Dear Mr. Gold:
I should probably be sent to therapy for attempting this in the first place, but I'm going on a first date with someone from Orange County. Since I pack a passport when I have to go east of the 405, obviously there is no way I'd meet him in Orange County. At the same time, I don't want to give him the wrong idea by having him drive all the way out to my neighborhood. Unfortunately, I fear that "meeting in the middle" will have us sharing a deep-fried onion at Chili's. Is there somewhere between L.A.'s Westside and O.C. that would work for a first date — something casual and comfortable yet something interesting enough that it could be the subject of conversation (if we so needed that kind of crutch), and if the date is horrible, at the very least I can say, "I ate at this really cool place?"
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—Meet in the Middle
Dear Meet in the Middle:
Since this is a first date, I suspect that many of the traditional answers to this dilemma just won't work. Cambodian food at Sophy's in Long Beach, haleem at Al-Noor in Lakewood and the you-buy-we-fry Korean seafood at the Redondo Beach Pier are probably better saved for the third date or so; the cecina and enchiladas at Los Tres Cochinitos in Wilmington (and obviously the Original Pancake House) imply an inappropriate morning-after intimacy; and even the glorious okonomiyaki at Gaja in Lomita may be a bit too tactile. (I'm assuming you're looking for something in the South Bay, not Norwalk.) Old-line places like Admiral Risty may be too staid for a first date; Hudson House, the snazzy gastropub from Brooke Williamson and Nick Roberts of Beechwood, may not be quite staid enough. Catalina and Darren's? Too fussy. Thus we arrive at the Greek seafood restaurant Petros, which probably won't make you forget that glorious summer on Mykonos but is a nice place, bleached and handsome, with good sourcing and very decent grilled octopus, grilled sea bass, shrimp saganiki, etc., lots of lemon, oregano and olive oil, as far away from the Opa! school of Greek restaurants as you're going to get around here. It's obviously closer to Santa Monica than it is to Newport Beach, but I'm guessing that's kind of the point.
PETROS: 451 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach. (310) 545-4100, petrosrestaurant.com