My first real “date” that I can remember was with a girl that I’ll call Nancy, for her sake. I had listened in fascination to my sibling’s babysitter go on and on about her dates and her friends dates – dates that went well, dates that ended in grotesque tragedy – they all sounded like some magical adventure. I had to have one.
I was thirteen and didn’t have a driver’s license or any money of my own, but I wanted to impress Nancy with dinner and a movie. I talked my parents into taking us to Tuminello’s Restaurant, which in late-seventies Vicksburg, Mississippi was akin to Sardi’s or the Four Seasons. It was a family owned Italian fine-dining place with multiple dining rooms, a lounge and a man in sunglasses playing an organ next to a dance floor. As a child I was convinced that the man at the organ was Ray Charles.
When we arrived at the restaurant I insisted that my parents eat in the “Garden Room,” well out of sight of the main dining room where Nancy and I would dine. They agreed and my dad pulled me aside and instructed me on how to sign the check to put it on his house account and slipped me a few bills for the tip. The Maitre d’ escorted us to a cozy table along the gilded, mirrored wall. He pulled out the chair for Nancy and presented us with the gargantuan menus. With a smile, a tilt of the head and a flourish, he was off to cater to the needs of the finer set seated around us. The organ player was beguiling the room with tunes from Sam Cook, Cole Porter and Gershwin and the smells of garlic and butter mingled with the swells as they sipped champagne. When I had been here a hundred times before with my parents I hadn’t noticed so many of the details that made the restaurant seem like something from a movie set. The ordinary became magical in real time before my eyes.
The waiter greeted us warmly and took our orders of veal medallions (for me) and fried shrimp (for the lady). Being thirteen in a strange setting, our conversation halted and started awkwardly so to buy some time I asked her to dance. For years when we ate at Tuminello’s I was asked to dance with my mother before dinner. I never protested for fear of the reprisals, but I can’t say I really enjoyed taking a turn around the boards until this night. As the organ player laid down some velvet notes, Nancy and I clumsily box-stepped around the floor and received applause from the room when the music stopped. We returned to our table and the meal was presented post haste. After dinner (with gelato sundaes and biscotti for dessert) I signed the check, dropped some cash on the table and went to the garden room to collect my parents.
Eating dinner in the same restaurant on my date was only partially bearable, but having them in the same theater was beyond the pale. I insisted that they drop us off and come back to pick us up later. I couldn’t have them cramp the flow of me and Nancy laughing our way through Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo.
I got our tickets and asked Nancy if she wanted any popcorn. She didn’t and I was glad to hear it because I had not calculated the whole bucket of popcorn location logistics when I had gone over my plan to casually slide my arm around her during the show. I picked out a couple of seats for us in the respectable-girl, nervous-boy middle section…not too close to the back of the theater make-out zone and not way up front, where the little kids liked to sit.
About a third of the way into the movie, I decided to make my move. You know “the move.” The ultra-cool and casual arm stretch that ends with your arm around the shoulder. The rush of young boy hormones took over my faculties and at the last second, I abandoned the casual, around and over the back of the seat shoulder grasp and went for a move with a much greater level of difficulty. Mid-stretch with my arm pointing to the theater ceiling I tossed caution to the wind and put my hand right on her knee. I stuck the landing. It was exhilarating. Not only did she not move my hand, she didn’t even acknowledge it! She was so casual about the fact that my hand was right there on her knee. A girl’s knee! She was so good about it that I even gave her a smile and a glance to make sure she knew that I was making a move. She looked right back into my eyes and smiled. It was cool with her. I didn’t know what “base” this was, but I was on it. For the next hour I wore that knee out. I rubbed it, patted it and gave it an occasional squeeze. Every time I looked at her I did so with an unspoken question, “Who’s knee is that? Yeah baby, that’s MY knee.” I was the coolest guy I knew.
I ignored the movie and daydreamed about the next week in school. The other guys would build an altar to me, Tom Ramsey, the guy who got some knee. I would be the toast of the locker room, the knee-holding, lady-killing, Sean Cassity of St. Francis Xavier Middle School.
But I was prideful. And just like they taught in the Catechisms class at St. Francis, “Pride cometh before the fall.”
At the end of the movie, as the house lights came up, I had to look. I had
to get a fully-lit glimpse of my handy work and alas I discovered that my hand was firmly affixed to the end of her denim purse.
When cooking for a first date, don’t rely on some recipe for spaghetti that you “perfected” in college. Cook with passion and passion will be the result. The following recipes are guaranteed to impress your date, but they require a bit of skill or at least practice. Invite a guy friend over and both of you practice making this dish. Your friend will appreciate the meal and your date will appreciate the fact that you can say “Au Poivre.” [oh PWAHV-rh]
Steak Au Poivre
4 beef tenderloin fillets (1 ½” thick)
2 tssp. whole black peppercorns
1 bunch parsley
1 tsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/3 cup cognac
1 cup heavy cream
Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees and put dinner plates in the oven to warm while prepping and cooking. Set the steaks out for one hour before cooking and allow them to come to room temperature. Place the peppercorns in a plastic bag, put the bag on a cutting board and cover with a dishcloth. Crush the peppercorns with the bottom of a small pan or skillet, and spread the crushed pepper on a dry plate. Season the steaks with a pinch of salt each and press them (both sides) onto the plate of peppercorns making sure that they are evenly coated with pepper. Finely chop parsley.
Heat a heavy skillet (black iron is best) over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and butter. When the butter starts to smoke, add all four steaks and cook for 4 minutes on each side (medium rare). Remove the steaks from the pan and set aside under a tent made from folded aluminum foil (think Boy Scouts, not circus).
Return the skillet to the heat and add all but a dash of the brandy. When the brandy begin to bubble, ignite the liquid with a long match or stick lighter. SLOWLY swirl the brandy in the pan until the flame goes out. Don’t stick your face in the pan to see if it is burning…it is, and nothing is less appetizing than the smell of burned hair. MAKE SURE THE VENT IS TURNED OFF WHEN YOU DO THIS SO AS NOT TO SEND FLAMES INTO THE VENT AND BURN DOWN YOUR HOUSE (If you do burn down the house, don’t use the word flambé with the insurance adjuster, use the words “faulty wiring”). Slowly whip the cream into the brandy reduction and stir frequently until the sauce thickens and reaches a velvety consistency (usually 4-5 minutes). Add the remaining brandy (no more than 1 tsp.) and stir before serving. Strain the sauce into a serving dish or measuring cup.
Serve on warmed plates, with the edges of the steaks leaning on the whipped potatoes. Drizzle the sauce over the top and around the base of the steak. Garnish with chopped parsley.
2 large russet potatoes
2 green onions
½ cup whole milk
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Peel and cube potatoes. Finely chop green onions.
In a large saucepan or medium stock pot, cover potatoes with cold water, add 1 tsp. salt and bring to a boil. Continue boiling until potatoes are tender enough for a knife to pass through them with little resistance. This should take about 12-15 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Drain all but ¼ cup of water from the potatoes and return the pot to the stove. If you can’t determine this amount by “eyeballing” the liquid, remove ¼ cup of the hot water, set aside and then drain the potatoes completely and return the reserved water to the pot. With a potato masher or ricer, mash the potatoes until all the lumps are gone. Add butter and stir thoroughly. Slowly add the milk, a little bit at a time and whip with an immersion blender while the milk is added. You may not use all of the milk before the desired consistency is reached. When the potatoes are velvety and completely lump-free, add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve hot and top with chopped green onions.
1 bunch asparagus
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. olive oil
1 pitcher ice water
Thoroughly wash and rinse asparagus stalks. Pick up each piece (gripping the base and the upper 1/3 of the stalk) and bend it until it breaks. Repeat this with all of the stalks.
Fill a large saucepan with water, add a tsp. of salt and bring to a light boil. Add asparagus spears and cook them for about one minute. When they turn a brighter shade of green, remove them from the boiling water, place them in a large mixing bowl and cover them with ice water. Once they have cooled, drain the water and set them aside, covered until ready to cook.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add butter and olive oil. When the butter melts and begins to foam, add asparagus and season with salt and pepper. Cook until hot and still firm, tossing frequently to ensure even heat.
Serve hot and drizzle with lemon juice.
Dressing Tips for a First (or any) Date
- If anything on your body has writing on it (clothing, jewelry etc), take it off and put on something else.
- Shave. You may look rough and rugged with a couple days of beard growth, but she’ll appreciate not getting rug burn on her face on a first date.
- Shine your shoes. You should have done this anyway, but certainly do this before a date.
- She should only be able to smell your cologne if you are slow-dancing. Which you should do in your kitchen, after dinner, before you wash the dishes, to anything by Al Green.
- Fingernails – clean and trimmed, Underarms – clean and deodorized, Teeth – clean and minty, Underwear – clean and white. No exceptions.
Alcohol on a First Date
Don’t make a big deal out of booze on your first date and for god’s sake, don’t drink too much. If you want to get hammered, call a few friends over, after your date goes home. Have a bottle of Burgundy resting for the steak. Have a bottle of a crisp white wine (Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier are both excellent choices) in a cooler on the dinner table and offer her a glass as soon as she walks in the front door. If she says “No thank you,” don’t bring it up again, but enjoy a glass for yourself without making a fuss. If she says “Got anything stronger?” don’t forget to tip her before she leaves.
A first date should be a magical experience for all of the senses. The food will take care of taste and smell, so don’t even think about potpourri candles. Your clothes and grooming will take care of sight and touch will take care of itself if all goes according to plan. What’s left is sound.
I’m a child of the ‘80s, so I would call the soundtrack a mixed tape, but you can make a playlist on your iPod or burn a CD. Don’t fall into the Peabo/Barry trap and make the whole thing sound like a parody of bad movie love scenes. Mix it up with some jazz, some classic Motown, some modern tunes and even a little bit of foreign pop, particularly something that has a girl singing in Italian or French. This will show her that you are a world citizen and open to anything. Bowie. You can’t go wrong with Bowie.
Remember, this is a date and not an audition. Be yourself. Be a gentleman and most of all, enjoy yourself. If you have a great time, she should too.