Newsday's Scott Vogel visited ITA Kitchen in Garden City to dish out some advice for picking a first-date restaurant.  Credit: Randee Daddona

Here’s to you for achieving what eludes so many singles online these days: a match. We know how tense it was to surrender to the dating apps, how often you wondered whether the hours spent mastering the dark arts of witty-banter texting, killer-confidence selfies and judicious emojiness would come to naught, whether you’d emerge from the romantic jungle empty-handed, with swiping tendinitis, blue light-singed eyeballs and nothing to show for it. But you didn’t. So, congratulations! All you need do now is discover whether the two of you can stand each other’s physical presence in the actual world.

Aiding in this transition from virtual to real is what’s known as the first date, which will likely take place at a restaurant. But which one? Here are eight premier spots for premier meetings, plus info on how to order (and how not), what to do when you’ve swiped right (and terribly wrong), and more.


258 E. Montauk Hwy., Hampton Bays

Many a budding match has foundered over actions inconsiderate — not checking to see if your date hates fish, for instance, before booking a table at a restaurant with fish in the name. Having successfully cleared that hurdle, you might also inquire as to whether this person enjoys a farmhouse-like setting, serene Hampton Bays water views and fine seafood preparations, everything from New Orleans-style shrimp with jasmine rice to buttery New England clam chowder, to diver scallops with poached berries in a parsnip puree. If the answer to any of these is no, consider reentering the dating pool at your earliest opportunity, as you have obviously matched with a cretin. If yes, head to Cowfish’s lively upstairs bar or the patio in good weather or, especially, the main dining room, with its exposed-beam high ceilings, straight back chairs and hardwood floors. Here, the restaurant is at its most seductive, serious and romantic yet so relaxed, you might even find yourself lulled into ordering the house specialty Danish baby back ribs. Which would be great if gnawing on pork bones was a courtship ritual among any of the higher primates. Sadly, no. More info: 631-594-3868,

Baby back ribs at Cowfish in Hampton Bays.

Baby back ribs at Cowfish in Hampton Bays. Credit: Yvonne Albinowski

Blackbird Kitchen & Cocktails

3026 Merrick Rd., Wantagh

For some, the first order of business will be fact-checking a candidate’s online profile, i.e., assessing how well their claims mesh with reality on such trivial matters as age, weight and marital status. For everyone else there is this Wantagh hot spot, where the walls are dark, the music soft and — crucially — the light from overhead pendant lamps low enough to shave off dozens of pounds and/or years. If both parties pass the physical, transition to Blackbird’s list of carefully constructed, fancifully named cocktails, opting for, say, gin drinks that sound a hopeful note (Be Seeing You) over tequila ones that don’t (Last Dance). Following that, select from several dependably scrumptious small plates. Do not underestimate the romantic possibilities of canoodling over tagliatelle with shaved truffles, or sharing little logs of Gouda gougeres or even a kale Caesar salad amid low light conditions. Indeed, everything is possible in Blackbird’s shadows, from a discreet kiss when things are going great, to slipping away under cover of darkness when they aren’t. More info: 516-654-9200,

ITA Kitchen

9 Nassau Blvd., Garden City South and 45 W. Main St., Bay Shore

After spending a recent evening at the new Garden City location of this growing Italian concern, a patron declared both the restaurant and her date to be “fun and folksy with a hint of danger,” a description neatly explaining why she eats there so often (and why she was one-and-done with the guy.) Danger at ITA comes most often in the form of spice — the HBIC cocktail’s jalapeno-infused tequila posits the margarita as menace, the sausage and broccoli rabe egg rolls come dressed with a cherry pepper aioli that’ll stop your watch — and ordering either is like being in a toxic relationship you just can’t quit. Still, not everything on the ITA menu is fiery. The pesto risotto balls are luscious and shareable, the pastas uber-fresh and cooked to perfection, the pork chops fork-tender. As a bonus, the décor — ”Parmesan Dreams” in pink neon cursive, faux-cherry blossoms decorated with fairy lights, artificial living wall — doubles as a reliable predictor of future compatibility. Design experts may disagree as to whether such elements are classy or corny, but you and your date need to be on the same page. After all, you may need to live with this person someday. More info:

The HBIC cocktail at ITA Kitchen in Garden City South.

