For that first date, each of the following restaurants offers a welcoming balance of warmth and distraction to ease that fluttery stomach.
Ella Dining Room & Bar
A dining experience at elegant Ella restaurant in downtown Sacramento always includes a colorful dose of people-watching. This interesting diversion—perfect for jittery first-time daters—is a great conversation starter: “Look at that pair of eyeglasses!” or, “Do you think that’s a business dinner, or something more romantic?” The décor also offers an arresting distraction—check out the ceiling, covered with rustic, European-style shutters, and the sumptuous oyster bar with its eye-popping selection of carefully-arranged shellfish. Tuck into one of the kitchen’s excellent small plates (don’t miss the robust, full-flavored meatballs, swathed in a yummy roasted tomato sauce) or salads, always ravishingly fresh and crispy. Dinner items may include seared Diver scallops or a grilled pork chop with mushroom sauce, but whatever you order, expect to be impressed.
1131 K S., Sacramento; (916) 443-3772; www.elladiningroomandbar.com
Walk into this friendly, bustling establishment and you are enveloped in a cocoon of exotic fragrances. The white fabric-draped tables, adorned with small clusters of artificial roses, contribute a romantic vibe, while the crinkled, expansive posters of jagged mountain ranges are the perfect reminder to plan that second hiking date. Dishes to share include the delicious lal maas, a complex lamb curry made with red chili sauce, yogurt, black cardamom, cumin, coriander, and turmeric; or if you really want to spice things up, order the “chicken chili,” chunks of boneless chicken stir-fried with green chili, bell pepper and red onion. Vegetable lovers shouldn’t miss the chana masala, garbanzo beans cooked with tomatoes and onions. And the perfect sweet ending to your first date? Kathmandu’s kulfi, a rich ice cream made from pistachio nuts and saffron.
1728 Broadway, Sacramento, (916) 441-2172; www.kathmandukitchen.com/sacramento
Le Bilig French Café
It’s impossible to feel nervous for very long at Le Bilig. Owned by the convivial and efficient Deconinck family, this little treasure box of a restaurant in Auburn is filled with good cheer. The country French cuisine at Le Bilig showcases seasonal, ultra-fresh produce, some grown in the family’s extensive home garden, and menu items (which change frequently) are solid and always tasty. Canoodle over chef/owner Marc Deconinck’s escargot or the delectable salmon, scallops and mussels in puff pastry, and expect to be invited back into his postage stamp-sized kitchen for a nice chat. It’s likely you’ll be served by one of the couple’s children, who have literally grown up in the restaurant, and make sure to ask them about dessert—if there’s a tarte tatin on the menu, order it without hesitation.
11750 Atwood Road, Auburn; (530) 888-1491
Vic’s Ice Cream
Sometimes the best dates happen in the most unpretentious places. If you’re going for the casual approach, head to Vic’s Ice Cream, a beloved Land Park neighborhood institution. Opened in 1947, this homey, friendly establishment has served up first-rate ice cream—made right there on the premises—to generations of loyal fans. Cozy up in one of Vic’s wooden booths and admire the old-fashioned black and white checkered floors, ice cream counter and swivel counter seats. The parlor offers up a fine selection of sandwiches—from tuna and corned beef to ham and cheese and even a kraut dog—to gobble up before tackling Vic’s shakes, phosphates, sundaes and cones. Popular ice cream flavors include the raspberry ribbon, cookies and cream, rocky road and French vanilla, and there’s also a handful of “5 percent” ice creams (made from low fat milk) for waist-watchers. Seasonal flavors, such as fresh peach and butter brittle, come and go, so it’s best to call ahead if you have a particular flavor in mind.
3199 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento, (916) 448-0892
The Squeeze Inn
Want to nestle up close to your date? Head to The Squeeze Inn on Fruitridge Road. This teeny burger joint, so popular it’s been featured on the Food Network, requires you to—well, squeeze in tight—if you want a seat, as there are only 12 of them. Plunk yourselves onto a glittery red plastic counter stool and make a silent apology to your cardiologist as you order the Inn’s “Squeezeburger,” a 1/3-lb pound patty smothered with a huge slab of cheese, whose edges—a molten, crusty mass—fan out from the burger like a greasy skirt. Share napkins as you attempt to staunch the oil buildup on your hands and arms, and giggle at the Inn’s funky wall decorations. It’s best to arrive before you’re ravenous, as the wait for a seat can be lengthy—but that just gives you extra time to get to know each other.
7918 Fruitridge Road, Sacramento (916) 386-8599