Shatterproof Summer Dates: Five Romantic Dinners and Destinations Not Even You Can Screw Up
THE COST: Research some recipes that sound fancy, but are fairly easy to make (like soy-glazed salmon, pan-seared filet mignon, or lemon-garlic chicken). Visit Pinzone Meats (Stands B-4 and B-5) and grab two fresh sirloin tips for $5 a pound (about $15 per steak), which are great and cheap for grilling. Or visit Kate’s Fish (Stand F-12 and F-13) and pick up two Atlantic salmon filets for $8.99 per pound, for a healthy, late night affair. Throw in some veggies ($10) and a few Great Lakes beers ($15) and you’ve got a pretty cheap date.
THE KNOWLEDGE: Adventurous food choices will show an open mind willing to try new things. In contrast, hunting for the perfect hamburgers between complaints about the cleanliness of the fruit will unleash the miscreant date monster beneath. Pay close attention to their urban diplomacy skills. The ability to wrangle with artful street vendors (while being funny, smart, and getting a good price) will only add bonus points to the long-term relationship formula.
2. A Classy Evening with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom
THE SCORE: Lay out a blanket, grab two glasses of wine, and enjoy one of the “Big Five” orchestras in America (considered to be the most European) and consistently ranked one of the top ten in the world, while enjoying the pastoral beauty of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park . The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2009 Blossom Festival concerts (19 in all from July 3 through September 6) provide the perfect opportunity to show off your big brains and mature music tastes. But knowing your way around the Cuyahoga Valley National Park means you’re also an outdoorsy, rough-around-the-edges type. After you’ve finished listening to Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, hike down to the valley’s famous Towpath Trail or its great blue heron nesting grounds (both just minutes away) for a romantic, woodsy stroll.
THE MEAL: An intriguing choice for dinner might be the Winking Lizard (330.467.1002) just down the road in Peninsula, serving up brewskis, buffalo wings and valley views on its outdoor patio. Show you’re equally happy drinking beer and dining on pub grub as you would be sipping wine and talking Tchaikovsky. For more swank, hit the Japanese hibachi restaurant Otani’s (330.836.1500) in the valley; it’s group seating, so watch how your partner gels with strangers.
THE COST: Lawn tickets will only set you back $38 for a pair. Individual pavilion tickets range from $19 to $42 a piece, but lawn seating is preferred for a little amore; chairs, umbrellas, and blankets are also allowed, although you can’t bring in your own booze. Contact the ticket office at 216.231.1111 or just visit www.clevelandorchestra.com.
THE KNOWLEDGE: An outdoor orchestra date is an interesting sophistication experiment. Does your partner exude your requisite amounts of cultural and social polish? If a night a Blossom with Beethoven pails in comparison to past Poison concerts on the same patch of grass, then your IQ radar will at least weed out the ugly types. Why tolerate both bad looks and bad taste?
3. Night at the Drive-In
THE SCORE: While the cliché movie date smacks of unoriginality, the outdoor drive-in experience on a summer night in the casual coziness of your car might make a few sparks fly. The Aut-O-Rama Twin Drive-In in North Ridgeville (right off the 152 exit of the Ohio Turnpike) is one of the last drive-in theaters left in Northeast Ohio (it’s also arguably the best). Besides running the cream-of-the-crop latest releases on two different giant white screens, the drive-in allows you to bring in your own food and drinks (with an extra $5 permit). Prepare a romantic concoction of drink and film snacks, cue the soundtrack into your car stereo and show how much you love movie magic. Play old school charmer or enchantress and sit in the back seat, where you can stretch out and relax.
THE MEAL: The antique and upscale Italian/American restaurant called Nemo Grille will solidify the old-fashioned atmosphere for the retro drive-in movie date. Located fairly close by in Avon’s historic French Creek District (about eight miles away or a 15-minute drive), the restaurant has a nice mix of traditional and exotic entrees (from Muscovy Duck Breast to Blackened Grouper) and its quaint, bygone charm will give the impression that you’re palate is as mature as your restaurant destination. Act clever and order something classy from Nemo’s extensive wine cellar. 440.934.0061, 36976 Detroit Road, Avon, OH 44011
THE COST: The Aut-O-Rama Twin Drive will set you back $14 for two tickets, with an outside “Food and Beverage Permit” ringing in at $5 per car. The Aut-O-Rama is open seven days a week from Memorial Day through Labor Day (440-327-9595). For dinner, Nemo Grille will revolve around the $70 to $100 mark for a nice two-person dinner. Appetizers go from $8-$11, entrees from $17-$29, and a glass of wine from $7-$13.
THE KNOWLEDGE: Find out how your partner will react in a physically intimate setting. Is it an arm around the waist, a romantic kiss or straight to second base? Lay out the groundwork for finding out if this date is all about friends, intimacy or just seeing Transformers 2 (and plan according).
