AJC picks no-fail restaurants for Parent Date Nights: Tell us your faves and your horror stories

Editor’s Note: We have fixed our technical glitch. The link to the list is hotlinked now and ready to read!!

Many parents will tell you that they very rarely get to go out for a good dinner alone and when they do they want it to be perfect. They are spending money to hire a babysitter, money on the dinner and know they won’t get to try again anytime soon if they make a bad choice.

Michael and I get out maybe once every two to three months for a nice dinner alone. We’ve had a multitude of bad date night experiences over the last few years including:

  • Taking the early bird reservation because that was when the baby sitter could come only to be rushed out of the very expensive restaurant for the “real” patrons to show up at 7:30.
  • The embarrassment of having to call back snotty and smug hostesses to say that we couldn’t get a babysitter or our babysitter canceled at the last minute. (OpenTable, the restaurant booking web site, has solved this problem for us! No more snotty hostesses for me!)
  • Having our minivan judged by the 20-something valet.
  • Food not meeting your expectations after you finally get there!
  • And being expensive to boot!

After a depressing run of choosing poorly, I sent an email to the AJC’s restaurant reviewer Meridith Ford Goldman and begged her to choose some no-fail, can’t-screw-it-up restaurant choices for parents for date nights! And she did!

Not only did she choose some fantastic places for parents to go (not all inside the perimeter), she also divided them into helpful categories such as “Fun Dive Dates” (when you cash is low), “Worth the splurge” (to celebrate with your tax refund), or “Want to dress up? These places won’t break your piggy bank.”

Here is the link to the full list!

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.

So I can’t wait to hire a babysitter and check out these recommendations. See what you think. Tell us if you’ve been to any of them. Tell us your favorite no-fail, date night restaurants. Also tell us about your date night horror stories where things just didn’t come together!


98 comments Add your comment

Sorry, Theresa

April 28th, 2010
7:23 am

…but the link is not there!

Good idea...

April 28th, 2010
7:25 am

…but the link is not there – and I thought John Kessler was the restaurant critic…

motherjanegoose

April 28th, 2010
7:25 am

Did I miss the link from Meredith?

T, do not feel bad about your minivan being judged. Years ago, we drove to Buckhead to meet some friends for dinner. My husband had a nice king cab truck. The valet really gave us an eye roll, as apparently our vehicle was not suitable for the restaurant. No problem, we have now decided to eat dinner where we do not need to valet park….LOL.

After my comment on trampolines yesterday ( that was substantiated by the American Pediatric Association) I will keep my Atlanta restaurant choices to myself. I am interested to see what the recommended places are.

Exception…if anyone ever gets to Nampa, Idaho…be sure to visit Copper Canyon, The food, wait staff, atmosphere and prices were all super! I ate there 2 nights in a row and loved it. Too bad I was by myself for business.

Have a sunny day all!

Tax Refund?...

April 28th, 2010
7:27 am

…you mean you give the government a free loan every year?

A

April 28th, 2010
7:32 am

John Kessler is the former AJC dining critic (Meredith is the current one), but I much prefer John’s writing style and the topics he comes up with.

Then how come John Kessler writes the...

April 28th, 2010
7:44 am

“Food and More” column every day?

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 28th, 2010
8:13 am

The link is coming!!!!!!! I thought I would have it last night, and then this morning but it is coming!!!!!! I will link it up as soon as I have it — sorry!!! But you guys can still talk about your favorite date night restaurants and the worst experiences you’ve had — The link will come very shortly and it will be good and helpful!!!!!

mom2alex&max

April 28th, 2010
8:13 am

We’ve had a plethora (oh yes, I went there) of issues with restaurants on date night. Yeah the ITP valets sure are a snooty bunch. It’s gotten to the point that in the rare occasions we get date night, we just go to our tried and true neighborhood sushi place.

But I will be looking for this list!

mom2alex&max

April 28th, 2010
8:14 am

And T, don’t feel bad about your van, If I remember correctly, you and Michael sure did have a good time….later….

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 28th, 2010
8:15 am

the difference is now people know who John K. is and Meridith goes in incognito — there’s no photo of her on the site — and it used to like that for john but now is the columnist and not the reviewer so you can see him.

Thanks...

