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Where to go for a romantic birthday dinner?

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Another birthday coming up (21!) and, even though I should have seen this coming and planned in advance, my boyfriend wants to take me out for a nice dinner. The night before is pub and jazz night with a rowdy group of my friends, which will be great, but I really wanted to have a romantic dinner with him as well to celebrate.

The problem is that we are both at a bit of a loss of where to go... I would really like for it to be romantic, but romantic as not to break the bank. He is also vegetarian (making both Nota Bene and The Harbord Room a no-go....sigh). Our budget would be under $100.

Could anyone recommend a mid-priced bistro or tapas bar either downtown or midtown? So far the places I've heard good things about are Torito and the Queen Mother Cafe.

This might not give me a lot of options, but I would love to see what the TO chowhounders have to say :)

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  1. Unless we're dining with the parents, we're usually in the same budget range, and it's definitely possible to do a very nice night under $100. That said, there are definite factors at play - nights of the week, desired drinks, etc.

    What night is the dinner, are you generally big eaters or skip-the-dessert types, and how much (and what) would you like to drink? Also, does BF eat fish or seafood, or is he strictly veg? (I'm guessing the latter, since Nota Bene is out.)

    If you can give a bit of an update about those things, it will be easier to give you some feedback.

    In the meantime, I can tell you that we did Sidecar for my 21st - very age appropriate. Prices reasonable if you stick to the prix fixe, but it doesn't offer any strictly veg options IIRC. The normal menu does have veg. options that won't put you over budget. (Was there with a vegetarian once and could smell the truffle oil from her dish; I'm a fan of strong flavours but might not appeal to everyone!) If you go for the prix fixe (because it is a fab deal), share your dessert with BF. It's a very delicious, rich, dense chocolate cake that looks tiny but we have never managed not to doggy bag. After a recent (small) rise in prices, we pay $115 for 2 3 course prix fixes, 2 cocktails, 2 glasses of the cheapest wine, tax and tip. Slightly over your budget, but pretty close.

    7 Replies
    1. re: c.cow

      We are probably going on a Wednesday or Friday night. And we do tend to go for a couple appetizers to share, mains and dessert, plus a bottle of wine. He is a strict veg, so no fish or seafood (again, sadly...) -- that's one of the biggest problems when we go out, I think. I haven't been to many places with a balanced veg-non veg menu...

      The prix fixe option at Sidecar sounds pretty good, and it looks delicious! How are their cocktails and their drink-food pairings on the menu, if you tried that?

      1. re: Rienna

        Darn! Was thinking about Simple Bistro or Globe Earth for affordable "nice night out" dinners (the former more romantic than the latter), but neither has a huge range of vegetarian options. (Both have reasonable corkage fees)

        What about the By the Way Cafe on Bloor? They have more veggie options (and their online menu is hard to go by, since they have a number of daily specials), everything reasonably priced, including wine. It's a nice environment. I think the last dinner we did there came in well under $100 for a shared app, 2 mains and 2 glasses of wine. You could have a nice meal on budget there with more choice for BF.

        Pomegranate on College is also a nice place with some more vegetarian options. It's Persian food, a little more adventurous with flavours some might call sensual. Affordable and beautiful atmosphere, I'd call it romantic!

        Sidecar's drinks have never disappointed, but I'm not sure we've ever gone with the pairings - someone else will have to comment on that!

        1. re: c.cow

          It's funny you mention By the Way Cafe because he lives on Bloor! We always walk past it and say that we'll try it, but never do... It's actually sad because it's been nearly a year and we've only tried about 7-8 places on Bloor. That needs to change.

          I didn't even think about the Annex! And since it's close-by and has a bunch of veg options then By the Way Cafe looks very promising. From the various glancing I've done on the walk by, their menu is mouthwatering. Do you recommend reservations?

          Also... have you (or anyone I guess) been to Kalendar? It looks delicious!

          1. re: Rienna

            I'd second Sidecar. They do have veg-friendly dishes and are always accommodating when I go. There's also their sister restaurant - Negroni - just down the street. Both in your budget range and both with solid menus - and both are a bit romantic for a nice intimate meal.

            1. re: Rienna

              I like Kalendar - except the tables are tiny - but if that encorages closeness, maybe it will work. Food is competent and some hints of excitement, but a neighbourhood place, not a destination.