4. Ghosts, Castles and Juice Bars
THE SCORE: A spooky adventure is always a sure bet for arm-clutching romance. Visit two famous haunted venues for the evening, including Squire’s Castle (in the Metropark’s North Chagrin Reservation) and Johnny Mango’s World Café and Bar in Cleveland. From I-271, take the Wilson Mills Road exit to Chagrin River Road and find the entrance to the abandoned Squire’s Castle, still haunted by the wife of Feargus Squire (she supposedly broke her neck in the hunting room). Holding hands tightly, walk your date around the structure at dusk, exploring the hollow windows and stonework; it’s actually only a gatekeeper’s lodge, not a castle (no need to play that up, Romeo). Do a little research on the history (try www.deadohio.com) and show your knack for drama, retelling the numerous reports of a female specter seen in the upstairs windows, clutching a lantern, and searching for eternal rest.
THE MEAL: Keep with the kitschy fright night theme by hitting Johnny Mango’s for a delectable and mysterious dinning experience (it’s about 20 miles away). Johnny Mango’s has enough unique drinks and dinners to be bizarre already, with its oddball Juice Bar (try a Pelican Kiss), its Caribbean style of vegetarian cuisine (sample those sweet Caribbean French Fries) or its unique local meats (like the Tuna Cancuna). The odd eatery also has a fun ghost story – about a woman named Margaret, who died when her trolley car plummeted into the Cuyahoga River. Have the waiter tell the story, while sipping on two Zoni Beach strawberry milkshakes like teenagers ($5.50 each). 216.575.1919, 3120 Bridge Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44113
THE COST: You could easily pull of this date for $50. A check list for two at Johnny Mango’s includes: juices typically around $3-$4.50 per glass, appetizers from $3-$7, main dishes from $8-$19 and pitchers of margaritas or other mixed drinks for $23-$27. Feel free to stay past the witching hour–the bar is open to 1am.
THE SCORE: The supernatural date is a good opportunity to assess what’s called the Big Five personality traits in psychology. Do they have the tendency to seek excitement and scares? Then they are probably an extravert, which means they love to seek (ahem) stimulation and enjoy the company of others. If your date is easily upset or persistently negative about the experience, they’re exhibiting traits of Neuroticism – they’re a moody personality, easily irritated, and prone to more than a few mortifying date moments.
5. Amore in Little Italy, Hipsters in Coventry
THE SCORE: Turn a simple date of dinner and drinks into a savvy city tour with the bohemian flavors of Cleveland Heights’ Little Italy and Coventry Village. Parade your big heart for old-fashioned charm by booking a “Lady and the Tramp” dinner reservation for two with steaming plates of pasta in Cleveland’s famous Italian-American district. A few miles down the road is Coventry Road (between Mayfield Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard) where you can window shop one of the coolest streets in Cleveland. Show you’re still a big kid and duck into the retro toy store Big Fun (216.631.4386), hunt for vintage vinyl at Record Revolution (216.321.7661), and then end up the at the famous rock club the Grog Shop (216.321.5588) or at its liquor lounge counterpart B-Side (216.932.1966).
THE MEAL: Guarino’s is one of the oldest and best of Little Italy’s famous food haunts. The dining area is intimate, so reservations are a must. Italian opera plays while you dine on traditional Sicilian delicacies with veal, chicken, fish and pasta. The lasagna is made using the same recipe Mama Guarino used decades ago. Be a charmer and order both desserts — a generous serving of authentic spumoni and a light, brisk tiramisu. 216.231.3100, 12309 Mayfield Road
THE COST: Dinner at Guarino’s is relatively cheap dining experience, considering the awesome ambience. Dine on dishes like Gnocchi Pesto ($12), Lasagna alla Guarino ($14) or the Veal Ossobucco ($22); outdoor seating is also available. Concert tickets to the Grog Shop range from $8-$20 a piece.
THE KNOWLEDGE: Coventry is one of Northeast Ohio’s hotbeds for artistic, musical and hippie communities–a little village of Cleveland’s creative class. Find out if your partner is a similar free spirit. Does the site of a head shop like Sunshine Head-Quarters Too (216.321.1211) cause giggles or gasps? What types of music can actually make them dance? Discover an assortment of intimate details–everything from their best-loved albums to their childhood favorite toys. –By Keith Gribbins
1. Handpick a Homemade Meal at West Side Market
THE SCORE: A perfect candlelight dinner is all in the planning. To guarantee good food with a romantic mood, why not take your date to Ohio City’s historic West Side Market to shop for a meal? Show your social finesse and worldliness by picking out an appetizing homemade meal from rows of bustling, old country vendors. At the corner of West 25th and Lorain, the giant market offers halls full of fresh fruits and vegetables, cold cases of meat and fish, and the hot bakery smells of desserts and breads. Showcase your street smarts haggling with different ethnic merchants and your good taste in cooking healthy eats by handpicking a meal you can make together.