Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Grown-Up Date? I Know Just The Place...

grown-up date (noun): a date on which you go as an adult... this usually involves dinner, drinks, and ?

HGB: Hey, what are you doing this weekend? 
SAA: Well, on Friday I am going on a grown-up date with that guy I met at Market District Giant Eagle. Where should we go? 
HGB: A grown-up date? I know just the place...

In the long list of events that qualify for “special occasions,” the first date gets slighted. Falling far behind birthdays, weddings, engagements, promotions, graduations, and even Valentine’s Days (cringe), first dates are not given the credit they deserve because as we all know, first dates are quite simply, a crap shoot. Without getting statistical, one can certainly claim that the percentage of successful first dates pales in comparison to the amount of mediocre and disastrous ones. For many, it is deemed a “special occasion” only if the first date is successful and leads to a mutually enjoyable relationship. For me, it was always a special occasion because of its potential to lead somewhere… even if it was to my front door alone. 

I moved to Pittsburgh when I was eighteen from a small city called Uniontown, which is about 45 miles south of this steel town I now call home. Fortunately, my family was quite city savvy, so the experience of moving to the ‘Burgh wasn’t as “bright lights, big city,” as it was for some of the other gals in my dormitory. Having been to many of the city’s unique neighborhood-based restaurants already, I was at an advantage when it came time to decide where to dine. Not that we went out to eat all that frequently; but throughout my college experience, I did get asked on my fair share of first dates, and there was one restaurant that I always suggested: Tessaro’s. This meat and potatoes juggernaut sits on the corner of Liberty Avenue and Taylor Street in the “Little Italy” section of Pittsburgh known as Bloomfield and it meets all four of my criterion for a “special occasion”, namely a “first date” restaurant: atmosphere, price, quality, and the bar.

First, the restaurant needs to be a place with a relaxing, warm atmosphere where the setting doesn’t add any additional discomfort. First dates have the potential to generate their own discomfort, so why would you want to provide the possibility of adding more? I call fancy, formal restaurants the “white table cloth places,” and I believe that a first date should never be held in one of them. You and your date should be focused on getting to know each other, and not on whether you are dressed appropriately, on which utensil to use, on if you are talking too softly or loudly, or on if you should let the valet or your date hold your door. Not to mention, there could be two huge white elephants in the room. Is your date overcompensating for an inadequacy by using a grand gesture on the first date? And did your date suggest this place because he/she just wants to have the status of going there? Thus, it’s better to avoid it all, head for a down-to-earth atmosphere and go somewhere less stuffy.   

Second, the restaurant must serve good, reasonably priced food. This ensures two things: each person will enjoy their meal regardless of the evenings’ outcomes and neither person will be paying too much regardless of whom pays at the end. You come out of the evening having had a nice culinary experience; and it’s not a big deal if the guy picks up the whole tab, or if you go “Dutch.”

Third, the restaurant must be an excellent setting for “people watching.” If your conversation is engrossing, then you won’t even notice the people around you. However, if you’ve already covered the basic first date interview questions (i.e. family, hometown, education, career, pets, favorite reality television shows, etc.), then most likely you’ve reached a conversational impasse.  This is where the setting is key. At the very least, you can watch the people around you, comment on them, and/or watch your date’s reaction to those people.

Last, the restaurant must serve alcohol; and even better, the joint should have a bar at which to sit before or after dinner. First dates are nearly impossible without a drink or two (or five?). What a person orders to drink on a date is telling of their personality, as well as how they treat bartenders, and how they tip. There is no easier way to tell if the date is respectful of you and the waitstaff than by observing them in action at a bar. For example, did your date flirt with the bartender and only order for himself/herself? This would be a basic first date red flag.  A good sign would be if your date allowed you to order first, followed suit, and picked up the tab, all while being sure to thank the bartender with a smile and an appropriate tip.   

So, back to Tessaro's... If you have to wait once you’ve told Kelly (the man at the door) your name(s), and he's nodded in recognition of your place on the list, I suggest grabbing a drink at the bar and then huddling in a corner with your drinks. Nothing like trying on intimacy for size, right? Once you get to your table, you will be seated very closely with other patrons, which ensures that you will be able to keep the conversation with your date at a light and friendly level. And as I mentioned previously, if all else fails: eavesdrop and people watch. 

Rather than itemize everything I’ve ever had on the menu (because that would go back to the early '90's), I will give my first date suggestion(s). Since their burgers are infamous, ordering a Tessaro’s burger is a surefire way to achieve satisfaction. I suggest the Gourmet Burger ($9.25) that is 1/2 lb beef, bacon, mushrooms, onions, and blue cheese with bbq sauce (mild, hot, and atomic based on an amount of red pepper flakes) and a side of Home Fries. Red wine goes nicely, but you can also get a beer and be just as quenched. In addition, the side of Sautéed Mushrooms ($6.95) is nice to share with your date. If sandwiches aren’t your thing, I recommend one of the dinner specials. The Pork Chops are quite tasty, and the prices are suitable. Lastly, if things went well during dinner and you want to linger, you can close out your tab, and head back to the bar; or you can head up Liberty Avenue to Lot 17 for a change of scenery.

Interestingly, each first date that I went on in Tessaro’s revealed as much as I needed it to regarding my suitor. Some relationships progressed further than that “special occasion” and some did not. Yet, without a doubt, I had an excellent meal; and leaving a restaurant with a full tummy and that “feel good” mood you get from get from great customer service is enough to qualify the evening as a success, regardless of whether or not a second date was imminent. 

Tessaro's on Urbanspoon