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9 Great dates
First date? Proposal? Birthday? No matter what the dating occasion, M's got you covered with where to go, what to do - and tips for making every date extraordinary

By KRISTINE HANSEN

 

Deciding where to steer the car on date night might be as challenging as choosing what outfit to slip into — fancy or casual? Whimsical or serious? It’s easy to put your dating life on repeat by playing it safe. Maybe you stick to tired-but-true options, like a reservation for two at the same restaurant so often you know the menu by heart, or cheering for your favorite sports team so many times you can spout off stats. Next time you hit the town on a romantic outing, take a detour from conventionalism and try something new as an ode to your love.
 

1. Blind Date

First meetings are tricky: What if you don’t have an instant connection and want to abruptly end the date? Suggest coffee at Alterra at the Lake, the hometown coffee roaster’s most innovative location to date (it’s the former historic Milwaukee River Flushing Staion), along Lake Drive between Bradford Beach and McKinley Marina. If the conversation is flowing and you feel a spark, suggest a lakefront stroll — but, to avoid acting out a cliché, you can inject an impromptu stop for custard (Northpoint Custard) or Tiki drinks (at the Tiki bar on Bradford Beach).
 

2. First Date

On a first date, as a matter of "getting to know each other," the noise and bustle inside a restaurant like Cubanita’s – on Milwaukee Street in downtown Milwaukee – works to your advantage by putting a fun and casual spin on the evening. Psychologists often say immerging yourself in sensory devices is a stimulant for relaxation. What better place to test-drive this theory than a vibrant Cuban restaurant? Start off with Mojitos crafted with fresh mint leaves and ease into your culinary-angled mental vacation with empanadas, chicken marinated in tropical-fruit juices, black tiger shrimp and more. Owners Marc and Marta Bianchini have the rest of the goods to take you there, including black-and-white framed photos of Cuba, orange walls and outdoor seating in the summer months.
 

3. Fourth Date

So now you’ve honed in on a mate who moved you past the first-few dates jitters. Next, you wish to engage in mind-altering discussions to probe further into your date’s psyche and see what makes him or her tick. MAM After Dark, which is the Milwaukee Art Museum’s monthly nighttime social event, is perfect. For $6 each (free for members), this third-Friday of the month event includes access to the traveling exhibit, live music and other performances, hors d’oeuvres, DIY craft stations, and a bar selling craft beer, wine and mixed drinks.
 

4.Parents’ Night Out

Sometimes you have to leave the kids behind to get back to being a couple. And when you do, it’s best to say bye-bye to burgers, pizza, and macaroni and cheese. Le R ve Patisserie & Café in the Wauwatosa village is definitely a "grown-ups" kind of eatery, with desserts that could rival any Parisian patisserie, French tapas (like free-range duck wings with balsamic-cherry reduction) in the afternoon and plenty of fromage and charcuterie. Included on the menu are savory crepes, such as duck confit; splendid seafood dishes like dry boat scallops with smoked paprika pipérade or bouillabaisse; and indulgent sides like truffle-glazed carrots with meat entrées. Even the macaroni and cheese (tossed in aged Gouda) is adult-friendly. The two-story restaurant offers plenty of quiet nooks to hole up with your partner and chat about topics other than the joys and ordeals of raising children. Splurge on wine by indulging in a bottle from the wine list (which represents the globe, not just France) or a glass of Le Reve’s signature sangria. After your gourmet meal, take in a play (a welcome departure from kid-friendly films!) at a nearby theater such as the Village Playhouse of Wauwatosa (coming this fall: "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof") or Sunset Playhouse Community Theater in Elm Grove ("Twelve Angry Men" and "A Sentimental Journey: A Doris Day Retrospective" will be performed this fall).
 

