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.
It's a shame there isn't any place that totally nails your criteria. But for me, the food and the wine list typically come first, followed by price and noise level. That said, I would also recommend Peter's Inn, and second the Chameleon Cafe nomination. I haven't eaten at Gertrude's in ages. If you go early, I think Petit Louis is a relatively calm place, and if you are careful, it needn't be terribly expensive. But it can be, that's sure.
I like the Helmand too, but the wine list is crap. Bistro B in Bolton Hill kind of fits the bill, and the wine list ought to be at least decent. The Brewers Art fits your criteria; the affordability of the wine list will offest the food cost which, in my opinion, isn't all that pricey.
Paul You must go to Ze Mean Bean in Fells Point. It is generally pretty quiet even though it is in Fells Point. It is Eastern European Cuisine in Baltimore. They have a nice wine list great Belgian beer, sometimes live music that compliments a meal. The prices are good and it is romantic b/c it is quaint not dark and trendy at all. I went with friends and thought this would be a great date place.
I second the Ze Mean Bean, although be sure to get seated on the first floor. The first floor has access to the live music (if they are playing). The second floor is not as charming.
There specials are really good, although my wife and I seem to prefer their basic Slavic dishs such as the perogies and halupki.
My vote goes to the Chameleon. The food is consistently excellent and the staff is very friendly but not overbearing. I have yet to be disapointed there.
For what it's worth, I took a nice girl to Salt on a first date, and then to Chameleon on the second date. Now she's going to marry me. So that worked out well.
(Dates #3 and #4 at Ixia and Pazo might have helped too.)
For my first date with my husband, he picked Charles Village Pub on a Saturday afternoon. We had crab soup while the toothless men next to us passed around porn. It worked out in the end (with the help of the next three dates -- Sushi Taro in DC, meatballs in the Ikea cafeteria, Cafe Hon) ... but I wouldn't recommend it.
Salt seems to have gotten enough horrible reviews on here that I'd be leery of doing it as a first date.
You would have to be brave indeed to go to Marticks on a first date. I was taken there on a second date and it was awful. Dark, musty smelling, ratty peeling wallpaper, ripped upholstery, chipped plates. OK, maybe the old geezer is a "legend" in Baltimore but don't take a date unless you know she will be charmed by that.
Petit Louis Bistro would be a very classy choice. Ask for the back booth on the left side or the table 'under the stairs' for extra privacy. Entrees are in the low to mid-$20s, there is an extensive and very well priced wine list, and they let you linger, if lingering is what you want. Plus, the bathrooms? No mildew.
I'm surprised no one has mentioned Pazo. First dates are long in my past, but Pazo has all of the requirements--interesting space (useful if date is a washout) and fine food, good service, inexpensive, enough noise to cover table talk (not good on first or any date to hear intimate medical details from those at next table as I have done at Chameleon and elsewhere).
Ikaros also would be a good choice. Not much of a fan of Pettit Louis; even tho its only a few blocks from my house, I rarely go there.
Do you mean the Owl Bar at the Belvedere? :)
I think the story goes that when the owl's eyes were lit, they would serve booze. When the lights were out, everyone was teetotaling.
The bar can get loud, unless you're tucked into that massive booth immediately to the right when you walk from the dining room into the bar. I've not eaten in the dining room, so don't know if it's any quieter.
Food is rather decent. Had a great bisque there, and they have tasty, well-done salads.