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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Where to go on date night?

Date-Night-Poster-1It’s Saturday night. The $12-an-hour babysitter has arrived and she might actually wash the dishes and not spend all evening on the Internet. The minivan has at least a half tank of gas. A dress has been picked out. A husband has been told to change his shirt with food stains on it.

Date night!

Time for the parents to dine in a restaurant. Drink a bottle of wine. Order a $23 fish entree. Share a chocolate dessert. Spend, oh, $175 for an evening that involves only sitting, eating and conversation as normal. But this time it will be  — not that we don’t love them — without kids.

The AJC’s Momania blogger Theresa Walsh Giarrusso set this conversation in motion when she asked me and restaurant reviewer Meridith Ford Goldman about our favorite no-fail, always-reliable, babysitter-worthy restaurants. Theresa was concerned with finding places that offered good value for the money, and where the staff would make minivan-driving suburbanites feel welcome rather than not cool enough.

Meridith complied with this list of her favorite restaurants at every price level, from burgers to Bacchanalia.

As someone who is a veteran of many date nights and who is a little further along in the parenting game than Theresa and Meridith (we just shipped our first born off to college, but have not yet outgrown the need for babysitters), let me add these tips to the conversation.

  1. Establish a relationship with a good restaurant near your home. If they recognize you as a semi-regular customer, you’ll feel so much more comfortable coming dressed as you are, making special requests and camping out at a table. Plus, you know you like the food. When my wife and I find ourselves suddenly without children, the first question is, “Cakes & Ale or Pura Vida?” Good prices, good food, usually a couple of seats at the bar.
  2. If you splurge, go for the food you really like. It’s fine to try out the hot new restaurant where critics were impressed by the chef’s pickled octopus or the Southern farm-to-table sensation where one gorgeously sourced radish will cost $8. But think about the food that makes you happy. My wife and I are fiends for sushi, so if we really want to drop some change on great food, we’ll head to one of our favorites, such as MF Sushibar or Tomo Japanese Restaurant. But if you want a great steak, or a shellfish platter, or a spin in the meat wonderland of Fogo de Chao, go for it. You want your dinner to relax you, not make you more tense.
  3. If you want to try a new restaurant, follow the advice of a critic, blogger or friend whose food taste you respect. Web sites and guides that aggregate reviews let loudmouths rule the roost.
  4. Don’t spend more money that you should and then suck it in because that’s one of the rules of Date Night. My wife and I enjoyed a wonderful meal without the kids at the plain, neon-lit Cafe Agora in Buckhead. Great Turkish food, cheap wine, enticing smells — it reminded us of how much fun we had in restaurants when we were young and poor.
  5. Hop. Go to a sensible restaurant for dinner and a trendy glitz palace nearby for dessert and coffee at the bar. If it’s pretentious and hate-able, you’ll have more fun rolling your eyes and people watching if you’re not dropping a chunk of change.

Do any other veteran parents have good Date Night advice for our friends who still change diapers? Let us know.

14 comments Add your comment

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 28th, 2010
1:15 pm

John I love the hopping idea. A friend of ours did dinner at another place but then jumped to Rathburn’s for dessert and drinks — I was soo jealous!!

[...] Also John Kessler, our roaming food columnist and a dad, has come up with tips for picking other great restaurants and for making your dining experience more fun. [...]

FCM

April 28th, 2010
1:31 pm

John I love your column everytime I read it.

FoodieBuddha.com

April 28th, 2010
3:30 pm

Ask Datealicious, her blog is dedicated to this sort of thing! :-)

Lindsey

April 28th, 2010
3:42 pm

Thanks Buddha! Yes, my blog is for all of you lovers, couples who desperately need a night out, clueless single dudes, girls who are dating those clueless single dudes, etc. Read on….
http://www.datealiciousatl.com/

Bill W.

April 28th, 2010
3:50 pm

Like your advice, John. Meredith recommends Aria in her column, but I would think twice about spending a date night there. The food is incredible, but so is the noise level. Only take someone there if you either (1) don’t like talking to him/her or (2) do like yelling at him/her.

Mel

April 28th, 2010
4:23 pm

I agree w/ your suggestion of good, close-by restaurants, unless it is a special occasion. We are in the “old enough to stay by herself, but don’t want to be too far away or too late phase” w/ our daughter. Our “go-to” date-night restaurants are Cakes & Ale, Pura Vida, and La Tavola (the latter 2 we can walk to). Sometimes The Shed or Rosebud. Occasionally Watershed, JCT, or Abbatoir. Maybe a little higher end is 4th & Swift. For something fancier, we would probably pick Eugene’s over Bacchanalia.

The Infamous D.A.D.

April 28th, 2010
4:40 pm

If your lovely bride is a carnivore (or omnivore), may I recommend Sal Grosso in Marietta for Date Night?

It has all the foods, selection and quality of Fogo de Chao but without the mandatory valet, the snobbery or the high Atlanta/Buckhead sales tax. (That leaves more cash in your pocket to pay for the babysitter.)

John Kessler

April 28th, 2010
6:02 pm

Thanks, FCM! Appreciate it!
Love the Sal Grosso idea. Agree Aria is seriously noisy. I’ve never eaten in the wine cellar, but hear it’s a fun time.

kathy

April 28th, 2010
9:47 pm

My husband and I have enjoyed dessert at the bar at Bacchanalia. It is a great place for a little pampering and you can see some action in the kitchen as well.

Kingsley

April 28th, 2010
10:35 pm

I love your idea of eating on the cheap and then afterward onto a ritzy place for drinks or dessert. Some great local favorites of mine that are nice but still have a comfortable feel (my favorite way to dine) are Anis and Georgia Grill. I also love the neon lights of Cafe Agora and the fish tanks at Little Bangkok! Check us out if you are looking for affordable fare out on the town or in your home . . . http://affordablefoodie.blogspot.com/

A

April 29th, 2010
11:23 am

John–love your blog and print articles and look forward to them.

My husband took me to Canoe for my 40th birthday last year (pre-flood!), and it was a fabulous experience. Our son is well behaved and probably would have done fine there, but it was a treat to be on our own to enjoy this wonderful place for the first time.

Dana

April 29th, 2010
12:12 pm

My husband and I just had date night last Saturday night. We were going to go to 5 Seasons at the Prado. It was raining so we headed into the parking deck, and found a spot right in front of Fuego Mundo–a South American Grill. I had not heard of that restaurant before. No mention in any of John’s columns, and I’d never seen any advertising or coupons in the mail either. The manager said they’d been open for 10 months.

We loved it. You order at the counter and the server brings you the food (super quick!), which makes it kind of casual I guess, but the atmosphere is nice and warm, the service was excellent and the food was very very good too.

We each had an entree (he had the steak skewers and I had the Sea Bass.) You get a choice of sides as well–I got black beans and rice with plaintains, and he had quinoa with veggies. I had a glass of sangria and he had a beer and we spent $28 before tip.

I am looking forward to going back!

http://www.fuegomundo.com

Ally

May 2nd, 2010
11:15 pm

I can’t say that date night has many options in Sandy Springs, but no-fail neighborhood is definitely 5 Seasons or Rumi. Just had the monthly date night at Tierra–not in our ‘hood, it was *really* yummy and date-worthy. Highly recommend.