The market is saturated with food delivery services, which means it’s getting easier and easier to order in on those nights we don’t have the time or energy to go shopping and prepare dinner at home. On the upside, dining out is fast becoming what it once was — a special occasion to be relished for every aspect, from the luxury of being served to the delights provided by each unique environment. If my man and I are taking the time and money to enjoy a long dinner in a relaxed setting, the experience needs to deliver in a different way. Whether it’s to celebrate an achievement, or simply to celebrate each other, here are a handful of our date night destinations.
1201 First Street, Coronado
Nothing sets the mood like the glittering vista of downtown San Diego as seen from the water’s edge in Coronado, where Peohe’s is perched. Begin in the lounge with a drink for two, such as the Tableside Mojito Flight or the Port of Manhattan, all of which are served in clear flasks that flaunt the colorful fruits, herbs, and spices flavoring each concoction. Once at the table (ideally on the covered patio that overlooks the Coronado Bridge), you can splurge on the Iced Seafood Tower (chilled lobster, jumbo shrimp, tuna poke, oysters and king crab), or start small with the Crab, Avocado, and Mango stack. Choose from an extensive sushi menu or opt for full entrees, including fresh fish served one of four ways or designed dishes such as the Maize Shrimp & Scallops with creamed corn sauce, gnocchi, and heirloom grape tomatoes.
2000 Spindrift Drive, La Jolla
The Marine Room offers an elegant dining experience with an exhilaratingly modern menu. Known for its high-tide meals (during which waves crash against the giant glass windows lining one wall of the dining room), I think it’s even more pleasant here when the water has receded, allowing a fling of sandpipers to hop after one another in search of their own fine feast. Inside, the service is as stimulating and impeccable as each plate, from the Leek Fennel Crusted Alaskan Halibut (vanilla kabocha, crab, English peas, and tangerine absinthe) to the Red Walnut roasted Rack of Lamb (bread pudding, tomato confit, baby artichoke, white sage jus). This is the kind of place you dress up for, not only because you have to (jackets and ties strongly suggested), but because you want to.
3696 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest
The menu at La Bonne Table is as compact as the cozy, French-country-style space. This allows the small kitchen to consistently deliver well executed French bistro classics, such as the Truite Amandine (full-fish trout with asparagus, toasted almonds, and lemon butter) and Confit de Canard (tender and crispy duck confit with Brussels sprouts and mustard cream). Start with one of the traditional aperitifs (French 75, Kir Royal, etc.) and appetizers like the Rillete de Porc (country paté served with cornichon and Dijon) or Escargo served still sizzling in garlic butter. The flavors are luxurious, and the intimate and warmly lit interior is conducive to romance.
3731-A India Street, Mission Hills
It’s impossible to speak of specific dishes at Wine Vault & Bistro because, amazingly, the entire menu is different not only week to week, but often day to day. On one night you’ll find options such as buttery crab bread pudding (with melted leeks and brie mornay) and crispy saffron rice paella (with grilled artichoke and olive relish). On another, it’s Asian spiced duck breast (with shiitake/asparagus drunken noodles, housemade hoisin) and shrimp and cheddar grits (in a paprika tomato broth with summer vegetable ragout and fresno peppers). Despite the changing options, the seasonal-inspired menu never fails to surprise and delight, and the prix fixe three-course dinner remains one of the best values in town at $27.50 (plus $15 for wine pairing).
2820 Roosevelt Road, NTC Promenade, Liberty Station
Solare may seem unassuming, and the decor doesn’t scream “Italy,” but the moment your first dish arrives, it’s immediately apparent why Chef Accursio Lota was crowned Best Chef at Barilla’s World Championship. Not the typical Italian restaurant with giant plates of spaghetti served in a river of red sauce, here the food is delicate and sophisticated, and the pasta is made fresh daily. You can sample mainstays, like the Risotto Tartufo e Capesante (with black truffle confit, lobster roe, and wild scallops) and the House-made lasagna (with slow braised Bolognese sauce and Grana Pardano fondue, baked crispy) or something from the This Week Only menu, such as porcini-infused pasta and grilled wild Baja prawns (with zuchhini, arugula, cherry tomatoes, mint ammoglio).
1027 University Avenue, Hillcrest
Dining on French comfort cuisine in a nouveau rustic setting in the middle of bustling Hillcrest sets the table for a casual, carefree date night. The BO-beau Kitchen + Cache servings are as large as the prices are small. Notable savory sharables include the Crispy Cauliflower (garlic, parmesan, lemon, red chilies) and the popular Crispy Brussels Sprouts (pancetta parmesan, balsamic port reduction). Of the flatbreads (also easily sharable), my favorite are the Goat Cheese and Roasted Beet (with curry onion jam, crushed red peppers, jalapeños) and the Braised Short Rib (with horseradish cream and chives). The best part of this date is that it doesn’t end early — after dinner, walk right next door, into a secret bar behind Tacos Libertad (the “+ cache” part) and enjoy craft cocktails amid living olive trees that contribute to the magic of your evening.
113 W. Grand Avenue, Escondido
In a world where everyone is flocking to the newest thing, mainstays such as Vincent's Sirinos quietly continue to serve up excellence. The one thing that is always new are the weekly, three-course prix-fixe menus, offered Tuesday through Thursday for $30. Here you can experience French classics, such as the Duck à l’Orange (roasted duckling in candied orange and crystallized ginger sauce) and seasonal dishes like the Barramundi with Asparagus, Artichoke & Shiitake Risotto. One thing’s for sure — from the Roasted Bone Marrow to the Apple Tart Tatin, every bite at Vincent’s will be as luscious as your dining companion.