The dating pecking order tends to go like this: dinner, drinks, coffee. Anything less than dinner tells your companion you’re less willing to invest, in one sense or another. But the dessert date, a trendy new courting ritual, sends no such message. It’s still cheap—without seeming that way. I mean, it was one thing when the dessert bar ChikaLicious opened in the East Village last summer, but you can even do it at Daniel now; it just launched a dessert-only menu for the lounge. And you’ll never be halfway through your entrée (and $174 down) when you realize your date is completely insane. In the interest of finding these things out over sweets, I brought a honey to some of the city’s most strategic dessert-dating sites.
Daniel’s “dessert lounge” is the rare chance to enjoy an expensive French restaurant for $30 a couple. “The problem with dinner at a place like this,” says my date, a Euro, “is that you’d end up spending at least $200 and you may never see the girl again! This dessert thing takes the pressure off.” Here ours were served on silver platters with silver spoons. For another $30 a couple, they’ll pair everything with dessert-dedicated wine or cocktails. Plus, the swanky lounge has plush velvet couches; try that at the table. My chocolate upside-down soufflé was seductive, and my date’s tray of artful desserts, including a crème brûlée, were smooth and sweet. He told me, still speaking objectively about dating, “A girl will think you are sophisticated for taking her here.” 60 East 65th Street (212-288-0033).
ChikaLicious was the trend-starter—an all-white, Japanese minimalist space offering a $12 prix fixe dessert. Sitting next to each other at the counter making conversation about the food is a great first-date fallback: “Those chocolate tarts look like pasties!” Our sculptural, postmodern desserts started with an amuse of yellow tomato gelée with basil sorbet, followed by an anime-size glacier of fromage blanc island cheesecake. The place is tiny, so if your date is a disaster, you can always hit on the person next to you—who’s almost touching your shoulder already. 203 East 10th Street (212-995-9511).
For my Internet blind date, I choose the classic Caffé Dante. This Italian café is perfect for meeting a stranger because it’s safe—Mario Flotta, the owner, presides over the place like a godfather—and the tables on tree-lined Macdougal Street are romantic. My date, who is cute and actually looks like his photo, orders a $6.50 Italian cheesecake (with ricotta), and I order a $5.50 American one. When the waiter asks us about coffee, I blurt out, “It’s weird, but espresso makes me feel horny!” My date changes my order to a double. We end up feeding the creamy American cheesecake to each other. “There have been so many couples who had blind dates here and return years later, with their kids,” says Mario. “It’s bellissimo.” 79-81 Macdougal Street (212-982-5275).
Bobby Flay’s Bolo extends its Spanish tapas ethos to dessert—and although small dishes can seem stingy for a meal, they’re ideal for this course. For $11 a person, you can select three small desserts. My date and I had a lot of fun tasting six different ones, and the portions were small enough that we didn’t feel disgusting afterward. There’s flattering lighting and a potential make-out corner booth in the back. 23 East 22nd Street (212-228-2200).
Tucked away in a beautiful West Village townhouse, the charming Blue Hill offers a “dessert tasting menu” for $25 per person. My date and I sat outside on the patio, which was lit with romantic candles for a hot summer night. Our waitress described each option to us—like the exquisite raspberry lemon tart served in a martini glass. The three desserts we decided on were so intoxicating that my date and I tried not to finish them. We wanted to save room for what might come later. 75 Washington Place (212-539-1776).