You met on Hinge in the spring during a pandemic. Three Facetimes, two Covid tests and two vaccinations later, the first date happens at a cool lil’ cafe where the coffee and chemistry were amazing. You both left giddy off that first date energy, ten minutes into your Uber ride you receive a text that reads “I would love to see you again.” The anticipation builds over long phone conversations and text exchanges of memes and GIFs.
The second date: It starts with drinks at a local hotspot and ends with you both dancing till the lights come on—a much needed release after a year of limited in-person contact. This time, you kiss as your Uber arrives and on the exhale he or she says “when will I see you again?” Love drunk and tipsy you answer “Thursday. I would love to make you dinner.” The reply, “Absolutely! I can’t wait!” As the car pulls off the panic sets in, your pots haven’t seen heat since indoor dining reopened and you’re definitely no where close to a Top Chef finalist.
Making dinner for the first time for a love interest can be absolutely nerve-racking. On the one hand you want to make a good impression but not one that says “desperately seeking a life partner.” The best part of having a person you fancy over is that you get to curate the vibe and possess home field advantage.
Every detail creates the sexy
- No paper plates or disposable flatware. Dirty dishes are indeed a chore, but a great meal on a real plate for good impression’s sake is worth the sacrifice.
- Tidy up before bae arrives. We all know most of us aren’t eating in an unfamiliar home where the bathroom is dirty and the kitchen is sloppy
- The name of the game is subtlety. Everything in the space exists to support the experience of the meal and your allure. Dim the lights a bit, light a few softly fragrant candles that will intermingle nicely with the scent of spices lingering in the air.
- Make sure the playlist is on fire. For these occasions, I usually go with jazz. You cannot go wrong with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue or John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. For a vibe that’s more modern, I would throw on some Englewood Sir, SZA or Wale and then let the algorithm do its thing. Dinner is happening in the living area but the energy should be flowing throughout the whole environment.
Let’s get into the menu
- Don’t hesitate to ask about their dietary lifestyle. Nothing communicates consideration more than a “Hey! Any food restrictions I should know about?” It would be a disaster to serve up a braised short rib to a vegan or almond crusted salmon to a person with a nut allergy. D
- Stay away from typical “struggle” plates. Shrimp Alfredo tops this list followed by Overdone Steak with mushy boiled veggies and mashed potatoes as a strong runner up.
- Also avoid “Sunday after church soul food feasts,” which for a first dinner date, runs the risk of communicating a message of “choose me” desperation. Meals of that symbolic magnitude are something that should be earned, so don’t go pulling out your great grandmother’s fried chicken and cornbread recipe just yet.
- The menu should be something light, bright and delicious with a wine pairing to start and a sensual nightcap that enhances the conversation to finish off the evening. Something that says, “Hey, I like you and I would like to create some time to get to know you with a bit more intimacy to see if this is a good fit.”
- If you have the space, have an informal cocktail with them in the kitchen to start. Ask for some help with something small like setting the table to make them feel included.
- Have dinner at the dining room table and after dinner drinks on the couch. If things progress from there, go with the flow (with consent, of course.)
Need more help with menu selection? Below are a few sure-fire success options gathered from a cross section of my friends:
Cauliflower Steak in Chimichurri Sauce with Charred Corn Tortillas & Endive Salad
Wine Pairing: McBride Sisters Collection 2020 Marlborough New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (Tropical fruits, lemongrass and citrus ripe peach and mango medium full, slightly oily body, firm acidity and slightly mineral finish)
Spatchcock Herb Roasted Chicken over Jasmine Rice with Honey Glazed Brussels
Wine Pairing: Skouras Moscofilero (Light and fresh notes of white flowers and honeysuckle rounded out with notes of citrus fruits and lime)
Poached Salmon Filet Over Crispy One Bite Heirloom Potatoes with Mixed Greens in a Honey Citrus Vinaigrette
Wine Pairing: Brown Estate Duppy Conqueror Sonoma County NV Sparkling Brut (Eugenia, and lilac. Subtle secondary notes of trumpet flower, Daphne, and freshly cut Augustine grass.lightly fruity with a rich mouthfeel)
Mussels Marinara with Farfalle or Rosemary Crostini, with Mixed Greens in Balsamic Vinaigrette
Wine Pairing: Maison Noir Wines Horseshoes & Handgrenades (Southern Oregon and Red Mountain Washington. fruit-driven, full-bodied complex red blend sourced)
A final few words of advice
- Never, I repeat never, fry fish as an option. The odor is intense and stains the air. Even worse, your guest may leave smelling like a greasy rack.
- Leave steak to the pros. Getting the temperature right on a great cut is tricky if you don’t have the technique down pat.
- Lastly, relax and be your authentic self. Be in the moment with your new crush; the infatuation stage is the most delicious part of a budding romance and is a dish worth savoring.
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Joane Amay is the Beauty and Style Director at Ebony magazine. A hoarder of shoes, baubles and sparkly things, she dreams one day of owning her own private island.