April 28th, 2010
8:19 am

…for the clarification on the differences in jobs for Ms. Ford and Mr. Kessler…

We never do this

April 28th, 2010
8:33 am

We don’t have family around. We do have one lady we can pay to watch the child for a few hours, but its a hassle, so I don’t remember going to dinner with my wife alone in 7 years. On the other hand, our child is very well mannered in restaurants, so we can take him with us without worry of problems.

Also, we prefer pizza joints and taco huts to expensive fancy places.

I would much prefer to spend that kind of money by taking the whole family to a Hawks game or on a mini vacation.

JJ

April 28th, 2010
8:36 am

I cannot believe you are upset over some idiot valet rolling his eyes at your vehicle choice. Some people get so upset at the smallest things. I’m not going to let some 20 year old make me feel bad about the car I drive……seriously!!!!

I cannot believe you are upset about nasty hostesses. Next time, don’t bother to call and cancel a reservation. They’ll figure it out eventually……

YUKI

April 28th, 2010
8:42 am

We don’t normally go to places with valet or reservations. Last week for our anniversary we got a babysitter and went to a Hibatchi place and a movie. Had a great time. Like someone said earlier,I’d rather spend the money on something else. You can get good food for reasonable prices without having to spend a fortune, especially in a big city/great suburbs like Atlanta offers. Then again, I’m not a food snob. If it’s good, I’m eating it!! And the more inexpensive it is, the better!!

We never do this

April 28th, 2010
8:55 am

I don’t like Valet parking in any situation. I mean, I’m young. I can walk to my car.

I always laugh at the folks who circle the mall or grocery store parking lot three times to get that premium parking spot. I drive to the back of the lot, walk the 200 yards into the store while you are still circling.

The funniest thing though is to see someone circling a parking lot at the gym.

Meme

April 28th, 2010
9:02 am

I encourage my niece and her husband to go out often. I babysit with the kiddies for free so that they can spend the money on places to eat. They love to try new places. I am not sure if they have ever been to the same place twice.

A

April 28th, 2010
9:08 am

I don’t get why there needs to be a list (which isn’t up yet!) of date night restaurants. If you’re without your kids, you can go anywhere you want. I guess it’s a big deal since many of us don’t get out a whole lot just with the significant other and we want a good experience, but really just pick any good place in the ATL area and have fun!

A

April 28th, 2010
9:12 am

And I’m clearly in a cynical mood this morning, but Theresa, when you have had to call and cancel a reservation, why are you telling them that it’s because your sitter couldn’t make it or whatever? You don’t have to offer an explanation; just say something’s come up or be similarly vague and say sorry we can’t make it. Also, I really can’t stand the term “date night.” Just say you and your spouse/SO are going out, having an evening to yourselves, etc. It’s one of those terms I wish would just go away!

Lori

April 28th, 2010
9:15 am

I don’t ever do expensive dinners. I just can’t see spending that much money on a meal. My husband and I really don’t like what I call Froo-Froo Food. I’d rather just go to Carrabba’s and have dinner. Even on our anniversary ever year, we think about where we’d like to go, but when it comes down to it, we like to stick with our favorites. My son is 6, so he likes to go to restaurants (like Carrabba’s) where he can watch them cook. That usually gets him interested enough to sit still for dinner.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 28th, 2010
9:24 am

A – I blather on and offer an explanation — I don’t have to — I do think you should cancel your reservation — that could go to someone else -

meme – you are so nice to sit so they can go out

the idea of this list, which will hopefully be coming soon — is since we get out soooo infrequently it should be a great, fantastic experience and not come home and feel like you squandered an opportunity or wasted money on the sitter for the food.

should I just turn off the topic until I have the list?????????? or do you just want to keep discussing your own experiences until we have the list —– so embarrassing!!!!!!

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 28th, 2010
9:34 am

We are officially HOTLINKED NOW — THE LIST IS UP!!! PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK!! SORRY FOR THE DELAY!!! I appreciate your patience!!!

A

April 28th, 2010
9:36 am

Theresa–agree you do need to cancel a restaurant reservation same as you would cancel at the hair salon or a doctor/dentist’s office as a courtesy so someone else could possibly take your spot, but there’s no need to tell a snooty hostess why you’re canceling. Now that the list is up, I’m a bit disappointed that there are so few places listed. I can vouch for Bistro VG as a great adult restaurant. We have an incredibly well-behaved child who goes pretty much everywhere we do, but after having gone to VG with just the spouse, I can definitely recommend you’d want to leave the kiddies at home for that one!

