Cooking & Fooking with The Bare Naked Critic
Advice for Those Who Indulge in Food and Love
I am smitten with this little honey from a work project we recently completed together. She’s classy, sparkling with personality and her style is always impressive. Plus, I think she is throwing me the eye. I want to take her for a “Thank You” dinner, but am struggling with an appropriate place. Where can I take her that says “I think you’re hot and I want to see you more often” but also keeps it simple and seemingly professional?
-Male, 30-something, Southeast D.C.
Dear Curator of Love,
Oh yes, the ol’ game of cat and mouse. Luckily, you’ve reached out to an expert Cat. Meow. Without a doubt, a date like this needs to be planned to the tee. Most men would jump into it without considering how very delicate these situations can be and how easily the sexual energy can be squashed with the wrong move. In order to score a future, less professional date, the whole evening must be set up for success.
These situations can be tricky, especially in Washington D.C. Let’s be honest, in our city, there are no secrets and everyone knows someone you know. That being said, it’s important to keep your intentions discrete. Yet you must do so without losing focus on your goal. No matter how well or terrible your time together goes that evening, you must plan to slip away at a decent, “professional,” hour. You tell her you have work to prepare for an early morning start the next day. It will get you out of there before the cocktails really settle in and it will, of course, leave her tingling in anticipation for your next step.
Assuming this little honey accepts your invitation, I have the perfect restaurant in mind and a few pieces of advice that will calm any insecurity you might have about the evening. The first one is, get rid of your insecurities! Showing any sign of weakness or doubt in the first few intimate encounters is a huge error. Women, however educated, are emotional beings and want to know that their man is centered, mature and secure. For us, it’s the most important thing. After a cute butt.
Meeting for dinner on a weekend is too date-like. Instead meet on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Also, to keep to it professional, make reservations at a reasonable hour, say 7 or 8 p.m.? Make sure she knows in advance to provide her own transportation. There will be no pick-ups or drop-offs. If she wants to meet beforehand or invites you over afterwards, remember to tell her you have obligations before and after dinner, even though it may not be the truth.
In choosing a location, you want an ambiance that encourages relaxation, promotes talking and feels sexy. If you are struggling to hear each other or forced to converse in a whisper, your evening might be ruined. Also, do not venture too far off the beaten path. You want her to feel comfortable in a central and well-known location as she will be arriving and leaving alone.
I think the perfect D.C. restaurant for this occasion is Zentan at Donovan House in Thomas Circle. A down-the-middle pan-Asian spot with a stylish flair is exactly what you need for this type of occasion. Plus, because it is a hotel restaurant, there is the silent suggestiveness behind your choice. Sure, it’s a subtle statement, but a statement nonetheless. Also, there is something erotic about Asian cuisine. Maybe it is those little iconic boxes (though you won’t find these at Zentan,) the chopsticks or the fact that it’s a common go-to grease feast after hours of bedroom playtime. Let these elements be your more forward statements, and keep your words focused on getting to know more about those little eccentricities that intrigued you about her in the first place.
I’ve been to Zentan a number of times and the clientele is always a consistent mix of business professionals, power couples, tourists and the occasional D.C. hipster looking for some sushi and a well-made cocktail. The décor is just the right amount of trendy and is compensated with a variety of seating options, electric candle-light and drapery. Call ahead to reserve a spot in the back room where you and your date can have a little more privacy. You two will fit in just perfectly.
Once you sit down, don’t be over-eager to order. You want her to feel relaxed and not rushed. Because you two have worked together, the pace of your conversations must change. Now it’s all about charisma and soothing words to get her guard down. Order a nice bowl of heaping edamame ($7) with your cocktails and casually peruse the menu between conversation breaks. If you are in the mood for sake, ask the wait staff for a chilled recommendation or opt for the mid-grade Moon on the Water, Junmai Ginjo ($28) and savor the flavors of lime, melon, fennel and white pepper. The idea is to finish your first drink before the meal arrives so you can order your second one to enjoy with dinner. Oh, and on this date, there is no third drink. This is not the time to get sloppy.
If your date has never been to Zentan, you should be prepared to make some recommendations. Not everyone eats sushi and sashimi, so make sure some of your suggestions include fish and noodle dishes. If she does eat sushi and sashimi she’ll know more or less what she likes and won’t need your input. Ordering from a menu on the first few dates can be a very telling experience for some people. It can be a chance to prove how knowledgeable they are on that particular cuisine or an opportunity to demonstrate they know what they want and how they want it.
Here are some of my favorite dishes at Zentan (not including sushi):
• Salt and Pepper Calamari $11: A tasty fry of your favorite appetizer with a citrus smoked chili mayo for dipping. • Chickpea Onion Tempura $9: A surprisingly tasty appetizer comprised of ginger, mango chutney and minted yogurt. • Singapore Slaw $16: Nineteen ingredients dressed and mixed at the table including jicama, taro root, carrots, hazelnuts, and pickled onion in a plum dressing. • Cantonese Marinated Skirt Steak $26: A great steak with melted shallot brown butter, chili ponzu and crunchy hazelnuts. • Carmelized Black Cod $26: Probably my favorite dish at Zentan served with Cantonese preserved vegetables and painted with miso mustard.
Zentan at Donovan House, 1155 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005, 202-379-4366, ZentanRestaurant.com