Date Shake

By the Going Out Gurus
washingtonpost.com Staff Writers
Thursday, January 19, 2006; 6:20 PM

The Going Out Gurus help you prepare for romantic outings with some ready-made dates.

Whether you're courting a new fling or kindling an old flame, the best part of any date is conversation. Start some flirty banter during a stroll through galleries along 14th Street: Transformer, Hemphill or G Fine Art. Each gallery presents a unique blend of contemporary art. Walk back along P Street discussing what you've just seen -- the pieces you liked and didn't, those that were outrageously priced -- and wind up in Dupont at the lowly lit Al Tiramisu for a romantic dinner. The cozy basement restaurant serves up fine Italian cooking with good wines, enticing you to linger over dinner and to save room for dessert. Finish the night with a drink at Eighteenth Street Lounge.

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"Dinner and a movie" is the quintessential date night. Far too often, though, it becomes high-pressure, rushed affair that involves grabbing a meal at the first place you see because you're afraid that, otherwise, you won't make it to the show on time. With a little planning, though, you can relax and make your dinner and your evening more memorable. The key is a pre-theater menu. While these are frequently used by the Kennedy Center and National Theatre crowds, they work well for moviegoers.

If you're heading to the Uptown, the Indian restaurant Indique offers a $20 pre-theater menu from 5:30 to 7, with five appetizers (mmm ... chaat papri), six mains (including lamb niligiri korma and chicken tikka makhani) and three deserts. Near the E Street Cinema, Bistro d'Oc has a three-course pre-theater menu featuring southern French dishes with Asian touches. The menu, which includes several choices for each course, as well as a glass of wine, is offered between 5:30 and 7 and costs $19.95. Be warned, though, that Bistro d'Oc's location -- directly across 10th Street from Ford's Theatre -- means that it becomes popular before shows.

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Take the one who makes your heart flutter on a day of creative activities. Stir up some passion over a shared cooking class. See if a Thai cooking class spices up your afternoon or try to spark some romance learning to flambe at Sur La Table. If you're not stuffed from sampling your own culinary creations, head to Woo Lae Oak to barbecue your own Korean food. Afterwards, make a pass playing basketball at a local recreation center or listen to somebody else make sweet music at a free concert at the Millennium Stage.

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It's tempting to assume that romance only happens in D.C. But the suburbs -- even Montgomery County -- can provide plenty of inspiration for a Valentine's Day date far sweeter than a Whitman's Sampler. Start off with a satisfying brunch at Black Market Bistro, where delicious dishes (vanilla bean and orange challah French toast, anyone?) are served in a warm and cozy, country store-style environment. Now it's time for flowers. Do a lame bouquet one better by checking out thousands of thriving blooms at Wheaton's Brookside Gardens. It's open year round, so take that bracing stroll through all 50 acres, making sure to stop at the picturesque Anderson Pavilion and the lakeside Japanese Teahouse. Warm up in the heated conservatories, where the scent of even more colorful flowers fills the air. Up for some activity? Then visit the Wheaton Regional Park Ice Rink next-door and have a couples skate or two. By the time you're through, you'll have worked off the challah French toast and be hungry for dinner. Head to Bethesda for an intimate meal at Olazzo where the fake flickering flames of a televised fire add to this small Italian spot's kitschy romantic vibe. Try one of the pasta dishes in Olazzo's rose sauce. Yum ... that's amore.

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Are there stars in your eyes? If so, then maybe you should share them with your date and go gaze at the stars. There are stargazing open houses at the University of Maryland Observatory on the 5th and 20th of each month and every Friday at the Maryland Space Grant Observatory at Johns Hopkins University. Or stargaze during daylight hours at the Albert Einstein Planetarium inside the Air & Space Museum.

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