The Bachelorette's Rules Diet
First-date restaurants should provide lots of visual and aural stimuli to cover any awkward gaps in the conversation. Live music is a plus, as is a busy design scheme. The most important thing to remember is this: Always have in your mind tiny and numerous behavioral hoops for your date to jump through.
The Brewer's Art (1106 N. Charles St.,  547-6925) fulfills all of these first-date criteria, and then some. The bar and dining room upstairs will help you see if your date can handle himself in a sophisticated setting amid a hip clientele, and the dark downstairs will test his assertiveness skills as he tries to elbow his way up to the bartender and then sets about finding you a table tucked away in one of the basement's intimate niches. Also up for inspection will be his tolerance of tattooed artist types. You'll also be able to determine whether your date is a suds-hound--if he's not at least somewhat altered after one pint of Resurrection Ale, there's something wrong. Notable items on the surprisingly ambitious menu include steak frites, cioppino, and beer-braised rabbit served like a shepherd's pie.
Nearby in Mount Vernon, the City Café (1001 Cathedral St.,  539-4252) provides useful tests of another kind. Because City Café is a popular destination for popular gay men, you'll be able to determine, by evening's end, whether your date is a) homophobic, b) attractive in ways that you might not have necessarily noticed, or c) gay. And, similarly, if you yourself are a gay man and this a date with another man, you'll be able to figure out if your date is a big slut. The café is about evenly divided between a sunlit upper level, where food is ordered at a counter, and a somewhat more formal lower level, with table service.
Grownups have always brought their sweethearts to the Brass Elephant (924 N. Charles St.,  547-8485), a converted Mount Vernon townhouse with all of its elegance intact. Savory appetizers like smoked-salmon crêpes highlight a conservatively Continental menu, but the food is prepared with inspiring confidence and consistency. Should you start to get ideas, the Brass Elephant is available for private weddings.
Chameleon Café (4341 Harford Road,  254-2376) opened more than a year ago to immediate and near universal acclaim in its charming Lauraville home. This intimate place is great for a first date, or any other occasion for that matter. The small but adventurous menu of classically prepared food provides a good tool for identifying those problematic picky eaters.
The centrally located Donna's (800 N. Charles St.,  385-0180, other locations) has always been a popular first-date restaurant. The signature grilled vegetables, pastas, and Tuscan-inspired pastas serve as preludes to delicious dessert, and changing artwork enlivens the handsome interior.
Couples ought to love dining at Federal Hill's Blue Agave Restaurante y Tequileria (1032 Light St.,  576-3938), in part, of course, to the nerve-dejangling selection of 70-plus tequilas but also to the staff's unstinting hospitality and the arousing earthiness of entrées like grilled quail and slow-roasted pork. Chef Michael Marx has described Blue Agave as his playground--it's an apt description for a restaurant that knows what to take seriously (the regional cuisines of the Yucatan, Baja California, and Central Mexico; the fresh imported ingredients) and what not to (itself).
La Scala (1012 Eastern Ave.,  783-9209) and Pazza Luna (1401 E. Clement St.,  727-1212): The first gets our vote for Little Italy's best second-date restaurant. (We never recommend ordering lobster on a first date, but on the second, go for it.) With a name inspired by the passions of opera, a sense of the romantic permeates this cozy establishment, where you get good fresh parmagianno-reggiano shaved onto your pasta--perhaps an admirable spaghetti alla carbonara. Also occupying that hotly debated "expensive but usually worth it" category, Locust Point's Pazza Luna lays on the Sinatra-influenced romantic atmosphere as thick as tomato paste, so you might as well go there with someone you're at least a little sweet on. Just make sure that both of you partake of the kitchen's liberally dispensed garlic.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201