By David Perloff
Photos by Brevin Blach
Matchmaker: Jessica Pelligra
This evening's culinary adventure will expose two strangers to a panoply of food flavors. Whether or not the cuisines please their palates, however, the real question is whether Suzie and Ben will have a taste for each other. The blind daters met about 30 minutes ago in the Epic Limo that's about to drop them in Mission Beach for an oceanfront sushi dinner at Cannonball. Before they arrive, let's review the pre-date interviews.
PacificSD: Where are you from and where do you live now?
SUZIE: I'm from Torrance, Los Angeles, and I live in Hillcrest, San Diego.
BEN: I was born and raised in Maine, went to college in Virginia and have lived in S.D. for the past four years.
What do you do for a living?
SUZIE: I work at FLUXX Nightclub as a cocktail server.
BEN: I am in real estate. I am a hard-money lender, realtor and house-flipper.
Why are you going on a blind date that's going to be published in a magazine?
SUZIE: Believe it or not, I've never been on a blind date.
BEN: I like being spontaneous and I like free food.
What do you do for fun?
SUZIE: I love to box. It's been a great inspiration and such a good workout, really makes me feel like a tough badass.
BEN: Anything outdoors, basketball, football, beach, hikes, travel. I also love to experience new things, new foods, new events, et cetera.
What are you best at?
SUZIE: Honestly, I'm a great party planner. I'm best at bringing everyone together.
BEN: I'm pretty good at making the best out of every situation.
What do you suck at?
SUZIE: I suck at being patient.
BEN: I suck at waiting.
What are you looking for in a date?
SUZIE: I always look for a good sense of humor. You gotta be silly and weird to hang out with this girl.
BEN: I'm looking for an attractive girl that can carry a conversation and keep things interesting.
Describe your special brand of sex appeal in five words or less.
SUZIE: Confidence and being independent.
BEN: Girls love this stupid beard.
Rate yourself on a scale from one to 10 for looks.
SUZIE: I'll give myself a solid eight. Anything higher, and I just sound super conceited.
Rate yourself on a scale from one to 10 for personality.
SUZIE: I have an awesome personality. Conceited all the way. Ten.
What's your biggest fear?
SUZIE: Spiders. I literally can't even...
BEN: Not being able to leave my family with a legacy-slash-security for generations to come.
What traits could your date exhibit that would be dealbreakers?
SUZIE: Smokers or guys who chew - simply not attractive.
BEN: Smoke cigs.
Fill in the blanks: I want my blind date to be "blank" and "blank."
SUZIE: Smart and funny.
BEN: Sexy and smart.
Will the night end with a kiss, something more or something less?
SUZIE: Maybe a kiss; depends on whether we have chemistry or not.
What's the most important thing in the world?
BEN: Jax, my boxer pup.
As their limo pulls up, Suzie and Ben step out and walk toward Cannonball's outdoor glass elevator. Once upstairs, they stroll across the sprawling patio overlooking the waves, then take a seat at the sushi bar. Despite the expansive views, this corner of the restaurant is more intimate.
The couple smiles as they talk over rolls and drinks, but their body language isn't screaming "connection" just yet. For the next course, they jump back into the limo for the ride downtown to the historic U.S. Grant Hotel.
3105 Ocean Front Walk, Mission Beach
Satisfying desires at Grant Grill
The hotel lobby echoes with the sounds of Sinatra as Suzie and Ben step inside Grant Grill, where a Rat Pack-esque jazz trio is entertaining the guests. The couple is in for a taste of culinary showmanship, as Executive Chef Mark Kropczynski and Chef de Bar Cory Alberto prepare to present a sample of the offerings that elevate the restaurant to such high esteem.
As Alberto arrives at the table, he explains to the couple what they're about to drink - then sets it on fire. Kropczynski keeps the heat going with a trio of dishes he's created for Grant Grill's new fall menu. By the time their second plate emerges from the kitchen, Suzie and Ben are sitting closer to each other. After about an hour, a connection appears to be simmering.
