Casual dating: it's hilarious. Who the hell knows what to expect when you're getting together for the first, or even fourth, time with a prospective mate over eats and conversation? You may just want to order the briefest appetizer you can spot and split either to rip each other's clothes off in the sanctity of your apartment hallway or delete each other's numbers from your iPhones without appearing rude. And, on the basis of any vibes from various text-message/voicemail/drunken bar encounters beforehand, you might desire an array of date-dining alternatives at your fingertips, from light and breezy to fancy and invested. Below is my hit list of options to help you plan your onslaught of spring-fever suitors. You're just that slick.
Why am I kicking off this list with a bakery? Because the Inner Sunset's Arizmendi an organically-minded cooperative descended from Berkeley's lovely Cheeseboard is a splendid spot to score some of the city's yummiest pastries and pizza slices before a sunlit afternoon jaunt into Golden Gate Park together. Snag a bleacher on the baseball diamond near Ninth Avenue, sink your teeth into a scrumptious poppy-seed bialy, and root for romance.
1331 9th Avenue, SF. (415) 566-3117, www.arizmendibakery.org
THE BUTLER AND THE CHEF
Brunch is the perfect date meal not only can you mimosa the previous night's dating triumph or disaster right out of your mouth, but you also get to check out your current wooer in the daylight. Up your savvy quotient by suggesting this relatively untrammeled, brunch-oriented French gem in South Park, where you can croque your monsieur if he dares touch your niçoise prematurely. Bonus: real champagne!
155 South Park, SF. (415) 896-2075, www.thebutlerandthechefbistro.com
If you've already checked your date for cooties, why not venture into participatory dining territory by sharing a deep, delicious paella at this Spanish treat? One order of this traditional oven-cooked rice, seafood, and meat dish from the voluminous menu should satisfy your needs, and maybe when your forks cross there'll be sparks. If you sit outdoors on the slightly seedy yet romantically-lighted Belden Place, the ambience advances exponentially and if you need to flee, well, it's all the easier.
44 Belden Place, SF. (415) 986-6287, www.b44sf.com
The interior may look like Laura Ashley tripped and spilled her potpourri basket, but this Richmond District delight is one of those magical places where the food is so fine (and the prix fixe options so reasonable) that the pastel walls soon fall away and the world opens up into a universe of companionable possibilities. Yes, it's fancy French, yet not stuffy or pompous at all the only part of the out-of-the-ballpark menu that seems slightly inflexible is the wine list. Lemme tell ya, though, after a couple of glasses of classic Bordeaux and the fabulously rich basil Napoleon dessert, you'll be anything but.
1408 Clement, SF. (415) 750-9787
Italian on a date hello, cliché. Most people forget that when the noodle-slurping pooches' lips met in The Lady and the Tramp, it was over a trashcan. For lovers not so deep in the new Depression yet, give your taste buds a twist and dive into the fantastically rich, seafood-focused cuisine of Sardinia at this cutie in Noe Valley. Keep your eye on the waitstaff, though, because most of them are gorgeous. For those who balk at trying items like tuna hearts, wild boar, or octopus stew hey, the octopus may have been smarter than your date! awesome thin-crust pizzas are available.
291 30th St., SF.