              1. re: Rienna

                At By the Way, we've had chicken, salmon, steak frites, pastas - the daily specials are generally well executed, but they're always changing, so it's hard to recommend something specific besides the apps - hummus, baba ganoush, etc are nice; also something a bit romantic about sharing "finger food."

                Reservations not essential, but it can be a bit drafty by the door. Might be a nice idea to let them know about the occasion and ask for a table a bit further in.

              2. re: c.cow

                I second Pomegranate, as long as you're not looking for anything too trendy. It's got a lot of atmosphere, and as a veg, I guarantee your BF will have lots of options.

          2. Can I assume that $100 is before tax and tip? I'm thinking that if you're looking for 2 apps, 2 mains, let's say 1 dessert and a bottle of wine, you're going to be hard pressed to hit $100 all-in.

            I've been to Torito with vegetarians before - you miss out on some of the best dishes but it's doable and a fun night out. I think Buca is a romantic space - and the funghi pizza is so good it whips way past romantic and into aphrodisiac territory. You could get the pizza, blood orange salad, burratta and maybe a pasta plus dessert - mmm, very romantic dins - if you switch your bottle to maybe a couple of glasses of wine, you might be close to your budget. Would a place like Terroni or Libretto - bustling but cool trattoria - qualify as romantic for you? What about Weezie's?

            1. I think Le Select is very romantic, with great food! I'm not that sure what they have for vegetarians though, I think I've always had meat dishes there.

              1 Reply
              1. re: sway

                They have fairly limited vegetarian offerings, but one plus is that they include a veggie option in their "steak frites" prix fixe menu (a risotto dish that sounds good, but never good enough to pass up a chance at duck). I can't recall the exact stipulations for the menu (certain hours on certain days?) but it's $20 for 3 courses - the only way you can come in under budget for what you want. That said, you can do quite well with your budget this way - maybe even squeeze in a glass of bubbly!

              2. Second for Sidecar or Negroni. Both have great (non fish) vegetarian options and are romantic. We had a lovely dinner at Negroni a few weeks ago - split the marinated olives, a delicious panini and arugula/fennel salad and a bottle of red wine between us. Then the peanut butter ice cream and a cafe au lait for dessert all over several candle-lit hours. Total was well under $100.

                1. Maybe Jules Bistro at Richmond and Spadina? Prices are reasonable and there seem to be some OK-ish vegetarian options (quiches, crepes). It can be a bit buzzy but I don't necessarily think that's not conducive to romance.
                  www.julesbistrocafe.com

                  I also second the recs for Sidecar or Negroni... and echo peppermint pate's comment that veggies are likely to miss the best of Torito (if you're budget conscious, it can also add up in insidious ways).

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Rabbit

                    Right now I think it's a toss-up between Sidecar and Jules Bistro... tilting more towards Sidecar though since everyone seems to be recommending it!

                    Sidecar also looks like the type of resto I wanted for my birthday (from the look on the site). I like the unfussiness of the menu and that they seem to be very accommodating for vegetarians -- BF will like that. And I want to try the open faced ravioli like nothing else.

                    I will try the rest of the recs as well at other times, especially Weezie's and Buca. Weezie's had a friend brought to his knees by the seared scallops.

                    Thank you for your recommendations everyone! I really appreciate it :)

                    1. re: Rienna

                      Please report back on wherever you do end up! Oh, and happy birthday!!

                      1. re: Rienna

                        I went to Sidecar once with my wife and another couple and it was busy, crowded and noisy, and the tables are quite tight so you're very close to the next table (at least where we sat that I recall). So, not sure I'd classify this restaurant in the romantic category. I'd go for Weezies instead.

                        1. re: syoung

                          I agree. Love Sidecar but it's nowhere near romantic. Much more of a bustling 'scene'.

                    2. Torito would fit the bill and they have lots of veggie dishes...Marimba!

                      toritorestaurant.com

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Marimba

                        I go to Torito all the time and my veggie friend had a very hard time with the menu there. I think the best dishes all have meat.

                      2. I haven't been yet but I've heard very good things about The Corner House, just off Davenport, east of Bathurst. Supposed to be very romantic and I'm told the food is quite good as well. Might be worth checking out.

                        Happy birthday btw, you are now legal to do anything in the world!