On the occasion of my 20th annual fall dining guide, Date Lab extended an invitation for me to match-make — and I bit. As a longtime follower of The Post's alternative to apps, I was eager to see if my pairing skills were up to snuff. Could I successfully bring together people with parallel interests?
I was encouraged by the profile submitted by Jake Halpin. On paper, the self-described liberal seemed thoughtful and funny. He listed his greatest luxury as “a personal time-keeping device (a watch)” and preferences ranging from soccer and the Beatles to “Pulp Fiction” and taking the bus rather than Uber. Sifting through potential candidates for his time and possible affection, I kept returning to Emily Platt. A few of her favorite things included the book “Bad Blood,” Michelle Obama, the Philadelphia Eagles and singer John Legend.
Neither could recall a worst date. Both are interested in politics. Emily could even imagine herself running for office someday. They also shared an appreciation for food that went beyond the usual. Emily, who counts her biggest indulgence as dinner at Rose’s Luxury, is the chief cook in her group household, where everybody but her is either vegan or vegetarian. (She eats fish and some meat.) On his Date Lab application, Jake, a fan of breweries and craft cocktails, wrote “loving good food is a must.” Both flagged an Indian dish as among their foods of choice — Jake goes for chicken tikka masala, Emily likes butter chicken — which prompted me to send them to Karma Modern Indian downtown. For this Very Special Edition of Date Lab, I also agreed to join them for dessert.
They both showed up early for their 6:30 reservation. “I’m never early for a date,” says Emily. “I knew I had to be for this one.” Friends in her office seemed to be more into the meet-and-eat than she was, telling her, “Don’t mess this up!” She found Jake to be “very cute, tall and very friendly,” so much so that he put his arm around her while they were taking predinner Date Lab photos. Jake, who went into Karma with a positive attitude — “good or bad, this will be something to remember” — said Emily’s “warm, welcoming smile” told him “this is going to be a fun date.”
Cocktails followed. They both got different drinks topped with whipped egg whites. And they both agreed to order things they hadn’t tried before. Enlisting the help of their server, they ordered enough food to write a review of the place: tandoori shrimp with mango salsa, pan-seared scallops with a red pepper sauce, a grilled vegetable platter that included star fruit, branzino with spinach, stuffed bread and a mushroom biryani.
“As first dates go, this was one of the best,” says Emily. She found Jake to be engaging and a good listener. “It was a pretty good match. We had a lot in common.” While Jake was born in England, he grew up in New Jersey, just like Emily. Both had parents who lived in Delaware. They shared an interest in music, too. Emily jams with friends at house parties — with a ukulele. Jake has played violin with an orchestra at his college near Boston.
“The flow was great,” says Jake. “She asked a lot of questions and [the conversation] never felt forced.”
While they were passing plates, ordering wine and connecting more dots, I walked to the restaurant and waited until they texted me that it was time for dessert. As I approached Karma, I happened to catch a couple in a second dining room, near the front window. Them! And animated, as best as I could tell. I sat on a bench nearby until Emily gave me the green light.
Enter the chaperone, or the dad figure. At least that’s how I felt. As often as I dine with strangers for work, I have to admit I was a little tentative about interrupting what I imagined to be their good time. But Jake and Emily turned three’s a crowd into three’s company, peppering me with as many questions as I had for them.
Their take on Karma? “Everything was superlative,” says Jake, who appreciated the twists on Indian tradition. Emily raved about the drinks list, the service and the “elevated Indian food,” but remains loyal to Rasika. (The three of us agreed the desserts were a little busy and overly sweet.)
Shortly after I left — around 10:30 — Jake and Emily did, too. Jake waited with Emily for her Uber to arrive, at which point they hugged (twice) and he asked for her digits. When Jake got home, he texted Emily and invited her to go to the National Zoo after she returned from a beach trip.
No matter what transpires between them, I’ve found future dining companions: Separately, Jake and Emily let me know they would enjoy tagging along on a restaurant review.
Rate the date
Jake 4.5 [out of 5]. “It was a really good date” if “a bit more friendly than romantic.”
Emily 5. “Time flew by.”
The couple did accompany Tom on another restaurant review meal, but it was a platonic affair. “Jake and I actually have remained friends and continue to share our love of the D.C. food scene,” Emily reports. “I’m grateful for this opportunity as it gifted me with a new friend.”
Jake, now 24, has since managed to find love. A couple of months after his date with Emily, he reconnected with a close friend from a past political campaign. “We both knew we had found what we were looking for,” he says. “I vividly remember deleting all my dating apps on the Metro ride home. We have been happily dating ever since!”
Tom Sietsema is the Washington Post food critic.