JATL

April 28th, 2010
9:40 am

I drive a 2004 Dodge Caravan that has scratches on the side and Grateful Dead stickers on the back. Usually there are lots of Goldfish and cereal bits spilled in the floor. I’ve NEVER had snootiness from a valet, and I live intown and luckily get to go out to dinner a lot more than many parents. The valets at the Ritz Carlton always act like I drove up in a Bentley! Is it possible that you feel self-concious about your mini van, so you think they’re being snotty? Honestly, if one is TRULY snotty to you, don’t tip and you may want to say -as you’re getting your car back -”It may not be a mercedes, but at least I don’t park cars for a living…” (I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with doing that for a living -unless your’e going to be an a** to people about their cars.)

We usually have the best date nights when we go to a good gastropub -above average food and it’s fun to have some drinks like we used to do all the time before kids. The Glenwood in East Atlanta is great for this type of thing. It’s also fun, adventurous and CHEAP to try something on Buford Highway and pair that with a movie at the Regal 24 I-85 theaters. The Vortex in L5P and Midtown are great cheap date nights -especially if you like a bar-like atmosphere -and on one under 18 is ever allowed in there, plus all of their food is fantastic -burgers, sandwiches, and appetizers.

If you want to go more upscale -we like Watershed in Decatur. Good, honest food in a nice atmosphere with a good wine list. Also, Wisteria in Inman Park/L5P is great. When we really want to get fancy, we hit Nikolai’s Roof at the top of the Hilton downtown. If you want a REALLY fancy, fun, old-school treat -you have to try this! The food is impeccable and the service is on par with what kings, queens and presidents receive. The decor is a delight of kitchy-ness -actually very pretty with great views, but kind of 70s/80s. You’ll drop $200-300 here, but it’s worth it! We’ve had some phenomenally special meals there.

A big disappointment for us was Bacchanalia. We keep feeling that we should give it another try, but we don’t really want a repeat for that kind of money. B**chy server; food not cooked properly, and LOUD. Ahhhh -we STILL miss Iris in East Atlanta. That was our favorite date night place. Great food, intimate but comfortable atmosphere, and the WINE -oh -the wine list was spectacular! It also wasn’t break-the-bank expensive.

lakerat

April 28th, 2010
9:41 am

Well, I guess some of you would refer to us as “snobs” since we like to go to “froo-froo” places on special occasions, and sometimes on “not special” occasions. Our kids are now much older than most of these readers’ kids (out of college, and almost out of college-graduation is next week) and we have always made a big deal of birthdays for them. We have always included them at the “froo’froo” places even as youngsters – that was a learning experience for them, and, fortunately, they were always very well behaved (I am a stickler for at least my kids behaving in public – many a time I have had to take one out of a place when they acted up).

At the same time, my spouse and I like to celebrate out birthdays at the restaurants that give free dinners to the “birthday” person – it means we have to “prove” our age, but that is OK to get a free meal at a place like Provino’s!

The only drawback is that the kids really LOVE the fancy stuff – but as long as we can still afford it AND food on the table the other days, we shall keep the tradition alive.

Earl Waters

April 28th, 2010
9:41 am

If you have a problem with the service of a restaraunt or its employees you need to be vocal and say WHY you do not wish to do business with them.

If you do not make clear, in no uncertain terms, what stupid, rude, or lame thing they did, you’re just enabling it happening more and more.

Get mad! Do something about it! Speak out!

…also I find it fascinating in kind of a sad way that a valet would give you attitude. Considering most of them are probably driving high-mileage rice-out Honda Civics. >:/

ssidawg

April 28th, 2010
9:50 am

I also agree about the term “date night”……something about it makes my skin crawl.

Wayne

April 28th, 2010
9:57 am

A bit off topic; before my last trip to Atlanta, I had heard about a store called the Junkman’s Daughter. Is that still around?

