First Date: Baltimore Restaurant
I know this has been asked before, but I'm going to add specifics to my request, since I'm not finding what I'm looking for.
Looking for a nice, relaxed, comfortable, not glitzy place for a first date in Baltimore. Should have really good food, be somewhat unusual, perhaps a little European ("trattoria" comes to mind), not insanely expensive. Shouldn't pack you in like sardines or rush you out the door. Decent wine list. Not a hotel, chain, trendy place. A place with a little soul. Not stuffed with tourists. French, Italian, general continental, American cuisine -- or something else just so long it fits my other crieria. Not a place where people go to see and be seen. A place that's quiet enough to be able have a good conversation. Could be a neighborhood joint. Something off the beaten path.
Any place like this exist?
Yes, I'd recommend Ras Doobie's, but that's because the place suits me, and any date who did not "get" Doobie's would likely also not "get" me.
This brings up the multiple ways to apporach this choice. One could
1) Choose a place that would serve as "neutral turf" and not be a distraction - a background for conversation , chosen mainly to not be a disaster or distraction.
2) Choose a place to impress either by style, expense, food, or whatever - make the choice of restaurant a way to "score points"
3) Choose a place to gauge the date's reaction - to perhaps find out how their tastes map to yours
With that in mind here are some thoughts. Some of these may fail on the wine list criteria, but I wouldn't know, I don't drink much wine. In all cases, I would *strongly* suggest checking the place out yourself first, to make sure it is someplace you feel comfortable, and to make sure that you feel it puts forth the image you want
Ras Doobie's - comfortable, laid back, good food, cheap, though some would say it's not fancy enough for an important date - NO WINE
The Helmand, La Cazueala - classy without being overly pricey, non-threateningly unusual/exotic, something on the menu to satisfy almost anybody, bonus "style points"
Matthews - cozy, not pretentious, nice for "Our first date was at..." stories, especially if you go to an event at the Baltimore Creative Alliance across the street as "Act 2" of the date.
Gertude's at the BMA - impress with good food and your "cultural/artistic" side
Zorba's (on Eastern in Greektown) Another place that I like, though again, some may feel it's not suitably romantic
Saffron, Charleston - If you really want to bring out the big "foodie" guns, though probably violates your "not glitzy" dictum
Petit Louis - This and Gertrude's probably most closely hit your stated requirements.
Chameleon Cafe - never been but it also sound like what you are describing, based on what I've heard about it
Yes they exist. Here's a couple of suggestions, in no particular order other than they come to mind first.
(1) La Cazuela, on Eastern. I've had consistently good food there. Definitely off the beaten path and exotic. Not all that expensive either. It's Ecuadorian, so it's not for everyone, but I highly recommend it.
(2) Chameleon Cafe (usually not that crowded; call in advance) over on Harford Road. Very good French food. Somewhat pricier. I've not been there in a couple of years so not exactly sure what the seating is like, but someone else (I'm sure) will point out if it's too crowded.
(3) I would include the Carylye Club over on University in this realm. Definitely the right atmosphere; I like their food (BTW, went to its sister restaurant the Spice Company and did not like it as much.)
(4) Birches and/or Henninger's are good neighborhood joints. Might be a little loud, but both definitely have the "soul" part.
(5) I think many people would include Mezze here, but it's pretty small.
Those would be my first choices. A few other restaurants that come to mind are: Zodiac by the Charles Theatre, the upstairs dining room at Dionysius in Mt. Vernon (though I've eaten there twice and have been maybe one other table), and possibly one of the restaurants in Greektown (Ikaros and Zorba's get mentioned here sometimes).
I've left off the really pricey ones like Abercrombie, Corks, Brewer's Art, True, etc.
Hope this helps. Good luck.
I recommend Greektown and please add Acropolis in addition to Ikaros and Zorba's for your consideration. IMO Greektown is what Little Italy used to be once upon a time before the Inner Harbor became a touristic zone. Zorba's specializes in grilled meats. Ikaros has a extensive menu and does it all well. At Acropolis though I have had the best dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), lamb (baked in the giouvetsi with tomato sauce and krithraki (Greek pasta) and I also recommend the lamb baked with artichike hearts and avgolemono (lemon/egg/chicken broth sauce) sometimes offered as an off-menu special, and calamari, lightly fried and tender.
I'm gonna add a second opinion to Greektown, but I gotta put Ikaros at the top, they are my destination resaturant when I crave great calamari. Standard order for me Greek Village Salad, Fried Calamari with the oven roasted potatoes and the green beans with tomatoes(these are green beans like Mom use to make, limp as a wet rag. Must be a nostalgia thing)
I have not been there, but based on what I have read on this board, I would go to Marticks's just so we would have a great story to tell the children.
If not there, then I have been to and would suggest: The Helmand.
I second a few that have been mentioned:
--Mezze. Great food! Tables can be a little close together, however, and I've had miserable hosting/waitstaff experiences on weekends. So I'd recommend going on a Sun/Tues/Wed night.
--Zodiac. You definitely will have things to talk about! Between the decor, the ghost that allegedly haunts the place, and the decor in the bathroom, there will be topics aplenty. Not to mention great food that ranges from vegan to veg to full-on carnivore. Generally not crowded, and you will have leisurely service. I have never been rushed out of there. And if the date is going well, you can go next door to Club Charles for a nightcap. :)
--Dionysus. The bar will be hopping, but you'll have the place to yourself upstairs in the dining room. I generally go downstairs and have the white pizza (OH MAH GAD--to die for! italian dressing, ricotta, artichokes, and prosciutto on a chewy, homemade crust) but the soups and salads I've had as sides were crafted to a turn.
I'd also tentatively add Red Fish in Canton. While the bar is generally packed, the times I've been the dining room has been nearly empty. Their rockfish is divine, as are the mashers and the presentation is lovely. We also had a great mussels/chorizo app and a very nicely done flat-iron steak.