To keep things cooking, the couple returns to the limo for the short ride to the downtown waterfront. Next stop is fondue and a nightcap overlooking the twinkling skyline from the redesigned Top of the Hyatt bar and lounge. As their drinks arrive, they're split for mid-date debriefings.
PacificSD: How's it going so far?
SUZIE: Great. Honestly, I was a little hesitant on coming on this because I've never been on a blind date, but I like him. We actually have a lot more in common than I thought.
BEN: It's going great. It's fun. It's been a lot of fun.
What were your first impressions?
SUZIE: He's cute, definitely very cute. And he's actually funny, which is something that I put in the questionnaire before I came. I need someone with a sense of humor, and he definitely has that.
BEN: It didn't seem like we were going to click at the beginning. But we definitely opened up and haven't stopped talking since.
Is this the type of person you'd normally date?
SUZIE: Yes, he is my type. Appearance, obviously, he is the type of guy I go for. He does work a lot, so that's the only kind of conflict. Do you have time to date? But, typically, yes, I would date someone like him.
BEN: You know, I look for someone that has a career path, it's like my Number One thing, a good head on their shoulders and someone I could talk to. Attractiveness has obviously got to be there, and she's definitely a beautiful girl, but she's got a good head on her shoulders and she knows where she wants to go. Yeah, so those are the two big things.
What do you think of the way your date is dressed?
SUZIE: Cute. He's kind of chill. He looks great. He's casual, but it's cute. It's attractive.
BEN: It's perfect. It's sexy. It's good. It's sexy, but not overdone.
How was Cannonball?
SUZIE: The setting was really romantic and had a great vibe. I haven't been there since it opened and I didn't even know that the whole other side of the restaurant existed.
BEN: Cannonball was great. I've only been there once before and I only made it to that very first part way up the stairs. We were commenting on how cool of a bar it was, you know - modern, rooftop, great views, great atmosphere.
What did you have to eat and drink there?
SUZIE: We just had one of their popular cocktails and then we had the sunset roll, and it was really good.
BEN: We each got a roll, and I got a beer. She got a cocktail of some sort. I love sushi.
How was Grant Grill?
SUZIE: It was perfect. The setting was super intimate, and they had a live band that just set the mood. We got to know each other a little better. We kind of got into more detail about our background, his family. I think we opened up a little more thanks to the booze, honestly. I like that. I got to know a lot more about him.
BEN: Very upscale and elegant. The tequila drink that was lit on fire was very good, and the service and presentation were great. The jazz band was on point and allowed us to dance like old people after dinner.
What did you eat and drink there?
SUZIE: We had craft cocktails that were lit on fire; it was actually very entertaining. The food was amazing. We had a flatbread and pork belly.
BEN: Tequila, pork belly, couple other things. And more tequila, lots of tequila.
What's the most attractive thing your date has done so far?
SUZIE: He's a gentleman. He is making sure that I'm always okay, he's always checking on me, making sure that he's not making me uncomfortable. I think that's really sweet.
BEN: This is going to sound weird, but, eat... like a normal person would eat, not like a little girly girl would eat. That's big to me. I think everyone likes to eat. I'm a big eater; I love food. I don't like girls that hold back just because they're trying to watch their figure or whatever it is.
What would your parents say if you brought your date home?
SUZIE: I think my dad would like him.
BEN: They would definitely like her.
Rate your date on a scale from one to 10 for looks.
SUZIE: I would say a nine.
BEN: She's a nine.
How about for personality?
BEN: She's a nine.
Do you want to kiss your date now?
SUZIE: I alread- ... Yes.
BEN: I'd kiss her.
Does your date want to kiss you?
SUZIE: I don't know. I'd hope so.
BEN: I have no idea.
Anything else you want to say?
SUZIE: Good job.
In Good Taste
On the menu at Grant Grill
1) The Green-Go - Tequila Cabeza, freshly made serrano cucumber juice, Luxardo Maraschino Liquor, fresh lime, dried chile and tajin. Aromatic torch.
