No couple forgets their first date, and the choice of venue can set the tone for the entire relationship. That's why I took my future wife to Pizza Hut in London's Leicester Square. By setting expectations below sea level, I ensured that I could only exceed them in future. (Just to be sure, I made her split the check.)
A different school of thought holds that romance is more likely to flourish in (say) a softly lit, wood-paneled dining room with Miles Davis on the stereo than in (say) a brightly lit basement, hard up against the salad bar. In Buenos Aires, restaurants of the former kind are concentrated in the upscale neighborhoods of Palermo and Recoleta, with outliers cropping up in Belgrano, Puerto Madero, and, increasingly, San Telmo. Would-be cupids should be careful where they aim. While it’s not entirely true to say there’s an inverse relationship between a restaurant’s eye-appeal and the quality of its food, it’s not entirely false either. Romance begins with research.
Who knows why, but sending some raw oysters down the hatch with a squeeze of lemon and a splash of Tabasco is about the most fun a couple can have in a room crowded with strangers. As well as the oyster bar, this half-lit, loft-like space offers a terrific selection of mod-Argentine dishes (braised lamb is the perfect sequel to those bivalves) and great cocktails.
You’ll get brownie points just for knowing about this place, a word-of-mouth success with a supper club vibe. Colombian chef Santiago Macias’s seven-course tasting menu takes South American cuisine in new directions, and threatens to give fusion a good name. Duck confit with tamarind and quinoa salad, and braised pork in a coffee and sugar cane reduction are among his recent hits. I took my wife here and was rewarded with a kiss on the lips—it’s that good.
Germán Martitegui is one of Argentina’s leading chefs and restaurateurs, and this award-winning joint is his flagship. Designed by Horacio Gallo, the svelte, monochrome space with open kitchen is a date night Shangri-La. You’ll eat well too, with gnocchi and sweetbreads, rabbit terrine, and very slowly braised lamb among the flawlessly executed dishes.
Lunch date? Try this bright-white bistro with big windows overlooking Avenida Caseros, whose bow-windowed apartment buildings are among the city’s most beautiful. The daily set menu includes both meat and vegetarian options—a rich and rustic bondiola (pork loin) with mash, perhaps, or homemade spinach ravioli in a vibrant tomato sauce. Service is, shall we say, unrushed.
L’Atelier de Celine
Celine is from Lille, her lovely house in San Telmo is from 1807, and the menu in her restaurant is from your favorite old cookbook. There’s comforting onion soup, liver mousse with pickles, magret de canard with chutney, rich rabbit stew and tart Tarte Tatin. The menu changes with the weather—as, of course, does the popularity of the rooftop terrace.