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Jan 9, 2008 05:34 PM

Unique (but affordable!) dining experience to impress a date?

Hi all,

So there's this girl whom I'm kind of seeing. We've been out to breakfast a couple of times together, but I'd like to take her out on a dinner date at some point soon. The problem is that we're both uni students, but she's a little more, um, well-traveled and financially better-off than I am. So I can't afford to take her to someplace super swanky, but I'd like to take her to a place that at least offers a unique *experience*, though obviously the food has to be good too!

So help, chowhounds, please! I'm looking for a place with preferably most of the following:

* Decent vegetarian options (though we both eat fish)
* Intimate or at least a warmer "date-like" type of atmosphere
* Memorable/unique experience
* Any type of food from any location in the world is great!
* A maximum 15 minute walk from any metro
* No more than $30 a person

We've both been to O Noir before, otherwise, I'd take her there. Spirite Lounge would be neat too, except that it's one of those places that you either really like or really hate, and I'm looking for someplace a little more dependable. I'm considering Nil Bleu or Senzala, but I haven't been to either place, so I don't know how they are in terms of food/service/atmosphere.

Thanks in advance! :)

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  1. Nil Bleu is great. The last few times I have gone, the food and service has steadily improved. The atmosphere is definitely good for a first dinner date. And I personally find the whole eating with your hands thing to be rather sensual. But maybe not everyone would agree... Still, it would be a unique experience! And their vegetarian dishes are wonderful, i could almost skip the meat (although I am very partial to the lamb...)

    Chao Phraya on Laurier is very nice for a date. (Thai). It is on the 80 (Park) bus route, which runs very frequently, so it would be ok for transport I think. If you are sticking to vegetarian dishes, it would fit your budget. Soup or appetizer, then order 3 dishes and some rice, and a dessert.... Only thing is if you order alcohol it might be a bit more.... They have a website, so you can check the menu.

    I haven't been to Alep, but I have been to Petit Alep near the Jean-Talon Market. A friend who has been to Alep tells me it is as good as Petit Alep. (I'm pretty sure they are the same owners.) They serve Syrian-Armenian food. The food at Petit Alep is just amazing, and there are a lot of veggie choices. I don't know if Petit alep is open at night. Alep is supposed to be the more formal of the two. They are both near Metro Castelnau and Metro jean-Talon. It would be very unique, and it would fit your budget well. And the food is amazing!!!

    Have fun! Hope all goes well...

    5 Replies
    1. re: moh

      Alep and Petit Alep are basically the same restaurant. In fact, when eating at Petit you can order from the menu of the other one. That bein said, the food is consistently great and quite affordable and they have a decent wine selection. All the obvious suspects fairly priced. Plus the service is real friendly. I just love it there.

      Another option could be Chuch on St-Denis or it's more casual Chuchai which are entirely veggie. I've never been but I assume that Chuchai would fit your budget.

      One good option would also be indian which have a lot of vegetarian dishes. Maybe somebody else could pitch in and suggest a good romantic place since the ones I know are on Jean-Talon and not quite romantic.

      1. re: Campofiorin

        Your breath might stink after a night at alep though! (I know from experience, the smell of the food there REALLY sticks around for a while.) It might be better left until a bit later in the relationship. :) Check out this thread for more inspiration.

        Oh and good luck!

        1. re: Campofiorin

          Er, it is the opposite. Chuchai is the more formal, Chuch more casual (though with a modern décor that I rather like, and a good vibe) - Chuch is a byow, so you could share a good bottle.

        2. re: moh

          I've been to Petit Alep twice. Although I wouldn't say that the food is amazing (from a vegetarian's perspective), it would be a fun place for a date I think. The tables are small and cozy, and you can get lots of small dishes to share and taste. I particularly like their hummus and mouhamarra (I know I spelled that wrong, the dish with pomegranate syrup).

        3. Fish only? or seafood as well? If the latter then perhaps Pintxo.
          Limon? Although I've never been and don't know what the atmosphere is like.
          I was also thinking Chez Doval but although cozy it was rather loud.

          1 Reply
          1. re: gerbera

            Pintxo would be a good choice, but pushing and very likely exceeding the price limit.

            I stopped going to Chez Doval after one particularly bad experience involving seafood, and even before then had found it inconsistent at best for everything but the justly famous chicken.

            And, of course, the place is infamous for providing service that ranges from indifferent to deplorable.

