When I was going on what seemed like an endless series of dinner dates, the choice of restaurant started to really matter. Especially given that I’m obsessed with food, a good meal was solace for so-so conversation and chemistry. And I have to admit, if a date wanted to go somewhere with mediocre food or made a pick that showed little imagination or forethought, I couldn’t help but judge (just a little).
I went on a few dates with one guy who impressed me by doing his best to think of restaurants that were new, or at least new to one of us. Each outing became an enjoyable trying out of flavours and dishes. And when it was time for me to select an establishment, I tried to resist the urge to go to my same old tried-and-true places. Frankly, dating just got boring, otherwise.
Fortunately, Vancouver has tons of restaurants opening all the time that can enliven your dating life. Here are five new spots that are worth checking out with your long-time sweetie or your next romantic prospect.
Juniper (185 Keefer Street)
This recent Chinatown hotspot oozes sex appeal, from its very attractive minimalist room (I love the geometric tiling of the floor and the bar) to its selection of cocktails that showcase (surprise!) gin. From their extensive gin and tonic menu, I sampled the Arancia, with Boodles gin, blood orange, fresh rosemary, and Indian tonic. The food bills itself as “Cascadian-inspired fare,” which translates into well-crafted plates that showcase local, seasonal ingredients (e.g. Juniper cured sockeye with caraway crackers, grilled cabbage, radish slaw, and cream).
Perfect for impressing a date who knows how to put together a sleek outfit and likes a good cocktail in hand.
Savio Volpe (615 Kingsway)
It’s already getting hard to get a reso at this East Van gem. Fortunately, our server let us know that a portion of the restaurant is kept available for walk-ins when they first open. The large front windows (complete with a bibbed fox image) are stunning, as is the rest of the chic, wood-paneled room. You and your date will want everything from the menu, which offers rustic, handmade pastas as well as proteins cooked on the rotisserie and wood-fired grill. Your date might just want to marry you after you both try the ultra tender, lusty tripe alla parmigiana.
Perfect for impressing a date who likes to attack a plate of tortellini with gusto and has retro cool down to a T.
Latab (983 Helmcken Street)
This wee wine bar was slightly under the radar initially but has been rapidly developing buzz. A few years ago, Chef Kris Barnholden seduced the city with his cooking at the now closed Mis Trucos. The carefully curated wine list at Latab contentrates on unique natural, organic, and biodynamic wines. The accompanying small plates evidence Barnholden’s expert ability to meld ingredients into something revelatory, like pork tongue with umeboshi (pickled plums), brussels sprouts, and radish. It’s a cozy space for an intimate tête-à-tête over good wine and food.
Perfect for impressing a date who has a quirky, discerning palate and is a disarming conversationalist.
Cabrito – Tapas Bebidas (2270 Commercial Drive)
I’m always looking for an excuse to go to the Drive. And for some reason, I’ve had many a good date in this neighbourhood, perhaps because its laidback, unpretentious vibe calms the getting-to-know-you jitters. I was really sad when Wishes + Luck closed in this spot but I have the sense that Cabrito is already finding its groove. The room is dominated by a colourfully striking matador mural by Vancouver artist Yared Nigussu. The artwork also reflects the philosophy of the kitchen, bold Spanish cooking, with selections like albondigas (beef meatballs) and smoked patata bravas (Kennebec potatoes and piquillo sauce). A glass of Spanish vino will round out the experience.
Perfect for impressing a date who is easy going, fun-loving and has a yen for chorizo.
Thai Confusion (117 Pender Street)
I had some great meals at the restaurants (Wild Rice, The Abbey) formerly at this location, and was really excited to hear that the owner of Bob Likes Thai Food was opening a restaurant here. Its proximity to Cineplex’s International Village Cinemas makes it a great prelude or conclusion to a movie date (you can discuss whether Brie Larson deserved an Oscar for Room over your meal). This new venture explores inventive small plates, giving Thai flavours and ingredients a modern spin. The Thai poutine, which consists of deep-fried taro root, topped with lemongrass, lime leaf, and green curry sauce, is a great play on the Québecois classic. You and your date can fight over the bacon wrapped lychee and pineapple.
Perfect for impressing a date who has a global palate and is more than a little sassy.