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September 24, 2015 |  1438 Views
Date Night in New York: Dinner for Two… At Home
By Paula Devicq & Evan Kanarakis
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The New York dating scene is a notoriously challenging arena, littered with the remains of many a sullen single forced to endure countless interviews-turned-interrogations, no-show dates and uncomfortable encounters with the desperate, the destitute, divas and, lest we forget: the out-and-out crazy. Honestly, it’s surprising that one doesn’t encounter more shattered New Yorkers experiencing nervous breakdowns on city street corners as they tearfully commit to a life of celibacy.


But, once one is able to filter out the inept and insane and actually embark upon a few dates and, dare we say it –a burgeoning relationship– what of that first opportunity to impress a prospective partner with your culinary skills? First impressions can make a difference, and regardless of whether you live in New York or New Braunfels, it shouldn’t be difficult for even the most inexperienced chef to showcase more skill than a mere offering of ‘baked beans on toast’.

Keeping things fresh, simple and clean is the best recipe for any date night menu. Don’t be afraid to ask about your partner’s taste and dietary preferences. At the same time, if they happily declare ‘I eat anything’, don’t use your first cooked meal together to test out something that could be a little risky for mainstream appetites, or complicated and over-fussy from a cooking perspective. At the end of the day, part of any dinner date should be about allowing time for a couple to continue to get to know each other. Food is a great source of conversation, but it shouldn’t be a distraction either, courtesy of culinary or –heaven forbid- gastric misadventure.


Here, then, drawing on feedback from countless New York singles, are three versatile offerings of both appetizers and main courses to help you create relatively simple but elegant meals that we’d recommend for any couple’s first home-cooked dinner together (and, comfortably, for any and all dates moving forward). We appreciate the added challenge inherent to cooking in notoriously tiny Manhattan kitchens. Accordingly, we’ve tried to keep the recipes and prep as simple as possible.


Bon appétit!




Crab and Avocado Salad (serves 2)

Ridiculously simple, this little appetizer is a brilliant (and fresh) way to kick off any meal. For something more fun, consider dusting with a pinch of paprika and serving in Bibb lettuce leaves as a mini wrap. We love it paired with a glass of buttery chardonnay or a cool, zesty rosé.




1/2-pound fresh large lump crabmeat

1-tablespoon mayonnaise (less or more to taste)

Juice of one lime or lemon

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives (with some reserved for garnish)

Salt and pepper (to taste)

1 ripe avocado



Combine first five ingredients in a large bowl. Be careful not to overwork the crab so that it remains chunky.


Peel and pit the avocado, then cut into large chunks. Fold the avocado into the crab mixture.


Plate and garnish with a few sprigs of chives.


Cold Cauliflower and Leek Soup with Seared Scallops (serves 2)

The biggest advantage to this simple, elegant soup is that it can be made ahead, leaving only the cooking of the scallops as a last minute preparation. If you have time, consider roasting the cauliflower in the oven alongside a few sprigs of thyme, as this will bring an added depth of flavor to the soup- simply halve the amount of time you cook the cauliflower in the broth. For a richer finish, add a swirl of cream to the soup alongside the truffle oil.



1-tablespoon olive oil

1-tablespoon butter

1 leek stalk (light green and white parts only), sliced thinly

2 cups chopped cauliflower

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Three sprigs of fresh thyme

Salt and pepper to taste



1-tablespoon olive oil

Two sea scallops

White truffle oil

One-tablespoon fresh chives (chopped)



Heat oil and butter in a soup pot over low to medium heat. Add sliced leek and gently cook until softened, about five minutes.


Add chopped cauliflower, chicken broth and thyme to pot. Stir mixture and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until cauliflower is tender.


Remove thyme sprigs and process mixture in blender until puréed. Season soup with salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool, and then transfer to refrigerator to chill until ready to serve.


For the garnish, bring a cast iron skillet to high. Add oil and, once shimmering, quickly sear the scallops, cooking no more than 30 seconds to one minute per side, depending upon size.


To serve, place a seared scallop in the center of each soup bowl and pour in chilled soup. Drizzle around the scallop with a swirl of truffle oil and garnish with chopped chives.


Trio of Crostini/Bruschetta (serves 2+):

To suit a variety of tastes, we have included three antipasti recipes here: two for crostini and one for bruschetta, the principal difference being that crostini are typically smaller slices of toasted bread covered with toppings, while bruschetta is as much about the bread as the toppings, and traditionally toasted, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. There is ample food here to suit a far larger crowd, so just choose one recipe and prepare four to six slices in total -or, if you have time, make a smaller combination of all three- for your next dinner.


White Bean Crostini


1 baguette


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 cans cannellini beans

Juice of ½ a lemon

Salt and pepper to taste



Preheat broiler and position rack to top half of the oven.


In a small saucepan, sauté rosemary and garlic in olive oil over medium heat, about 5 minutes.


Drain and rinse beans, then transfer to a small bowl and stir in the lemon juice along with garlic and rosemary. Using the back of a spoon, smash bean mixture to make a paste, but be sure to keep it chunky and textured. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Slice baguette into thin rounds, about ¼ inch thick, brush lightly with olive oil and toast under the broiler, turning halfway through.


Once crispy, top with the bean mixture. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil if desired and serve.


Pea ‘Pesto’ Crostini


1 baguette


1 1/4 cup of shelled fresh peas (or 1 cup of thawed frozen peas)

1 garlic clove

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

1/3-cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste



Preheat broiler and position rack to top half of the oven.


On the stovetop, bring a saucepan with ¼ cup of water to a gentle simmer at medium-high heat. Place a steamer basket over the saucepan and add peas. Steam for about 5 minutes (if using frozen peas, simply defrost half an hour prior to cooking).