          2. I went to Nil Bleu once last summer, and although the atmosphere was very enjoyable, the service was terrible, and the food worse. I've had a lot of mediocre Ethiopian but this was the worst ever. Hopefully it's improved since then, but I've not gotten up the nerve to try it again. I'm vegetarian, and had the vegetarian sampler plate. Of the dishes on it, the red lentils (which are usually my favorite) were the worst: they tasted like they had ketchup in them. The injera bread was also pretty bad. The yellow lentils were the best, along with the salad which although made from sad iceberg lettuce and tomatoes was at least crisp and nice and tangy from the vinegar. If the food has improved then I think it would be a great place for a date, especially if you can snag a booth.

            7 Replies
            1. re: paperfree

              Oh dear! that is surprising! Bad night, or do we have very different ideas of what good ethiopian is like? I recall a really bad night for food and service when they initially opened, but I persevered because I love Ethiopian.... I'm sad to see you had this experience. Maybe their meat dishes are better than the veggie options, but I have always liked both....

              1. re: paperfree

                Yep, I refuse to go to Nil Bleu since the last time I tried to call and the staff hung up on me, not once but three times. First time I thought it was a mistake so I called back. Got a pick up, a Nil Bleu, then a hang up. Third time, a definite pick up and hang up situation.

                Most unimpressed.

                1. re: phedre

                  oops, starting to sound like Nil Bleu still has issues. For a first date, perhaps go with something safer....

                  Where else do people go for Ethiopian? Because every once in a while, i gots to eat injera and watt...

                  1. re: moh

                    There is also Abiata, which I haven't tried yet. I lived in Washington DC for too long, where the Ethiopian food is excellent; so I am worried about a disappointment. It is a little bit south, again on St Denis.

                    1. re: emerilcantcook

                      I did a search on Abiata, and there was a post on CH in 2006 on Abiata, it appears it is the "sister restaurant" of Nil Bleu:


                      This would also explain Sarah Musgrove's comment that the decor was simliar to Nil Bleu... her review:



                      I understand about the risk of disappointment, emerilcantcook, I've heard Washington has amazing Ethiopian. We ate at one place in D.C., can't remember the name, but it was astounding..... Might be worth the traffic on the I-95 to do a food trip...

                  2. re: phedre

                    Nil Blue... haha...Sat down, waited forever for a menu, finally snagged a waiter and ordered. Waited an hour, no food. Asked waiter when we might see food, he told us it was coming out immediately... 15 minutes later no food, Asked again, and were given the same answer. Having now invested 2 hours since sitting down, we walked out.

                    We left there totally famished, and fed up with their promise of food. We figured this was some kind of cruel but authentic Ethiopian dining experience. ... to go hungry.

                    1. re: fedelst1

                      That's quite funny :) There's quite the mix of reviews on this place... I'll add it to the heap of places I want to check out, since I don't live very far from it.

                2. Nil Bleu meets your criteria, but IMO you should skip Senzala.

                  A suggestion: Ail Y'Ail Y'Ail, with one caveat: go some night other than Friday or Saturday, when it's likely to be loud, hectic and slow. (You should check, but I think they're closed Tuesdays.)

                  The small room is fairly dark, background music tends to be loungey. Should make a decent date destination.

                  Unique treat: cod poutine. It's unreal. (I had a thing for the more elaborate Alphrodiziak before I tried the bacalao version, but the simpler one is hands down the best non-traditional poutine I've ever had.)

                  If you can't get your head around that, there are more traditional Portuguese dishes, also ideal for sharing -- cod/potato/onion casserole, various tapas... (the clams in vinho verde are usually spectacular). Purely veg options tend to be in the side dishes, if memory serves.

                  As an experience... it isn't as exotic as Nil Bleu, for example, but it's certainly an unorthodox restaurant, mainly in good ways. On a quiet night it can feel a bit like a private hideaway.

                  4563 St-Laurent (5-min walk from Mt-Royal metro)
                  (514) 849-8185

                  14 Replies
                  1. re: Mr F

                    Ail Y'Ail Y'Ail would be high on my list too.

                    Aux Vivres would be another option. Almost good enough to make you think that veganism isn't folly.

                    If you choose carefully, you can get away for $30 per person at ChuChai. The ambiance at nextdoor Chuch is less fancy (I actually prefer it), while the prices are slightly lower and you can bring your own bottle(s).

                    1. re: carswell

                      Unless it has changed, Aux Vivres rather militantly serves no beer or wine, and you can't bring it. Although drunkenness is decidedly unromantic, I think having a glass or three of vino is part of the mood, at least for many people.

                      I prefer Chuch as well, it is the same food as Chuchai and a byow. There is an SAQ very close by, but I'd plan ahead and get a bottle from Beaubien or Laurier Sélection SAQ.

