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September 23, 2015 |  503 Views
First Date Dining in New York City
By Evan Kanarakis

New York’s dating scene can be notoriously precarious. While the city abounds with a seemingly limitless variety of restaurants, it’s often hard to choose an appropriate venue when one is not yet familiar with a prospective date’s dining preferences and whether they skew in personality toward something informal or more formal – are we meeting for the first time over burgers or caviar? True enough – cue the awkward, not terribly chivalrous pause –  cost also plays a significant factor in determining a first date restaurant, particularly in a city where some menu price can clean out the coffers before an accompanying bottle of wine has even been ordered. Here then are a diverse offering of ten different restaurants that may just match your next first date needs (Cupid arrows not included)…



Also ReadDate Night in New York: Dinner for Two… At Home




For Dating On A Budget    
Tulcingo Del Valle (665 Tenth Ave., nr. 47th St., NY) $
Along with nearby Tehutzingo (695 Tenth Ave.), Hell’s Kitchen is home to two of the hands-down, best Mexican eateries in the city. In the unpretentious setting of Tulcingo Del Valle (which also houses their own deli next door), diners are presented with a menu of authentic, simply prepared dishes. This isn’t the stuff of ‘American Mexican’ loaded up with mounds of sour cream and artificially colored cheese. Rather, here you’ll find standouts like hearty pozole, enchiladas smothered in a rich mole sauce, a wide variety of tacos, as well as Mexican and Poblano-styled sandwiches. Another notable is the ‘Pipian de Pollo’ (chicken in pumpkin seed sauce). Though not quite as rock-bottom affordable as it once was, the menu here is still modestly priced, and when paired with a couple of cold beers, Tulcingo makes an ideal low key, low stress setting for any first date.




For Pub Casual With Fine Fare
Dear Bushwick (41 Wilson Ave. at Melrose St., Bushwick, NY) $$
A pub may not be the most elegant setting for a first date, but if you’re able to pair the laidback atmosphere of just such a venue with unexpectedly refined fare, even better. Dear Bushwick is no pub, but self-styled as ‘an English country kitchen’, and the quirky décor of old paintings and antique birdcages does lend itself to reminders of those sedate anterooms often found in cavernous Brit pubs of yesteryear. This is a cozy space (perfect for winter outings) and the menu keeps in step with the farm-to-table movement – all meat on the menu is harvested and ethically raised from the Hudson Valley and surrounding areas. On a recent visit, highlights included smoked eggs served with horseradish butter, crispy Brussels sprouts and a sweet and savory ‘Farmhouse Terrine’. The cocktail list is equally Anglo-centric and well worth a sampling (as is their stellar brunch where ‘Shirred Eggs’ and an aptly-labeled ‘Incredible Amazing Sticky Ginger Bread’ steal the show).




No Surprises -But Completely Dependable
Gallo Nero (402 W. 44th St. nr. Ninth Ave, NY) $$
Part Theater District wine bar, part local neighborhood restaurant, Gallo Nero is exactly the kind of dependable restaurant with ‘low risk’ Italian fare that perfectly serves a first date. Though snug, the restaurant is far from uncomfortable, styled with wood-beam ceilings and bay windows that give an enlarged sense of space (and offer ample opportunity for people watching). The key here is that the kitchen delivers classic Italian comfort food without ever feeling dated or lazy. Starters of crostini and bruschetta are fresh and varied, while among the main courses, a generous portion of linguine with clams isn’t overpowered by garlic, nor is the spaghetti carbonara overladen with cream. Short ribs –no matter what the restaurant’s preparation of choice – are consistently delicious. The wine list is extensive enough to keep any oenophile busy, and rest assured there are plenty of affordable options available.






Just A Little Something To Nosh On
Barcibo Enoteca (2020 Broadway nr. 69th St., NYC) $$
Towing the line between not too formal or informal, wine bars make an ideal choice for one’s first date, and Barcibo Enoteca on the Upper West Side is one of our favorites. At this intimate, dimly-lit space, patrons can drink from an Italian-only wine list featuring forty wines by the glass and over one hundred options by the bottle, while assorted rare scotches, bourbons, artisanal beers and seasonal cocktails are also available. The space itself is split into two levels but we prefer the street-level front room to the second floor where dining is a bit more tightly packed. The main bar area is situated up front, as are a number of communal tables that keep things less than stuffy. While main course selections that include a wild mushroom risotto, chicken breast with artichokes and seafood salad are excellent, if contemplating a first date we’d opt instead for sharing from Barcibo’s salami and cheese collection, as well as from their choice of seven different types of crostini. On our last visit, a crostini of codfish with white beans and calamata puree drew rave reviews, as did an equally tasty offering of soppressata, gorgonzola and honey.