The HBIC cocktail at ITA Kitchen in Garden City South. Credit: Randee Daddona

The Brass Rail

107 Forest Ave., Locust Valley

Disclosing that one is a certifiable slob at the table is intel better left for second dates, and we can’t help but agree with online yentas when it comes to the dangers posed by chicken wings, calzones and bobbing for apples right off the bat. Still, we draw the line at the grilled shrimp tacos at this dignified if long-in-the-tooth stalwart, a perfect first-date venue both for dignified if long-in-the-tooth daters and anyone craving a cozy neighborhood spot whose gutsy sound system pairs Ol’ Blue Eyes’ “Fly Me to the Moon” with T-Swizzle’s “Anti-Hero.” The tacos are a delicious, as is the french dip sandwich and an appetizer of juicy, tender lamb chops served “wu style.” And while the menu may not be ideal for wu-ing a mate, the décor and service at this Locust Valley eatery exude a warmth and friendliness capable of calming even the most jittery single’s nerves, from the polished antique bar that inspired its name to the tables in the back dining room, where forest green walls, white tablecloths and a wooden grid-pattern ceiling sing a song of love and Pinterest. More info: 516-723-9103,

Standard Rec

49 E. Main St., Patchogue

 Another night, another disturbing bit of pink neon phraseology above the bar (” let’s pretend this never happened”), although a better message for this hot spot would be — sing it, Adele! — “love is a game for fools to play, and I ain’t fooling.” All of which is to say, if your idea of a perfect date is a few rounds of Ms. Pac-Man and a game of Yahtzee, then 1) no wonder you’re still single, and 2) by all means head to this inspired Patchogue mashup of restaurant-lounge, retro video game parlor. Borrow a Scrabble board and order an Astro Pop, a boozy paean to the multicolored lollipop, or get to know each other over a fishbowl cocktail with two straws, stealing glances as Swedish fish swim dazedly below through a murky habitat of vodka, Red Bull and Nerds. Standard’s bar bites are fun and unfailingly shareable, whether we’re talking bao buns or big ol’ soft pretzels, cauliflower tempura or corn empanadas. And if you’re one of those for whom love’s fires are stoked by a little gentle competition — and if not, why are you here? — don’t leave home without a sack of quarters. Hot and heavy games of Skee-Ball and electronic basketball are regular sights in the back parlor area. More info:, 631-730-8100,

Standard Rec in Patchogue.

Standard Rec in Patchogue. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

On the Border

200 Broadway Mall, Hicksville and 45 Middle Ave., Holtsville

I find you special — that’s the message your first-date restaurant should send, a message that’s sure to land in their spam folder if you choose a place with 800 locations nationwide. Still, some first-daters feel more comfortable at the chains, a few of which actually manage a little charm, like this Tex-Mex eatery, boasting a lively crowd at both its Hicksville and Holtsville locations, not to mention a wallet-friendly price point. (Memo to loveless-but-broke types: happy hour makes for a rock-bottom rendezvous.) In the dining room, plumes of fajita smoke rising from daters’ tables are a regular sight, a testament to the sizzling deliciousness of mesquite-fired meat and its DIY presentation (i.e., if the conversation lags, it helps to have something to do). And speaking of which, many a first meeting has been rescued from awkwardness by OTB’s goblets of margaritas, which are available in two sizes, multiple flavors, a full spectrum of colors and innumerable brands of tequila — a margantuan selection sure to delight Hicks and Holts alike. More info:

Maldon & Mignonette

243 Glen Cove Ave., Sea Cliff

Disturbed as we were to discover that this Sea Cliff eatery was named not for some doomed pair of lovers from French literature but plain old salt and pepper, there’s something undeniably passionate going on here. From its décor — splashed on one wall are big, bold quotes reminding diners that cooking is love, life leaves marks on your heart, etc. — to the appealing quirkiness of its mood and menu, M & M has a lot to say, and much to recommend lovers of talk. The warm wooden accents, well-spaced tables and barely audible music almost beg you and yours to discover each other through deep, rambling conversations that extend long into the evening. The food will give you something to discuss as well, and we’re not just talking about the bacon and peanut butter appetizer that somehow incorporates red quinoa and roasted carrots to interesting effect, or the Caesar salad with melted provolone inspired by the chef’s visit to Ibiza, or the lovely fried chicken, its batter heart-stopping in every sense. More info: 516-801-3250,

Bacon and peanut butter with roasted carrot and red quinoa,...

Bacon and peanut butter with roasted carrot and red quinoa, served at Maldon & Mignonette in Sea Cliff. Credit: Daniel Brennan


429 N. Country Rd., St. James

Scene: early evening. We are nursing a clever little black cherry bourbon sour at this enchanting St. James restaurant’s bar, gazing at the cozy dining area, patiently awaiting the arrival of the love and intrigue for which its moody candlelit décor would seem tailor-made, when a guy a few stools over begins hectoring the bartender about the price of a cocktail he’s guzzling as his date looks on in horror. It’s one of those triple felonies of dating (cheap, rude to the help, guzzling) that Cosmo is forever warning you about, a display all the more egregious for having targeted NoCo’s polished, unflappable staff. But there are other red flags worth watching for. Does your companion get all touchy-feely while fighting you over the last mouthwatering flash-fried oyster in the shell? Shame you for inhaling NoCo’s juicy half-pound burger with bacon in under five minutes? Love-bomb you with compliments such as “you’re like this grilled octopus — beautiful, fresh and delicious with saffron aioli?” The dating gods will not be offended if you ghost any and all such people, once they’ve handed over the last oyster, that is. More info: , 631-250-9600,

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