The restaurant you pick out for a first date says as much about you as the opening handshake in a job interview. Careful selection is all-important, as your date will be making conclusions about who you are based on where you take them. Do you want to be thought of as adventurous and exotic? Romantic? Sophisticated? Rich? Cheap? This article will explore three options that can help you to create exactly the impression you want.
1. The Blue Nile – 2361 N High St, Columbus, OH (614) 421-2323
This Ethiopian restaurant is geared toward a campus crowd. Two people can get utterly stuffed for 45 dollars, including drinks. The Blue Nile serves traditional Ethiopian food, which you eat by scooping up bites of various dishes off of a common plate with a piece of Injera, a sour, spongy flat bread. The meats, lentils and veggies range from savory to spicy, and they are all delicious. The menu tells the diner that in Ethiopian culture, it is a gesture of affection to take a pinch of food and stick it in your companion’s mouth. Hand washing is highly recommended.
Try some Tej while you are at the Blue Nile. This is an Ethiopian honey wine, and is incredibly sweet and tasty. There are two varietals, one drier and one sweeter. My companion and I agreed that the drier was more enjoyable. The restaurant sells Tej by the bottle to go, as well which may be something to consider, depending on how dinner goes.
Some of the furniture is traditional Ethiopian style, with small wicker tables and short-backed, beautifully carved chairs. There are some interesting photographs and murals on the walls, but the lighting is too high, the room too open and functional to “romantic.” “Interesting” would be a great way to describe it, and that can be better than romantic for a first date anyway.
Overall, the Blue Nile is one of the best first date dining spots in Columbus. Most people have never heard of Ethiopian food, and the novelty of it all creates a fun, adventurous vibe and helps keep the conversation alive. Plus, it’s relatively cheap, and incredibly tasty. Coming here will create an impression of you as a quirky, adventuresome individual, who isn’t cheap, but knows the difference between good taste and high prices.
Also, it’s a good way to see how your date handles themselves in public. Anyone who can keep their poise when on a first date that involves messy finger-food is worth at least one more evening.
2. The Melting Pot – 5090 N High St, Columbus, OH (614) 846-7600
This is a small national chain of fondue restaurants, and there is a Columbus location on North High Street, across from Graceland Shopping Center. If you pick this place, be ready to drop about sixty bucks on the meal, more if you want to drink. The quality of the food itself is not astonishing by any means-which is maybe not so surprising, since you’re basically the cook. The meals work on a three-course system. For appetizers, you dunk fruit and bread into your choice of some basic cheese fondues.
Main courses are either broth or oil on hotplates, served with platters of raw meat vegetables, which the diner stabs and cooks in the hot liquid. Desserts are, of course, the highlight, and the chocolate fondues are pretty tasty. The whole fondue-cooking process is what makes the experience. Interacting with the food on this level will give dinner the air of an activity or a game rather than just a meal. Different meats and vegetables will need different cooking times, and go with different sauces. Some things like to float free in the cooking liquid, while others should stay skewered. Keeping things on the fondue forks can sometimes get tricky. Also, it’s impossible to pig out here, because of the necessary gap between morsels.
The ambiance at the Melting Pot is what makes it a real winner. Almost every table is a comfortable, private-feeling booth that separates you from the bustle and crowd of the restaurant, and lets you scoot gradually closer to your date between courses. Between the playing with your food, the chocolate-intensive dessert, the extensive drinks menu, and the cozy, romantic ambiance, this place is a real winner in terms of creating all the right vibes. You can dress up pretty nice and not feel out of place here, but I wouldn’t wear a suit. All in all, if you pick this place, you’ll probably come off like something of a Casanova.
3. The Burgundy Room – 641 N High St, Columbus, OH (614) 464-9463
This is a wine and tapas bar located on High Street at the south tip of the Short North. Be ready to drop over a hundred bucks if you want to fully appreciate this place. It is well worth appreciating, too. It’s the closest you’ll come to a French bistro without leaving central Ohio.
The tapas are uncommonly large, and occupy a sort of middle ground between an aperitif and a meal. Everything is of the finest quality, and there is a sophisticated element of Euro-Asian fusion in the large and diverse menu, which ranges from beef carpaccio to meatloaf way better than mom ever made it, to Vietnamese-style spring rolls. Everything is elegantly prepared and presented. To fill up two people, you will likely need to start with a fruit and cheese plate and get at least two warm tapas, possibly three. Whatever you do, don’t commit to a bottle of anything.
Go by the glass and try different things; there are too many good wines available here to only try one. The light portions are sort of a mixed blessing. With your stomachs a little less than filled and all that great wine around, you’ll get a nice buzz going pretty quickly. It’s a good way turn a “meal” date into a drinking date while maintaining an air of class. If you’re not a wine fan, don’t despair. The Burgundy Room has an extensive collection of fine and not-so-fine beers both on tap and in the bottle, as well as a fair assortment of liquors. I would recommend the Dogfish Head Breweries’ 90 Minute IPA or Unibrew’s La Fin Du Monde for any beer fan.
As for atmosphere, the Burgundy Room is beyond reproach. The floors and walls are in deep wood and earth tones, and complemented by red draperies and deep, mahogany colored leather upholstery on couches and booths. The space is an essentially tight one in which to fit a restaurant and bar, but the designer has effectively opened it up with well-planned walkways and strategic wall removal, along with good mirror placement. Even when the bar is packed, which happens often, the noise level is manageable, and the hallway navigable. The centerpiece of the dining room is a huge fireplace, which creates an agreeable sense of coziness, especially if you manage to get a spot next to it.
Another perk to the Burgundy Room is that if you can get in on a Saturday early in the evening, the short north gallery hop will be in full swing all around you when you leave, which makes it easy to create a seamlessly entertaining night out. This will help finish the work that the Burgundy Room began for you, creating an impression of sophistication and refined taste, as well as a healthy bank account. As pricey as this place is, it feels even more expensive than that.
Whatever budget, whatever tastes, the dining daters in Columbus have some interesting choices. Each has its unique features to recommend it to different people, but one thing is for sure: whichever of these places you choose, you will have a good time. More important, you’ll impress your date.