Dear Mr. Gold:
Could you recommend a first-date restaurant in or around Long Beach? I might be willing to venture farther, but I would prefer to remain as close to the Belmont Shores area as possible.
--Sherrick B., Long Beach
Dear Mr. B.:
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The Long Beach area is amply equipped with any number of great second-date destinations, from the big-boy Italian food at Trani's and the pork shank carnitas at Enrique's to even the foaming schooners and liverwurst sandwiches at Joe Jost's, but the Long Beach area is a tough place to find a restaurant suitable for romance's first bloom. A first date is too early to expose a potential partner to the funky Cambodian cooking at Sophy's or the throw-your-peanut-shells-on-the-floor ambience of Johnny Reb's, the brick-oven pizza at Pavich's or the Bukowski-approved Vietnamese food at Nam's Red Door. There is no shortage of expensive places with great views, important wine lists and utterly mediocre food, but that's probably not the message you want to be sending, either.
If you were willing to drive north a ways, you could throw your lot in with Petros in Manhattan Beach, which has great Greek seafood and a nice vibe; Hudson House in Redondo Beach, which is one of the better gastropubs in town; or possibly the wine-oriented Tin Roof Bistro, which isn't bad.
But in Long Beach -- you might try Fuego. The view is pretty spectacular: the Queen Mary and the bay. The modern, upscale take on Mexican cooking is very nice: smoked-shrimp crepes, achiote-glazed Niman Ranch pork chops, chile-rubbed prime rib eye, that sort of thing; and there's a great tequila selection if things get interesting. Let's hope that they do.
Fuego: 700 Queensway Drive, Long Beach; (562) 481-3910.