Love Nest

If you can't find the romance here, you're a cold fish

Dahlia Lounge Tom Douglas' flagship restaurant may be a big space, but it still feels like a love nest. Must be all the red, acres and acres of the color, giving everyone at your table a healthy, just-screwed flush. Or the rows of two-person booths, small enough to allow under-the-table shenanigans that no one but the bartenders will see. Dahlia has some of the best service in the city, free of upmarket attitude or Pacific Northwest diffidence. The food is brawny—double-sized cuts of rib roast over parsnip puree, crab cakes with pastrami-potato hash—yet delicately balanced, making it easy for you to bypass your fill-to line. By dessert, you have to make a difficult choice: Order the crème caramel and put your date to sleep in the car ride back to your place, or forgo the custard's ineffable, milky kiss in favor of the real thing? JONATHAN KAUFFMANServes: lunch, dinner. 2001 Fourth Ave., 682-4142. BELLTOWN $$$ Moxie Snuggled between KeyArena and McCaw Hall, this enclave of amore is equal parts one-night stand and romantic love. Think Hot Topic meets Pottery Barn: The cave-like bar, with its painted black walls, exposed ceiling, and cement floor, suggests illicit rendezvous, while an adjacent dining room filled with linen-draped tables, plush silk pillows, red-brick walls, and flickering candlelight sets the stage for romance. The menu features an innovative list of fancy comfort food. A single five-spot will buy you anything on the bar menu, such as the arancini; the cheese-filled risotto balls are the perfect tease for an unctuous entrée of oven-roasted duck breast with corn bread–oyster stuffing. But you don't need oysters to sense Moxie's aphrodisiac effect. The chickpea pancake with peppery greens, spiced rutabagas, and apple butter is pure sensory intoxication, too. The global wine list changes seasonally. Hopefully, so do your best date moves. JULIEN PERRYServes: brunch, dinner. 530 First Ave. N., 283-6614. QUEEN ANNE $$ Opal Opal is not romantic because the room puts one in the mood—the service doesn't exactly serenade the lovesick diner, and the bar can be downright noisy. It's romantic because chef Tyler Hefford-Anderson's food is so heart-stoppingly good that you have no choice but to share it. At the top of my crab-cake memories sits Opal's Dungeness version, a petite cylinder of pure shredded crab held together by a sort of magical culinary gravity rather than the usual bready binder. Cuddled up on a fork with truffled crème fraîche potatoes and a splash of walnut vinaigrette, my first bite brought on a swoon, and I insisted my partner take a taste. Down the menu we went, swapping scoops of huckleberry-scented wild boar tenderloin and escolar with a delicate honey-thyme beurre blanc. Opal's small bites/large bites menu should bring on the urgency to share—one that you'll find again, with any luck, once you get home. Parties of three, beware. JESS THOMSONServes: dinner. 2 Boston St., 282-0142. QUEEN ANNE $$$ Place Pigalle There comes a point in any relationship that brings you to the Pike Place Market. You're at the market because things are either getting old or very new, or you've flown her/him/Pat in from out of town. Nothing against freshly bathed corn dogs and mini-donuts—but save the deep-fried goodness for another juncture in the relationship. Place Pigalle doesn't show off. It doesn't have to. You, on the other hand, are likely in the position of needing to pick up a few points, which is where this tucked-away respite comes in handy. I'd bet most market regulars, and certainly tourists, are ignorant to its existence, even if it is right behind "where they throw the fish." Know that once you've proven yourself at sniffing out this gem, with its checkered floors and French bistro food, you'll be treated to both unbeatable views of Elliott Bay and the Olympics, and a menu that ranges from mussels and duck at lunch to boar and lamb for dinner. CHRIS KORNELISServes: lunch, dinner. 81 Pike St., 624-1756. PIKE PLACE MARKET $$$ Samurai Noodle Wouldn't it be great if curling up for a little comfort food with your sweetie and getting out of the house weren't mutually exclusive activities? If you're a date-in-sweats kind of person, Samurai Noodle has your number. It's easy to miss, tucked into the small space on the edge of Uwajimaya. Ramen isn't the kind of thing you lightly bring into a relationship (it's nearly impossible to eat in a way that's sexy), but for longtime lovebirds, a relaxing evening of noodles can be just the ticket. So you heat up a packet on the stove, but isn't that always a bit of a disappointment? The food at Samurai is everything Cup Noodles aspires to be but fails. The pork broth is rich, and they don't skimp on the tender meat. Bottles of plum wine and a darker decor give the place a little more intimacy than your standard noodle joint, and the handful of tables are small enough to put you nose-to-nose with your beloved. If you believe heels are antithetical to intimacy, but still want to impress your date, tuck into a bowl. LAURA ONSTOTServes: lunch, dinner. 606 Fifth Ave. S., 624-9321. INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT $ Volterra The wait for reservations is as legendary as the chefs' way with wild boar, and the sweeping curtains swirling around the entrance only heighten the sense that you're in for an exceptional dining experience. Chef Don Curtiss and front-of-the-house mistress Michelle Quisenberry forged Volterra in the romantic image of the Tuscan locale where they wed, and when it comes to decadent Northern Italian fare, they have few rivals in Seattle. Warm wood, gently curving alabaster fixtures, and a congenial, neighborhood vibe at the bar soften that initial ceremonial air, and the presence of affable wine steward David Burgess makes even neophytes ready to try something new from Volterra's impressive list. If you aren't instantly smitten by the wild boar (in tenderloin or ragu form), the crispy herb chicken is worth the extra cooking time, and the wild mushroom polenta is a menu mainstay for good reason. HANNAH LEVINServes: brunch, dinner. 5411 Ballard Ave. N.W., 789-5100. Ballard $$$

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