5. Birthday

In addition to celebrating your love, don’t forget to applaud yourself. Birthdays are the perfect excuse to organize a date. If it’s snowing outside and the trees have shed their leaves, consider warming up with a sushi dinner at Izumi’s on the East Side. Reserve the private tatami room, where you’ll be asked by a member of the waitstaff to, upon entry, slip out of your shoes, part the curtain and sit down to a large square table close to the floor. Start off with a ginger martini or a sake selection. If you’re not sold on an entire meal that revolves around sushi, consider other options like Konro grill (beef, tuna, scallops or shrimp grilled tableside), dumplings, chicken teriyaki or Izumi’s "special for two" (salad, sashimi, sushi, tempura, soup, rice and dessert). In the heat of summer, head to The Yard — the impressive outdoor patio beneath the Sixth Street Viaduct at The Iron Horse Hotel in the Fifth Ward. Because it is a dog-friendly hotel, pampered pooches are encouraged to join their owners, should you and your significant other have a dog (or two?). Relax under orange-red shade sails with a cocktail (many recipes use local spirits and other ingredients), pizza baked in a wood-burning oven or buttermilk fried chicken — and gourmet nibbles that include truffle chips, a plate of cured meats, Wisconsin artisan cheeses, duck tacos and mussels. Forget about watching the calories tonight — and your partner’s picky palate — because the menu is diverse enough to please anyone.
 

6. Proposal

Take your relationship to a new level by proposing for his or her hand in marriage at one of the city’s highest points. (Don’t worry, we’re not going to suggest you scale a building.) On the 23rd floor of The Pfister Hotel, Blu hosts sultry jazz and blues sessions (Thursday through Saturday evenings), an innovative martini menu (including crème brulée and s’mores martinis) and walls of windows, boasting a sparkly view of downtown Milwaukee and Lake Michigan. Sink into the pretty blue décor – complete with crystal chandeliers – order a martini and ask (or answer?) one of the most important questions of your life. After, celebrate with fondue (either dark chocolate or beer cheese) and flutes of sparkling wine. If it’s a summer night, head to Hotel Metro’s rooftop patio, Zen on 7. Located on the seventh floor, it’s a mix of indoor and outdoor spaces to help endure either humidity or chilly temps (neither of which you want tainting your proposal plans). The chic patio is romantic, complete with stunning water features and a garden.
 

7. Anniversary

When it’s time to celebrate your union, the last thing you want is to shout to hear each other above the noise in a crowded restaurant. Pastiche Bistro & Wine Bar, along Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View, can help you toast to any anniversary. There are just enough tables (for the record, there are 10) to cultivate a warm, cozy vibe, and the server-diner ratio tips in your favor so you get highly personal service. The mostly French wine list spans light bubbles to deep, dark red wines. Begin by sharing a classic French dish such as frog legs, escargots Bourguignonne or oysters on the half shell before easing into meatier entrées such as Strauss lamb chop finished with a sherry glaze, the classic coq au vin or cassoulet, or catches of the day.
 

8. Double Date

Tapas menus – also called small plates – are designed for sharing. In other words, it’s the perfect meal for you and your date to share with another couple. If you’re on the hunt for a tapas spot perfect for a double date, La Merenda in Walker’s Point is just that. Chef owner Peter Sandroni loves to tinker with meats, vegetables, cheeses and fruits grown and harvested by Wisconsin farms, inspired by regions around the globe. This includes Rushing Waters (Palmyra) rainbow trout in Jamaican jerk tacos and Strauss free-raised lamb meatballs served over beet yogurt tzatziki sauce for a Syrian specialty. The atmosphere inside La Merenda is intimate yet vibrant, giving you space to chat but not get swallowed up in a huge dining room.
 

9. Stay-At-Home Date

Instead of cooking for each other, think about cracking open a cookbook together. French, Italian, Hawaiian, Thai — whatever ethnic cuisine you like, there is a cookbook devoted to it. If you don’t want to splurge on the purchase of a cookbook when you’re not even sure you’ll dig the recipes, cruise around online. The beauty of the Internet is that you can type in pre-selected ingredients (perhaps based on what you bought at the farmer’s market that day or what caught your eye at a specialty market like G. Groppi Food Market, Glorioso’s or V. Richard’s) – using sites like AllRecipes.com and Supercook.com – and recipes will pop up that contain those ingredients. Local wine retailers like Waterford Wine Company, Thief Wine Shop & Bar and Ray’s Wine & Spirits sift through the thousands of bottles out there to bring you only the best, particularly those that are good values. Otherwise, consider these wines that cost under $15 and are of excellent quality: Cupcake Vineyards "Red Velvet Cake" (as luscious as a moist cupcake) and Segura Viudas sparkling wines (cavas from Spain). Be sure to have something to snack on while you are stirring sauces on the stove, or slicing and dicing vegetables. A wedge of artisan cheese produced in Wisconsin is perfect paired with a log of handcrafted, artisan salami from Bolzano Artisan Meats, made in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood.