I was cradling my litchi lavender martini in the lounge at Om in Harvard Square, waiting for my date to arrive. I liked this place: leather banquettes, tiny candles, New Age martinis the size of cereal bowls. With a wall of trickling water and Eastern artifacts, Om is a cross between a Buddhist temple and an upscale spa. I took mindful sips of my chilled elixir, half expecting a woman in a white coat to whisk me off for a bikini wax.
I also liked the idea of sticking to casual "apps," rather than committing to a whole meal. But after my date showed up and we'd done the awkward handshake, he suggested dinner. Within moments we were marooned at a table, stuck in two stiff chairs across a field of starched cloth. The effect was sterilizing, and our conversation well-mannered. "And how do you like your job?" "Your apartment?" "Being an uncle?"
The food arrived, one polite, well-appointed plate after another. We oohed and aahed over the clever placement of a radish or sculpted lump of wasabi. Even the food was . . . quiet. With its cool walls and spare decor, this is where you go when you want no distractions. Not a great idea if you're actually looking for one.
Any foodie worth her salt knows that where (and what) you eat with a prospective love interest has a profound effect. You don't want to be too clean or too careful - or too wrapped up in the place itself.
Take Cuchi Cuchi in Central Square. Years ago, I fell under its spell. With Italian artwork, antique lamps, stained glass, waitresses decked out in feathers and jewels, this Cambridge place has mojo. The small tapas-style dishes suggest sharing and experimentation. And the ambience casts a kind of glittery, gilded light on everyone in the room, which is why I've taken many dates there: the guy from the gym, the tennis coach, the introverted Canadian who designed sneakers, waiting for a glimmer of romance to emerge. No dice. Truth is, the place far outdazzled any of my dates.
On my first outing with Patrick, he suggested we meet up at what he considered his place - Redbones in Somerville's Davis Square, a down-home Southern-style eatery known far and wide for its barbecue. Patrick turned out to be tall, dark, and unabashedly sexy and bore a disturbing resemblance to Jim Carrey (without the freak factor). Like Redbones itself, he had an instant, friendly appeal. And despite the fact that he'd just been laid off the day before, he was surprisingly plucky and upbeat ("I hated that job"). The place, like Patrick, seemed to pulse with a kind of masculine heat - nothing clean or careful about it.
Later, we put table manners on hold as we got down and dirty with two heaping platters of baby back ribs. I was licking my fingers, savoring the tangy bite of the sauce, the juicy, sweet meat as it fell away from the bone. "This. Is. So. Good," I said. "It's just so good." The messiness, the food, the beer-induced flush all conspired to make me feel rather lightheaded. I suddenly felt compelled by an instinct that rules the animal kingdom. I needed to see what he smelled like.
Out of nowhere, I leaned across the table and pressed my nose into the skin just inside his collar. And then he kissed me - sending me into a full-body pheromonal swoon. It was as if someone had turned up the volume on all of my senses at once: The room was awash in color and shadow, the murals on the walls swam to life, my ears buzzed. I sat down, shocked at myself.
"For the record," he said, "I definitely want to sleep with you." Simple as that. As if he was declaring he wanted to borrow a book or try the cheesecake.
I wasn't sure what to say. But I knew that regardless of what would or wouldn't transpire, the seduction had, in some ways, already occurred. No coy games or trick lighting. He'd simply put it all on the table.
Terri Trespicio is a senior editor at Body+Soul magazine in Watertown. She lives in Waltham. Send comments to email@example.com.