FEATURE STORY – WINTER 2020

Date Night Dining

Cuddle with your other at these romance-inducing restaurants | By Nora Burba Trulsson

On a crisp, clear desert night, there’s nothing quite like sharing a nice meal and an adult beverage or two with your significant other. Schedule your date night, then head out to some of these favorite local spots for great food and canoodle-inducing settings.

Aiello’s East Coast Italian

Since 2011, this intimate North Phoenix restaurant has been a popular neighborhood draw—but dressed-up servers, tablecloths, and low lighting give it a “special occasion” aura. Booths by the windows are conducive to cuddling while you peruse a menu filled with dishes that you might have enjoyed had you grown up in Brooklyn with an Italian nonna. Think about baked clams or stuffed artichokes as appetizers, then move on to cavatelli with Sunday gravy (a traditional tomato sauce, cooked all day), gnocchi with pesto, or veal Marsala as your entrées. Wine and beer? Italian, of course. Save room for desserts like chilled zabaglione or tiramisu. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear chef and owner Joe Aiello bursting into an impromptu aria or two in the kitchen. Tinder date gone bad? Don’t leave hungry. Get a pie to go next door at Aiello’s sister restaurant, Isa’s Pizza.

City views add to the ambiance at J&G Steakhouse.

J&G Steakhouse

Sleek, sexy, and modern, J&G Steakhouse at The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale had a recent refresh, bringing in new, stylish wood, stone, and glass elements. If you can give up the idea of sitting in a booth—which are at the back of the restaurant—tables at the window (or, better yet, on the patio) offer clear views of city lights and the Papago Buttes. In the kitchen, Executive Chef Jacques Qualin—handpicked by the restaurant’s founder, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, to run the restaurant—presides over a menu that celebrates seafood and fine cuts of meat. Start with a signature ginger margarita or wine from the restaurant’s Wine Spectator-lauded list, then sample an app or two, like the tuna tartare, paired with avocado and spicy radish. The menu reflects the seasons, but you’ll always find the filet, Wagyu tomahawk rib eye, and sautéed Dover sole among the offerings. Can’t decide? The tasting menu leads you through several appetizers, fish and beef dishes, plus a dessert, like the decadent warm chocolate cake.

Seasonal dishes at Geordie’s might include lamb chops with potato pavé.

Geordie’s Restaurant

Perched on a knoll overlooking Phoenix, the historic Wrigley Mansion oozes romance. Completed in the early 1930s by chewing gum tycoon William Wrigley Jr. as a gift to his wife, the elegant Spanish Colonial house and its numerous view-grabbing patios have provided backdrops for many proposals and weddings. Geordie’s, the mansion’s main restaurant, just reopened after a summer-long refresh. James Beard Award-winning Executive Chef Christopher Gross, who joined the restaurant in 2017, has infused the seasonally changing menu with a modern take on French cuisine—think Hudson Valley foie gras or house-smoked salmon as appetizers, and mains that include braised halibut with squash blossom butter and hanger steak with sautéed shallots. Wine? Yes, please. The restaurant has a list of more than 350 bottles and has been crowned with several Wine Spectator awards. And if your dinner date gets down on bended knee here, know that they are probably not looking for a dropped fork.

Orange Sky does not disappoint for sunset dinners.

Orange Sky

An exterior elevator whooshes you up to Talking Stick Resort’s 15th floor, where you will find not only the orange but also purple, red, and pink skies, thanks to Arizona’s sunsets and the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows that capture a 360-degree view of the horizon and twinkling city lights. Contemporary and glossy, Orange Sky is a great place for a celebratory dinner (is that a ring box in your pocket?), with such touches as private booths and menu items for two—prepared tableside—including the bone-in prime beef rib eye with onion marmalade and foraged mushrooms. While you sip a signature Blood “Orange Sky” Martini and watch the sun’s last rays slip over the McDowell Mountains, ponder Chef Ron Dimas’ menu, which also includes nods to the surrounding Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Look for Native American-inspired starters like the pumpkin-seed-crusted spicy shrimp served with nopales or mains like grilled elk loin with squash mole. And yes to selfies on the patio, with the moon reflected in the water feature.

The menu at The Stockyards showcases fine cuts of beef.

The Stockyards

The Stockyards steakhouse occupies a warm place in many a Phoenix resident’s heart. Not only has it been the go-to spot for business dinners for more than five decades, it’s also a magnet for sweethearts and special occasions, with its tufted booths, hand-painted murals, and loads of history. Starting as a coffee counter in the old Livestock Exchange, it grew into a more formal steakhouse in the 1950s, catering to cattlemen who frequented the surrounding feedlot—at one time home to some 40,000 head of cattle. The cattle are long gone, but beef is still king at the restaurant, which was added to the City of Phoenix Historic Property Register in 2004. Chef Michael Shea crafts a classic Arizona steakhouse menu that includes shrimp cocktail and (ahem) calf fries as starters, with entrées such as filet mignon, salmon, New Your strip, and bison meatloaf. Having a cocktail in the saloon before moving into the dining room? Be sure to share an order of wild boar and venison sausages served with apple-cranberry chutney.