"Throughout history, dining has been an intimate bonding experience," says Saryn Chorney, dating editor of the New York Post and 10-year veteran of the Manhattan dating scene.
"If people are at a concert or a bowling alley, they can just walk away. But sharing food is a sexy thing to do -- particularly in the right setting."
Part of Chorney's Post responsibilities include setting potential couples up on blind dinner dates. Venues run the gamut from casual spots such as Justin Timberlake's Southern Hospitality (where Chroney's daters ate ribs, ignored the grease dribbling down their chins, and spent the rest of the night getting hammered) to Koi (where a potential couple spent a refined four-hours over dinner).
"So much of a meal is sharing the experience," she says.
But dinner can be a lot of pressure...which is probably why less formal foodie experiences have boomed in popularity over the past few years.
In particular, wine and spirits tastings have taken over the early-evening social scene in most big cities. Whether it be wine and chocolate, wine and cheese or tequila and tapas, food-and-booze events are a way to discover similar tastes without facing the pressure of a two-hour stare-down over the salt and pepper shakers.
"The alchemy of the pairings can lead you into the alchemy of learning more about each other in a safe, delicious and exciting exploration of flavors and experiences," says Barrie Lynn, Hollywood's "Cheese Impresario."
Even without food, mixology bars have become increasingly popular recently, as cocktails become ever more a part of the gourmet scene.
"People are realizing that seasonal ingredients are as delicious on the plate as they are in a highball," says Marcia Gagliardi, founder of San Francisco food blog Tablehopper.com. Though Gagliardi's focus is food, her news updates include an ever-increasing number of mixology and tasting events. "The canon of cocktail recipes is deep, so it's like a new frontier of flavors to discover and experience," she says.
Of course, no matter how many innovative pairing and tasting events come on the scene, the classic wine tasting event will never go away. Wine is a sophisticate's hobby, yes, but even people who can't tell a Chateau Margaux from a Trader Joe's Two-Buck Chuck can enjoy the grape's "social lubricant" qualities. Plus, a glass of Cabernet looks so much sexier than a bottle of malt liquor. Even if the end result is the same, the choreography is a world apart.
"I think wine tasting has replaced sports talk or other types of universal discussions around the water cooler," says Ian Blackburn, founder of Learn About Wine. "It has become a very significant part of our social world. People want to discuss wines. It's a great platform to hold discussions with someone you know very little about -- and from there, to develop chemistry."
A former sommelier who's now hosting classes and events all over Southern California, Blackburn offers everything from "palate builders" to "horizontal tastings" (tastings from the same vintage or appellation but different producers...what were you thinking, you dirty mind?) He also holds bi-weekly wine and chocolate pairing events.
"A lot of people come to our classes on a date because it's a good way to find out about compatibility," explains Blackburn. "Wine, food and culture are all interlinked. A tasting leads down a path of exploration to find out how much information a person has about the world we live in. Culturally, there's so much about wine that is connected to art, history, music and other cultural affairs."
Though half of Learn About Wine events take place in the organization's "classroom" at Loft218 in Los Angeles' up-and-coming downtown district, the other half are held in galleries and luxury hotels around the city.
Not only can a wine-tasting invitation be a great way to get to know someone, it can also serve as a smooth entrée to take a relationship to the next level.
"Wine, or a wine event, doesn't have any suggestion or implication that a romantic gift might have," Blackburn says. "It can be a socially and politically correct non-romantic gift."
Or, we suggest, a quick trip down the slippery slope from "just friends" to that little something extra.
Cooking classes are another social activity growing in popularity and an entertaining way to meet people. It's hard to remain poker-faced and tense when you're waving wooden spoons around and peering confusedly at mystery vegetables. Though most big cities offer a mile-long list of cooking classes, one of the most appealing ones pour moi is sushi-making -- the ingredients are so fresh, preparation does not involve flames or scary ovens and the end result is (hopefully) as beautiful as it is tasty.
Recently a number of creative takes on the foodie date have sprung up in single hubs. Dining in the Dark is an organization that holds blindfolded dining events all around New York and Connecticut, as well as occasionally in other metropolises. Opaque is a dark dining club that occurs weekly in West Hollywood and San Diego.
If dark dining is overtly sexy because of the lights-out element, movable feasts like Ghetto Gourmet are fun because of the clandestine, insiders-only element. When you invite a date to something like this, you're proving that you're in the insider circle.
Delicious dates shouldn't just be for that honeymoon phase, though. If you want romance to last, you need to carry those elements of sensuality and discovery into the later stages of a relationship. Plenty of foodies are ready to help, too.
"In my restaurant the style and ambience is romantic and trendy at the same time," says Pietro Rota of La Marea at the Tides in South Beach. Rota has helped create a romance package nonpareil. "We create the ambience at the dinner table, with the roses, the candles, the aphrodisiac menu... Then the next morning we have an energy breakfast."
Now that's the kind of thinking we like.