                      I don't consider Chez Doval vegetarian-friendly. Yes, there is some fish, but it is a real grilled meat and chicken place.

                      I love Ail Y'Ail Y'Ail, but same caveat as Doval - it of course advertises itself as a garlic-friendly environment...

                      1. re: lagatta

                        I don't feel that the quality of the food at Chuch is as good as Chuchai; I've been a few times and it wasn't as freshly made. I think it had been sitting for a while in the fridge and was reheated. I do agree though that it is nice to bring your own wine, so there is a trade-off.

                        1. re: Keramel

                          I really like many of the Chuchai dishes, but the one time I ordered out of the deli case at Chuch all three dishes were inedible, or close. However, at Chuch you can order off the regular Chuchai menu, which will be presumably be made fresh. Then you can get your BYOW. Of course, the atmosphere isn't nearly as nice as Chuchai.

                        2. re: lagatta

                          Same caveat as Doval? Ail Y'Ail Y'Ail is a seafood place first and foremost, very much unlike Doval. And Ail Y'Ail Y'Ail actually can put something meatless in front of you that isn't potatoes or overcooked broccoli. You could actually put together a vegetarian meal if you wanted to.

                          As for the garlic thing... who cares as long as both are eating it?

                          1. re: Mr F

                            Mr F, my bad! Don't know where my brain was, but I meant same caveat (garlic) as Le Petit Alep, not Dorval. I have gone to Ail Y"Ail Y"Ail with vegetarian friends, matter of fact. Very veg friendly.

                            I think some people fear garlic breath gets unromantic ... er, later on.

                            1. re: lagatta

                              Ah, I see now. Sorry to have been so brusque...

                              I understand some people's reluctance to mix garlic and romance, but at least with a place known for using lots of it you know both people are going to be having some; in many places, you might have one person eating something garlicky, but not the other. And that would be a much bigger moodkiller, no?

                              1. re: Mr F

                                No, it is my fault for being absent-minded. Think a lot of us pop in here while we are working on something, and I've been working on something very technical.

                                Yes, if you are going to a place with that name (love it!) you know what you are in for.

                                1. re: Mr F

                                  The fact is that most food except for the blandest of meals will leave you with some sort of breath. I would assume that the OP would understand this, given that he specifically welcomes food from any location. So we have several choices:

                                  1. Bland food

                                  2. Everyone eats everything and deals with it

                                  3. Carry some mouthwash and toothpaste (might come off as a bit weird!)

                                  4. Take her out for Dessert! Can't possibly go over the budget, very romantic, everyone tastes like chocolate and vanilla and coffee, fun! For example, Juliette and Chocolate (although I am not a big fan of the service, maybe they have improved?) Also, you have not overeaten, so you don't go into food coma, thus killing any chance of further fun later on... Like a romantic walk in the park! (now-now, what were you thinking I'd write?)

                                  1. re: moh

                                    I've been to both Juliette and Chocolat locations in the past few months, and had excellent service at both (which was a nice surprise, because I wasn't expecting it based on what I'd read about them). They also have meal crepes, not just dessert crepes, so that might be an option (especially the Laurier location, which I prefer to the one on St. Denis).

                                    1. re: cherylmtl

                                      Good to hear... Would the meal crepes fit the budget requirements of our OP? Because if so, this could be a very romantic meal! Nothing like chocolate I say.

                                      1. re: moh

                                        Meal crepes would certainly fit the budget. Even with dessert crepes they'd be fine budget-wise.

                                    2. re: moh

                                      I only meant that Alep and Petit Alep, while exceptionally delish, left a VERY strong taste in the mouth for hours after, even lasting to the next day once or twice. I don't feel this way about any other place I have been to, and maybe it was just my experience but I wouldn't feel especially romantic after eating there, not on my first dinner date with someone. I am hardly recommending seeking a bland meal!

                                      Dessert is a great idea though, especially on a nice romantic snowy night, and it does make "taking a walk" (Nudge nudge) after much easier than a big meal.

                                      1. re: Keramel

                                        Hmm, provided she has a sweet tooth. (Even as a child I preferred savouries)...

                                        But I presume that OP has some idea of her tastes and preferences...

                        3. I've just read on Voir that a member of the Holder group has recently started operating the Restaurant du Pavillon next to Beaver Lake on Mount Royal. So that could be a very romantic Montreal thing, hike up the mountain and then warm up in the Pavilion with a view on the pond. Perhaps go skating beforehand.

                          I have no information about prices, but I can't imagine it being very expensive in view of the current clientele. Menu is described as healthy.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Venusia

                            There was an article in the Montreal Gazette several weeks ago about it. Interesting. Anyone here tried the food there?