You’re nervous. You fold down your visor mirror and make sure your hair is in place and there’s nothing in your teeth. You’ve made reservations to this hot new place in town and you’re about to pick up your lovely date. You pick her up, and exchange light, fun banter in the car on the way to the restaurant. You’re dressed up, your car is cleaned, and you’re wanting to give the best impression to this total stranger you’ve never met before– as your wardrobe choices for the evening matter, why wouldn’t your choice in restaurant matter as well?
As a guy, we need to choose. And frankly, I’ve always asked myself– what are the top date restaurants in the Seattle area? I know we don’t live in a city where such dining options are overwhelming– like in LA, Vancouver, New York City, Miami or Chicago. And does it have to be fine dining– with white table cloths, a wine list with bottles that cost a house mortgage, and valet service? First off, how do I qualify what an amazing date restaurant is? When assembling this list, I kept a few factors in mind: noise level, mood lighting, formality of service and table proximity. First of all, the noise level shouldn’t be so high that you can’t have an intimate conversation. Lighting is very important, and so many restaurants get this one wrong. It doesn’t feel like fine dining if the lighting reminds you of airport terminal. If the waitstaff makes you and your night feel special, then that’s remarkable. Finally, if the tables are so close to each other that the gentleman next to you asks for a bite of your dessert, they are too close. Simply having great food doesn’t get a restaurant on this list. There are a lot of great restaurants in town, but if they don’t have the proper mood for a get-lucky date, they didn’t make this list. Also, no national chains. I’m keeping it local.
For Fall/Winter of 2016, I’ve selected five restaurants from Seattle in no particular order that stand out to me as perfect date night restaurants. To start my Top 5, I’ve chosen the brand new Carmine’s in Bellevue.
Carmine’s in Bellevue opened up in Fall 2016 to high anticipation and fanfare– the 30+ year legacy of Il Terrazzo Carmine’s in Pioneer Square and the chic Intermezzo Carmine’s adjacent to the original restaurant cemented a fan base of all ages, and they eagerly awaited its opening off Main Street in Bellevue. The ambiance is a fitting blend of modern lines, epic marble countertops mellowed with the warmth you’ve find in your Italian grandmother’s dining room. Come dinner time, the lighting dims to a perfect degree– perfect for date night. Service– it’s also on another level. You can tell the restaurant lineage has been a labor of love passed on over generations– the Smeraldo Brothers, CJ and Philip, continue to uphold a culture of best-in-class service, presentation, attention to detail, quality and richness in their cooking. If you want to take a date to the best, take them here.
The restaurant is the old world/European answer to Seattle’s trendy and modern restaurants that have opened up in recent years– and one would think with one quick glance that the menu came straight from Italy, with antipasti like Tartaro di Manzo (Kobe tartare with gremolata, fresno pepper, quail egg and pecorino) and classic entrees like Pici di Carbonara (with the amazing essence you can only get from pancetta), Gnocchi Sorrentina (tossed with brown butter and sage), their incredible daily fish specials, and Ossobuco (braised veal shank served with tagliatelle pasta and sauteed vegetables). Impress your date and order these- you’ll thank me later.
For a date at an Italian restaurant of this caliber, there’s no overdressing, even if it’s the Pacific Northwest– the land of flannel and REI and where Arcteryx is considered high fashion. I’m not always a fan of wearing a full suit to a first date, but to set the tone I’d choose a dark navy mohair suit with a slim European cut, and a crisp white shirt with the collar unbottoned. If it’s just drinks, I’d bring it down to a couple notches with a casual but sleek long wool coat, black t-shirt, slim pants and black leather Chelsea boots. My thinking is– don’t always let your dress outdress you.
The Rest of the List
If you haven’t already, make sure to book a reservation at Carmine’s — it’s hard to get a seat these days (and just wait until the weather warms up with their open air patio). See their website for more information. As much as I’d like to include the Seattle staples– your Canlis, Cafe Juanita, Palisade, The Herbfarm, Barolo, and others— they’re all my honorable mentions. Stay tuned to see which other restaurant makes the list.