Eating is easy—dating is the hard part
How many first dates end in tragedy? I've had more than a few myself, and almost all of them have begun and ended in restaurants. There was the guy that asked our server for a glass of "the pink wine," the one who tried to order cannoli with meat sauce (I think he meant cannelloni), and my favorite, Mr. I Don't Tip Because I'm a Cheap ... you know the rest.
So when choosing a first date setting, keep it real, because the dining may be the best part of the evening. Let's define a "good date" restaurant through ambiance, quality of service, food, liquor and clearly marked exits.
Gruet Grille has an awesome interior. The entire place is done up in warm, pale colors: tans, beige, taupe, mauve and a hint of cream and ecru; and the tables and chairs are light, finished wood with beaten copper accents. The lighting is definitely date-friendly with just enough dark to be romantic, but still light enough to see what you're eating. Gruet's atmosphere is first date heaven, so feel free to share a “Melrose Place” moment.
The service more than passes muster. The waitstaff is well-attired, quite polite and their timing is impeccable, in direct contrast to some dates I've had. These guys are so smooth they might even help you escape through the kitchen if things go bad, all the while making sure the water glasses are full, and extra starchy white napkins are available for the asking.
The food being the centerpiece of any planned-out dating endeavor, Gruet Grille has a menu and wine list that'll make you look like Don Juan de Mastercard—with taste. The appetizer list includes such compelling choices as fresh oysters served individually, by the half dozen or dozen (market price), smoked trout dip with ciabatta toast ($7), and deviled eggs with caviar ($3).
Nothing says “gettin' to know you” like a nice plate of deviled eggs. (I'd recommend you eat them while humming the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," just to make sure your prospective guy or gal pal has a healthy sense of humor.) The eggs are rich and have a wonderful tarragon flavor with a bare hint of chive; better make it two orders.
The entrée decision is a tricky one with a first date because there are so many factors to consider, like appearance, breath-alteration and potential messiness. Gruet Grille has a fantastic selection of main courses to suit all considerations. There is oven-roasted citrus chicken for the timid ($12.75), a petit filet for the ultra classy ($23) and for the bravest of date numero uno champions, the house special cioppino ($24.50). The cioppino is a delicious seafood stew in a tomato and wine broth, and since the shellfish includes the shells, you can impress your lucky lad or lady with your dish-diving skills.
You really must order dessert. It'll give you a chance to schmooze a little longer while tucking into an order of bananas Foster bread pudding or homemade lemon meringue pie ($5.50).
And for those that use the "quicker with liquor" dating tactic, Gruet's formidable roster of wines aims to please. I suggest a glass or two of their rosé, which is remarkably close in both taste and bouquet to a nice white Zin, only with some festive bubbles that add to the ripe cherry-berry overtones.
I've begun and ended more affairs in restaurants than is ladylike to admit, but my personal best was the time my date referred to the hors d'oeuvres as "horse doovers," wiped his mouth on his sleeve—twice, and ate all the garnishes off his plate and mine.
Now about those clearly marked exits ...
The Alibi Recommends:
Deviled eggs with caviar
Seared tuna salad
Pan-roasted tilapia with tomato relish
Lemon meringue pie
Gruet Grille, 4243 Montgomery (between Jefferson and Carlisle), 888-7004; Hours: Sun. thru Thurs. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Price range: expensive. No smoking, credit cards accepted, large parties, carryout orders. Visit their website at www.gruetgrille.com