Understated Elegance (and oysters aplenty)
Maison Premiere 298 Bedford Ave. nr. Grand St, Williambsurg, NY) $$$
For a memorable date in a throwback setting, head on over to Williamsburg and Maison Premiere for an ‘Oyster House and Cocktail Den’ that has, in their own words, been inspired by “hotel lobbies of days gone by, afternoons in Paris cafes, late night dinners brooding over bivalves and wading through glasses of pastis and absinthe.” Chugging absinthe on a first date may not be everyone’s idea of surefire romantic bliss but fear not, there are ample wine selections on the menu, along with an inventive, inviting cocktail list with such offerings as a ‘California Condor’, a ‘Baron of Brooklyn’ and an appropriately sweet ‘Maison Sherry Cobbler’. The real star here though is the seafood and, in particular, the aforementioned bivalves (thirty different varieties of oyster are available based on market availability) along with assorted chilled and crudo preparations of lobster, sea urchin, crab and Hamachi.  The front bar features a gorgeous, Napoleon-topped absinthe fountain but is often packed with patrons (particularly during oyster happy hour). Ask instead for a table out back in the ornate garden courtyard.




Dinner And A Show
City Winery (155 Varick St. at Vandam St, NY) $$$
The argument against a music venue for one’s first date is understandable: what chance do you have to get to know a prospective partner if you can’t get any conversation in? As at other notable city establishments like the Flatiron Room (37 W. 26th St. nr. Sixth Avenue, NY) and Ginny’s Supper Club (310 Lenox Ave., NY), City Winery offers patrons ‘in-show’ concert dining, but we much prefer to kick off an evening (and some conversation) with a meal in their low-key, 40-seat ‘Barrel Room’ prior to taking in a show next door (note that this truly is a huge property, hosting regular wine tastings and classes as well as housing a Murray’s Cheese bar, the aforementioned restaurant and concert room and, sure enough, an actual winery from which you can purchase wine to take home). With ten available on tap and countless more by the bottle, a date in the Barrel Room presents a great opportunity to sample an assortment of wines, and the tasty selection of openers on the Mediterranean-inspired menu are ideal for sharing. Notable choices include mushroom arancini, braised duck tacos and sea scallops in a vanilla-cider reduction while. From their main courses, we like the lobster spaghetti as well as the hanger steak served with romesco sauce. A tasting menu is also available but either way you go, don’t forget about the Murray’s Cheese offerings. Past artists to perform at City Winery have been as diverse as Angelique Kidjo, Calexico, Scott Weiland and Beth Orton.




For Fine Dining That Never Feels Stuffy
Left Bank (117 Perry St. nr. Greenwich St., NY) $$$
Left Bank in the West Village is exactly the kind of restaurant that would defy many people’s expectations that fine dining in New York must be pretentious (or bust open your wallet at the seams). The space is anything but stuffy, with an inviting bar area and an open, sparsely decorated dining room (featuring a changing collection of artworks) that is perfectly comfortable and easily lends itself to conversation n– or the whispering of sweet nothings. Though small, the menu changes seasonally and spans several cuisines from contemporary American fare to French, Italian and, at times, even dashes of Pan-Asian. The restaurant’s assorted pate, crudo and pasta offerings have always been exceptional, while this author will indeed weep should their ‘iron roast split chicken’ dish ever be removed from the menu (a recent rendition was paired with kale puree, market radish and fried leeks). Equally worthy as a mainstay on Left Bank’s menu is the brook trout served with salsa verde. Trust us. This is the restaurant to impress any date without ever feeling over the top. An added bonus? Left Bank offers free corkage on BYO wine Sunday and Monday nights.






