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Five First Dates

Surefire spots to make that connection

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While it's true that first dates are important, if you've decided on dinner, the choice of a restaurant shouldn't be that hard. A good first date place has a tiered menu with some familiar and some less familiar items as well as a welcoming atmosphere. Don't choose a tomb. However, if this is a blind date, opt to meet at Starbucks and then go from there.

Some folks say that taking a date to an ethnic restaurant is dangerous. Too much garlic. Or the food is too messy or too exotic or both. Others say the first date is too early for raw fish. Who makes up these rules anyway? Honestly, if your date can't connect with the offerings at the following places, you don't want a second date.

The simplicity of Spanish cuisine is what incites loyalty from customers at Sole Spanish Grille. The dining area contains spacious booths and the dishes are far more agreeable than esoteric. In other words, there's no need to bring along a Barron's Food Lover's Companion to see what's on the menu. Start with an assortment of tapas, the food of the moment in the US. A twosome can easily make a memorable meal of a clutch of shared tapas and a bottle of Spanish wine.Solé Spanish Grille, 1608 East Boulevard. 704-343-9890.

Ethan's American Bistro has both the comforting feel of a well-loved afghan and lighting which would make anyone look good. Booths in one section are large, while other tables are private enough for a romantic rendezvous. Owner and chef Mark Martin's menu is a basic repertoire of things that shine: a self-proclaimed "American Bistro."Ethan's of Elizabeth American Bistro, 366 North Caswell Road. 704-375-3007.

You can't get more romantic than Paris. So in Charlotte, Patou will have to do. Patou has a buoyant, animated environment, small-town charm, small-town French cooking, and gentle pricing. This restaurant is a cross between a bistro and a brasserie in both appearance and menu items: dark hardwood floors, white lace curtains, French ballads and hearty simple dishes. The wine list is primarily French with some Californian, and the desserts are divine.Patou French Bistro, 2400 Park Road. 704-376-2233.

In every English grad student is the memory of a fabulous meal and an imperial pint of beer in a London pub while discussing Blake or Swift. And while you'll find that same kind of quaint, dark (there's only one window) neighborhood pub ambiance at Sir Edmond Halley's Restaurant and Free House, Chef Tobin McAfee's food is much better than most pub food. If your date prefers beer with good Anglicized grub, this would be the place. Halley's caters to beer savants. Choose from bangers and mash to American burgers. Open late.Sir Edmond Halley's Restaurant and Free House, 4151-A Park Road. 704-525-2555.

Finally, if a full blown meal is too much, try Dean & Deluca's Wine Room, which is the ideal spot to stop in after a movie, order a bottle of wine and some apps, and listen to jazz.Dean & Deluca's Wine Room, Phillips Place, 6822-G Phillips Place Court. 704-552-5283.

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