Process peas, garlic and Parmigiano-Reggiano in a blender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Keeping the blender on low, slowly add olive oil into the mixture until it reaches desired consistency (less oil = more of a paste, more oil = a runnier, ‘sauce’ consistency)


Slice baguette into thin rounds, about ¼ inch thick, brush lightly with olive oil and toast under the broiler, turning halfway through.


Once crispy, top with the pea mixture. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil if desired and serve.


Classic Bruschetta with Aged Balsamic Vinegar


1 baguette

1 clove of garlic, cut in half


1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes

8 fresh basil leaves thinly sliced

2 cloves of garlic minced

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic will do in a pinch but, if you can afford to pick up some aged balsamic, it will make a world of difference- it is far denser and yields a rich, complex flavor)

1-tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat broiler and position rack to top half of the oven. Slice baguette into ½ inch rounds and toast under the broiler, turning halfway through. Rub each toast with half a clove of garlic and brush with olive oil.


Combine tomatoes, basil, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano, balsamic vinegar and oil in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside to marinate for an hour or more.


Top toast rounds with mixture. Prior to serving, dust with a little more grated Parmigiano-Reggiano if desired.



Broiled Salmon with Paprika Butter Sauce (serves 2)

For the inexperienced chef, broiled salmon is an ideal choice because it cooks quickly and delivers ample flavor without requiring too much fuss. Make this meal complete with the addition of some wild rice and freshly steamed green string beans on the side.



2 6-ounce skinless salmon fillets


For the sauce:

1-tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1-teaspoon paprika

Salt and pepper (to taste)



One-tablespoon fresh chives (chopped)



Preheat the oven’s broiler and position rack in middle. Pat salmon fillets dry with a paper towel, then season with salt and pepper and place on a sheet of aluminum foil (this will help to avoid making a mess in the oven later).


In a small saucepan over low-medium heat melt butter. Add Worcestershire and paprika. Once combined, remove from heat and pour evenly over the salmon fillets.


Place salmon under broiler and broil for approximately 5 minutes for medium rare. Adjust cooking time depending on thickness of fillet.


Sprinkle fresh chives on top of salmon before serving.


Cacio e Pepe with White Truffle Oil (serves 2)

It’s hard to get much simpler than this four-ingredient riff on classic Cacio e Pepe that pairs perfectly with a salad of crisp greens. Here we’ve chosen to only use Pecorino Romano, but feel free to add other cheeses to your own taste, including Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano. For those who find the flavor of truffle oil too strong, you may wish to stir a lug of extra virgin olive oil or a knob of butter into the final serving bowl to ensure the pasta sauce is rich and creamy upon serving.



2 tablespoons black peppercorns

3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano, plus additional for serving

White truffle oil


1/2-pound spaghetti (we prefer a thin variety like spaghettini or capellini)



Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve a half a cup of pasta water before draining pasta.


While pasta is cooking, toast peppercorns in a small skillet over medium/high heat until they start to pop (approximately 2-3 minutes). Crush peppercorns coarsely in a mortar and pestle (or, simply, wrap in a clean kitchen towel and crush with the back of a heavy skillet).


Add pasta to a large serving bowl along with grated Pecorino Romano and stir immediately. Add a little of the reserved pasta water (2-3 tablespoons) to prevent the cheese from clumping.


Plate immediately, topping with a generous amount of pepper. Drizzle with a touch of white truffle oil and finish with a more cheese and pepper to taste.


Chicken Paillard with Salsa Verde (serves 2)

An escalope or paillard of chicken cooks incredibly quickly, meaning more time to converse with your date. Another advantage of this recipe is that both the chicken breasts and salsa verde can be prepared well in advance and kept in the fridge until needed. One key to cooking the paillard perfectly? The sear that only a solid cast iron skillet can provide (if you don’t already own a cast iron skillet, buy one! It will become an indispensable part of your culinary arsenal, we promise).

We think this dish pairs perfectly with a simple mesclun salad or steamed zucchini finished with a fresh squeeze of lemon.



2 six-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1-tablespoon olive oil


For the Salsa Verde:

1-cup fresh parsley leaves

1/4-cup fresh basil leaves

1 large garlic clove

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1-teaspoon sugar

1-tablespoon capers

Salt and pepper (to taste)



In a blender or food processor puree all the salsa verde ingredients. Adjust seasoning to taste and set aside.


Pound chicken breasts with a meat pounder (or the back of a skillet) between plastic wrap until 1/4 of an inch thin. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.


Bring a cast iron grill to high heat. Add oil and, once shimmering, quickly grill the chicken 2 minutes per side (at the most!).


Plate and top with salsa Verde.


So How About Dessert?

Look, we get it- you’ve been anxious enough getting dinner ready that who had time to even think about dessert? Forget about the fact there are plenty of no-fuss desserts that can easily be whipped up in just a handful of minutes -we can tackle that another time (but seriously, you had to ask for instructions on ‘fresh fruit and ice cream’?


For now, just get along to one of the many fine bakeries in New York (or your local town) and pick up a small selection of cookies or pastries that, when presented on a clean white plate, are sure to impress.


Some of our favorite destinations here in New York for such desserts include the Poseidon Greek Bakery (629 Ninth Ave, New York, NY), Ferrara Bakery & Café (195 Grand Street, New York, NY) and Bien Cuit (120 Smith St, Brooklyn, NY).




After starting out her career as a successful Elite and Ford model, Paula Devicq transitioned into acting and became best known for her work in such TV series as ‘Party of Five’ and ‘100 Centre Street’. Also a trained chef, Paula graduated from New York’s Institute of Culinary Education in 2008.


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.


Both long-time residents of New York, Paula and Evan are currently collaborating on a cookbook catering to the New York dating scene.


Paula Devicq & Evan Kanarakis  evan kanarakis




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