As for a night out with my wife, it doesn’t happen often. Last time we did so, it was Valentine’s Day (I got lucky… Not what you think!). Our sitter was able to take the boys for a few hours and we had a nice meal. Sat right in front of a combo (guitar player and singer) and it was a great time. It was just nice to have some adult time!

mom2alex&max

April 28th, 2010
9:57 am

I am honestly curious: what’s wrong with the term “date night”?

JJ

April 28th, 2010
9:58 am

My idea of a great date night……take the kids to a sitter/family friend/relative. Hit the grocery store and find something there you really like, but don’t buy often (maybe the kids don’t like fish, or get a big ole steak, some salad, etc). Get a nice bottle of wine. Go home, by yourselves, cook together, light some candles, dim the lights, put on some music, have a few glasses of wine, eat and get nekkid.

Then have the sitter bring the kids home later….

Earl Waters

April 28th, 2010
10:00 am

Even better, don’t have kids. Then do what you want most of the time. :^)

A

April 28th, 2010
10:00 am

If you’re married or living with someone and raising kids together, date night just seems like such a strange term. I mean dates are what you have when you’re single; why use that term after you’ve settled down? Just call it a night out without the kids, or be specific about where you are going rather than calling it a date night.

Wayne

April 28th, 2010
10:01 am

Yeah, but whaddya do after you get nekkid?

Wayne

April 28th, 2010
10:02 am

Just hopefully you don’t fall asleep, nekkid, then have the sitter AND the kids come home!

Becky

April 28th, 2010
10:02 am

We typically (sp?) don’t go to a lot of fancy places to eat, but I’m not totally against them..If it were left up to me 100%, we would try a lot of more upscale restaurants, but my husband is not as adventrious (sp?) with food as I am..As for the kids, we take them anywhere that we go..They have been going to nicer places with us for 6 years, so they know how to behave when we are out..

Theresa, I’m with any of the others that said it, yes you do call and cancel..I hate for someone to tell me they are going to be somewhere, then just not show up without calling me..As for your vehicle, I wouldn’t let it bother me one bit what the kid at valet parking thinks of it..One day, he’ll either be driving the same kind of car, something much nicer or riding the bus..

Becky

April 28th, 2010
10:04 am

@Wayne, yes it is still here..:)

Wayne

April 28th, 2010
10:09 am

When I went down to Atlanta, I wanted to visit because of the vintage clothing and it sounded like a pretty neat place. I didn’t make it as I was heading to the airport. I thought I left early enough until I got on the highway and got caught in LOTS of traffic. I found out later that it was always like that.

Back to food. I did eat at Varsity!

And, here I thought Restaurant Eugene...

April 28th, 2010
10:13 am

…was owned by Sean “Puff Daddy, Puffy, P.diddy, Diddy” Combs!!!! Shows how out of the loop in the “hip” world I am….

Well, hail, Wayne...

April 28th, 2010
10:15 am

…eating at The Varsity is much better than some vintage clothing store, so one out of two ain’t bad…

abc

April 28th, 2010
10:17 am

Sounds like yall could use some better ideas for dates than dinner or a movie. I can relate, been there. It makes me glad my kids are grown and out of the house, as far as that goes.

A

April 28th, 2010
10:17 am

@Becky, I think it’s great bringing kids to “nicer” restaurants. We’ve been doing just that for years, except for those few months around the terrible 2s stage. My son is 7, and the restaurant would have to be pretty “froo froo” for us to not bring him along, and while I would love to go to Bacchanalia since I’m a foodie, I don’t anticipate going anytime soon, so in the meantime we do go as a family to places I consider nice. And many nicer places do have kids menus, which is a huge plus!

Wayne

April 28th, 2010
10:24 am

Well, for a while there I was really into the old bowling shirts – still wear them on Wayne’s Wacky Shirt day (which is typically Fridays).

What’s that saying? What’ll ya have?

JATL

April 28th, 2010
10:31 am

@Wayne -Junkman’s Daughter is still in Little Five Points and a very cool place. Not really vintage clothing though -but around the corner is Stefan’s Vintage, which just got recognized by some publication as one of the top 5 vintage stores in the nation -and I heartily agree. LOVELY items! Also, there are other stores in Little Five catering to used and vintage clothing -Clothing Wearhouse and a few more.