For Cocktails That May Just Turn Into Dinner
Yerba Buena (23 Ave. A nr. 2nd St., NY) $$$
This East Village incarnation of Yerba Buena (there’s another location at 1 Perry St. in the West Village) is the perfect venue to meet a date for drinks and then, should the evening take, continue on for dinner. Though not a huge space by any means, the bar and dining area are tastefully decorated with a hip, upscale vibe. The folks behind Yerba Buena are serious about their cocktails, and classic renditions of such favorites as the Pisco Sour, Caiprinha and Yerba’s own ‘house’ mojito are well executed, as was a ‘Boludo Yerba Mate’ of yerba mate-infused pisco with grapefruit, lime and lemon juice. Should hunger strike, the favorably-priced menu is inspired by the Latin cuisine of Cuba, Chile, Mexico, Argentina and Peru and Argentina, as reflected in such shared-bite highlights of a fresh salmon ceviche with black truffle vinaigrette, beef short rib arepas, cheese and butternut squash empanadas, and Baja-style tilapia tacos served with an agreeably sweet chipotle-mango slaw. From the ‘Platos Principales’, a seafood paella for two has plenty of first-date potential.



Something A Little Different
XIXA (241 South 4th St. and Havemeyer St., Williamsburg, NY) $$$
Tapas readily lends to date night, offering the chance to sample an assortment of dishes while also – one might hope – promoting some healthy conversation along the way. After opening pork-focused Traif just around the corner, Xixa is the second effort from co-partners and managers Heather Heuser and Jason Marcus (the name is a play on the Yiddish ‘shiksa’, a nod to non-Jewish Heather’s pairing with the Jewish Marcus), and has made a welcome addition to the South Williamsburg dining landscape. Here, slip into a booth for an evening of truly unique cocktails and inspired, modern takes on traditional Mexican fare. Tequila poured over flavor-infused ice cubes seemed a tad gimmicky at first, but made for a tasty, transformative cocktail as the ice gradually began to melt (we recommend the ‘margarita’ cube). Those feeling less adventurous will find plenty to choose from in the extensive list of over two hundred wines. The menu itself changes regularly but features an affordable tasting menu of only $50 (if the goat neck is available for an added supplement, trust me, ADD IT). A recent evening was witness to such shared gems as lamb meatballs, a ‘carnitas’ of pork belly and cheeks, braised duck lettuce wraps and a delicious, far-from-rubbery charred octopus served with a spicy quinoa salad.



Go For Broke
Il Buco (47 Bond St., nr. Lafayette St, NY) $$$
It’s not that Il Buco is by any means one of the most expensive restaurants in New York –far from it – but it’s certainly one of the city’s most consistently exceptional fine dining experiences (with an award-winning wine list of over four hundred bottles to boot- and don’t forget to check out the gorgeous chandeliers that are such an important part of the venue’s ambience). While no one can know for sure where a first date might lead, if you want to set the bar high from first meeting, this is a special occasion destination that’s hard to beat. The ever-changing Mediterranean menu features a varied list of appetizers and tapas that are ideal for sharing and crafted of ingredients sourced seasonally. As evidence of what one might expect on a next visit, this past winter’s menu featured a Spanish mackerel crudo, soft, creamy burrata from Maplebrook Farm in Vermont, a bison tartare with crispy artichokes, and house-cured salt cod croquettes. The service here is as exceptional as the fare and, if anything, Il Buco stands as testament to the culinary truth that a short list of high quality ingredients paired with skilled, unfussy execution is all one needs for a truly memorable meal. Il Buco is where to go for that truly memorable date.






In This Article




  Tulcingo Del Valle Mexican 665 Tenth Ave., nr. 47th St. ($)
  Dear Bushwick British Fare

41 Wilson Ave. at Melrose St. ($$)

  Gallo Nero Italian 402 W. 44th St. nr. Ninth Ave. ($$)
  Barcibo Enoteca Italian 2020 Broadway nr. 69th St. ($$)
  Maison Premiere Oysters, cocktails

298 Bedford Ave. nr. Grand St. ($$$)

  City Winery Winery 155 Varick St. at Vandam St. ($$$)
  Left Bank  New American 117 Perry St. nr. Greenwich St. ($$$)
  Yerba Buena Latin 23 Ave. A nr. 2nd St. ($$$)
  XIXA Mexican 241 South 4th St. and Havemeyer St. ($$$)
  Il Buco Mediter-Italian 47 Bond St., nr. Lafayette St. ($$$)



Evan Kanarakis is an Australian writer whose fiction and non-fiction work has been published around the world. He is also founder of the skateboard design company Devil Street Decks.


Evan Kanarakis







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