while my husband gets the fresh fish.

And, there will always be a special place that brings memories. For us, it is Tersiquel's, as we got engaged at Papillon when Fernand cooked there (in 1979, ancient Ellicott City History).

Our favorite summer place was Tomato Palace for their skillet calamari and seafood pizza.

Or, get creative. Pick up a rotisserie chicken and pack a picnic to go to Black Ankle Winery on a Friday night for the music and a bottle of wine and baquettes.

P90 Noir said...

I couldn't agree more about the Crepe Cafe. It makes a casual lunch date much more special. Not to mention you can almost always find a coupon for a free dessert crepe with two lunch crepes.