@JJ -that is STILL my favorite date night -and half the time it doesn’t even require sending the kids away. Mine are still the age that after 8 or 8:30 PM -we can retire to our screened deck and pop open the wine, have some really good food and do whatever we want….;-)

One other GREAT thing we do for “date nights” is go see live music. If you enjoy it, it’s such a good spirit lifter to see a band you really enjoy. We are very fortunate to have great smaller music venues in this town like Variety Playhouse, The Five Spot, Northside Tavern, Blind Willies, Fatt Matt’s, etc. You don’t have to fork over $100 a ticket for a “BIG” show! Also -investigate the theater. We also have a wealth of great theater and improv places -Shakespeare Tavern is awesome, Alliance, Horizon, Actor’s Express, Seven Stages -great performances by some really talented people. A fabulous date night is to go to Theater Sports at Dad’s Garage in Inman Park. HILARIOUS! Break out of the mold -that will enliven your relationship more than you thought possible! Heck, even the Center for Puppetry Arts had “adult” productions from time to time. That ought to give you something to talk about!

JJ

April 28th, 2010
10:32 am

Has anyone tried Prime Park at the Mall of Georgia? I hear that’s an EXCELLENT steakhouse. Rather pricey, but well worth is is what I am told. I will probably never go there, as I much prefer to cook a steak at home on my charcol grill with friends and/or family. I’m not a big fan of spending four times more money for the same thing. I can buy two beautiful ribeye steaks at Publix for $15.00, and at a steakhouse, one alone is $25.00.

I understand the need for some to go out to a nice restaurant. I just don’t have that kind of money…..and it kills me to spend that much for a steak dinner, when I know I can get the same thing at home for MUCH LESS…..but that’s just me and my frugality…LOL thats a new word by the way…..

Meme

April 28th, 2010
10:33 am

Theresa, I get to bond with my sister’s grandkids who are almost as much mine. I love them so much it hurts. I never had children, but I have always been involved in the lives of my nieces and nephews. It makes life worth living.

HB

April 28th, 2010
11:06 am

I’m with you, JJ, sort of. I love going to nice restaurants, but not for something I can cook at home. I want to go places, usually upper medium-priced, that have interesting menus and new recipes constantly being created by the chef.

And thanks a lot, JATL, for mentioning Watershed. Now I’m going to crave chocolate cake all day! ;)

A, I promise not to use “date night”, if you’ll drop “foodie”.

JJ

April 28th, 2010
11:09 am

JATL – there’s also A TON of free concerts at local parks. Just a few weeks ago, The Return (Beatles band) was at Suwanee Town Park. Very family oriented.

Mother’s Finest is playing in Snellville this weekend, for Snellville Days. Although it’s supposed to rain, a bunch of friends are meeting there, and we are bringing KFC and all kinds of picnic stuff, and hanging out and watching the concert. Like I said, it’s free and good music and fun with friends.

DB

April 28th, 2010
11:28 am

Wow, I must be a hard-core bitch. It never occurred to me to give the hostess an explanation when cancelling a reservation — she’s not my mother. And if she’s snotty, then the manager will hear about it, politely but firmly. If I went for the “early-bird” special, it’s going to take a Mack truck to move me from my seat before I am good and ready — it’s not as if they can jerk the chair out from under you. And if a valet has the bad manners to sneer at my van (that my son “christened” with a guardrail before I had had it for 10 days!), then they are going to find their tip rather small.

Doormats, rise up! Don’t take this nonsense from service people! It’s supposed to be SERVICE, not INTIMIDATION. I am polite and reasonable until they forget just who in the hell it is that is signing that check, and at that point, I remind them. Politely. And never come back.

Our anniversary is this Saturday, and we are going to spend it down at Calloway, weather permitting. If not this weekend, then next weekend — after all these years, the exact day isn’t a big deal. :-)

A

April 28th, 2010
11:44 am

@HB, Deal! I’ll stop using “foodie.” The ironic thing is I don’t particularly like that term either, but I guess in a blog posting I got lazy and used it. And I also agree with other posters about not ordering items at restaurant that I can cook as well at home. If we’re spending $$ on a meal out, I want it to be something I either don’t have the skills to make myself or just don’t have the inclination to make at home.

Wayne

April 28th, 2010
11:57 am

All this talk of food is making me hungry. Good thing it’s almost lunchtime!

[...] 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, [...]