2) Tequila Cabeza blanco
3) La Paloma Peligrosa: Tequila Cabeza, Campari, Ancho Reyes, honey, grapefruit juice and soda. Garnished with a dehydrated grapefruit rind.
1) Braised smoked pork belly, lavender pear puree, corn bread, honey comb
2) Roasted beets, figs, Sumac yogurt, Marcona almonds, chardonnay syrup
3) Flatbread - figs, almonds, arugula, prosciutto, goat cheese and balsamic reduction.
The U.S. Grant Hotel
326 Broadway, Downtown
Sugar and spice... and liking each other's nice
After the mid-date break, the magazine crew finally leaves the daters to enjoy the rest of their evening away from the camera. A couple days later, we call to see what we missed.
PacificSD: What did you think of Top of the Hyatt?
SUZIE: I've never been to the Top of the Hyatt. The view was absolutely stunning.
BEN: Really cool setting with amazing views.
What did you eat and drink there?
SUZIE: We had cocktails and ordered a chocolate fondue dessert. We got a little more comfortable with each other at this point.
BEN: After syphoning all the chocolate fondue down our throats, we saved calories by drinking vodka-sodas with lemon.
What did you do for the rest of the evening after Top of the Hyatt?
SUZIE: We stayed and hung out for a while at the Hyatt. He has a great sense of humor, so we mostly laughed, which I find very attractive.
BEN: We stayed at the Hyatt until about midnight. I could've talked to her all night, but I'm an old man, and it was way past my bedtime, especially on a school night.
When did you get home?
SUZIE: I got home around 12:30 a.m.
BEN: I got home around 12:45 a.m.
Was there a kiss or romantic exchange?
SUZIE: Yes, there was a very passionate kiss when he dropped me off, and that's when we exchanged numbers.
BEN: I don't kiss and tell.
What was the best part of the date?
SUZIE: The kiss. I'm extremely attracted to him, and we actually have so much in common. We definitely have some chemistry, so it was the perfect ending to a blind date.
BEN: The best part of the date was when we were left alone. We acted more naturally then.
What was the worst part of the date?
SUZIE: For a blind date, nothing felt uncomfortable or went bad. I'm extremely surprised on how well this turned out.
BEN: Worst part was finding out she'll probably kick my ass in boxing.
Will there be a second date?
SUZIE: There most definitely is a second date. We've kept in touch ever since, so I'm excited to see him again.
BEN: Yes, because we both Facebook-stalked each other afterwards and were approved.
What's one thing your date really should know before going on another date?
SUZIE: My date should really know that I own two cats and I'm a Scorpio. Enough said.
BEN: My dog Jax is Number One in my heart.
What could have made this date better?
SUZIE: I can't really complain on how this date could have been better. I had such a good time with him and I'm so glad we hit it off.
BEN: More room for activities.
What did you learn about yourself last night?
SUZIE: I learned to be more spontaneous and try things that I wouldn't normally do. You never know what good can come from it.
BEN: I learned that making spontaneous decisions like this are always a good idea. Opportunity lies just on the other side of your comfort zone.
Top of the Hyatt
1 Market Pl., Downtown
AFTERMATCH: Cheers to another successful matchmaking experiment! Despite the tepid start, the date heated up nicely by the end of the second course when, asked if she'd like to kiss Ben, Suzie said, "I alread-." The evening caught fire, literally, over drinks at Grant Grill, then Suzie melted like so much fondue when "there was a very passionate kiss when he dropped me off."
For Ben, Suzie has it all: brains, beauty and the ability to eat "like a normal person would eat, not like a little girly girl would eat." In fact, the two have so much in common, they even share a taste for animals - from dogs to cats to pork belly. Plus, she's a boxer, and he's already enamored by a boxer, his "Number One" love, Jax.
In the end, Suzie said, "There most definitely is a second date." After finding love at first bite, it seems like both daters will be coming back for more.