When I sat down and began to write about the best date night options in town, I couldn’t get Chris Farley’s voice out of my head. His SNL sketch, reading through the Zagat Guide, describing the City Steakhouse and Mario’s Restaurant has always stuck with me. How could I know that 25 years later, this sketch would serve as the catalyst for my fascination with food reviews? Much like Chris’ character, I too wanted to know what hotspot had a “sensual setting that sets the mood for any romantic rendezvous”. When looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion and light the romantic fire, the last thing you need is a crumby meal to extinguish the flame. When it comes to date night fare in Billings, these spots stand above the rest.
Buffalo Block at the Rex is special. I am not sure that the residents of Billings truly know how lucky we are to have a place like this in our town. No details are missed at this establishment; from the staff uniforms to the décor, to the quality of food, everything is done right. The amount of time and attention paid to their Prime wet and dry-aged steaks is commendable.
My first experience at Buffalo Block was for my birthday. My wife and I had heard about how amazing the food was and were extremely eager to give them a try. We started with a glass of champagne and escargot (one of the only places in Billings to serve the delicacy). As a server came by to drop off the aperitifs, he misstepped and covered my wife in the bubbly. This brings me to my first point about why this place is so special: the service. Completely mortified and more than apologetic, the server didn’t even have enough time to realize what had happened before the lead waiter was at our table with a towel for my wife and another to clean the spill. Within a minute, the manager was tableside to offer us the starter and drinks on the house. He went one step further and offered us his card and complimentary dry cleaning for my wife’s clothing. This could have been an experience that ruined the night within the first 10 minutes. Instead, they handled the situation professionally and with class.
After the excitement died down, our sommelier stopped over to offer his recommendations on wine. As he poured our cabernet into a decanter, we ordered our meal: lobster bisque, French onion soup, prime rib, lamb chops, a side of lobster mac and cheese, and truffle fries (no we do not eat like this every Friday night). This now brings me to my second point: the quality of the food. The cook of the meat was a perfect medium rare. As we were near the kitchen, we were able to watch the chefs lowering and raising the meat above a wood fire. This process brings with it a smoky flavor that we very much appreciate. The richness of the lobster in both dishes was impeccable. Considering we are landlocked; we always get a little squeamish when sampling seafood in Montana. They quelled every concern we had. What spoke volumes to us was not only the taste and quality of our mains, but the attention paid to the little things like the dinner rolls (which are incredible), the striking wine list, and ensuring that enough decanters are available for every table to properly let the wine breathe. To ensure that our experience was flawless, as the meal came to an end, the manager came by one last time to offer us a complimentary dessert. Since we felt we could take no more, and at the time were having a dessert of fermented grapes, we politely declined. Few establishments and even fewer meals get everything perfect, but Buffalo Block did. They have done so repeatedly, as we have been back several times since. If you are looking for a place to stand out on your special night, this is it.
Suggested order, date night for two: Escargot (if the idea of snails is too much for you, go with the Braised Pork Belly), Lobster Bisque, Prime Rib (Friday or Saturday only, I go with the herb and garlic crusted option), Chef’s Double Bone-In Pork Chop, for good measure, get a side of Lobster mac and Cheese.
Every reader over the age of 30 likely remembers the television show, Cheers. Every time George Wendt’s character, Norm, walked into the bar, the whole place would yell, “Norm”, welcoming him with a vivacious greeting. This is the feeling I get when I enter Walkers, partly because my wife and I have become regulars, but mainly because every person on staff is “truly glad you came”.
My first experience at Walkers was in the original location in the Old Chamber Building. I still remember the dim lights of the basement, the leather seats, and the three-piece jazz trio. I remember thinking that this place was special. For a 15-year-old sophomore attending a West High pre-formal dinner, I couldn’t do much better. Now as a 37-year-old, it still doesn’t get much better.
Walkers has become my dining room away from home, and my local watering hole for a few years now. If the menu didn’t change on a regular basis, I could easily state that I have tasted the menu two times over. Luckily, Executive Chef Nick Steen and his team are constantly coming up with new, creative ideas to continually evolve the menu. The ambiance is casual and sophisticated. It feels upscale but never stuffy.
For the date night experience, it is fun to start out in the bar (the best in Billings for my money, with the friendliest and most talented bartenders). Historically, my pre-dinner staple has been the Midnight Hour, Walkers’ spin on the classic Aperol Spritz. However, the newest option on the menu, the Red Wedding, just may have taken its place. For a special occasion, lean on their sparkling wine and Champagne selection. Since the menu rotates, it is always fun to try something new. The Burrata, Casey’s Korean Beef Bowl, and the Meatloaf, however, are all mainstays and never-miss orders.
Suggested order, date night for two: Red Wedding, Burrata, Beet Salad, Gnocchi, and whatever is on special…trust them.
My home will always be Montana, but I left my heart in the Mediterranean 6 years ago. As tough as it is to find something that reminds me of a quaint European bistro here in Billings, Bistro Enzo is doing their very best…and what food speaks the language of love more than Mediterranean?
While paying homage to French and Italian cuisine, Executive Chef Alex Bean has found a way to incorporate a New American flare that is distinctly Bistro Enzo. Known for their scratch-made pastas, and nearly impossible-to-beat-in-Billings seafood, Bistro Enzo also cranks out phenomenal steaks and wood-fired pizzas (devotees of my blog will recall an honorable mention award for pizza in a previously posted edition). The food alone is enough to bring me back on a regular basis, but the wine list, amazing staff, and overall ambiance are extremely notable as well. Guests are greeted by the open wood fire oven, and numerous Kira Fercho paintings (a bonus for this art collector). I prefer the main floor, but there is something entirely intimate about sitting upstairs. For readers looking for the special date night touch, I would request upstairs seating.
Suggested order, date night for two: Since I simply couldn’t decide on a starter, just order both the White Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura along with the Ahi Tuna Tartare (the tartare can definitely be a meal on its own), Caesar salad (pro-tip add the Turkish white anchovies), Wise Guy Pizza, Carbonara (pro tip add the poached egg) or just trust whatever meat or seafood special is offered. You won’t be disappointed.
When asked by friends or family, “Where is Juliano’s”, my response is always the same, “downtown, next door to the castle.” For locals, that is enough direction. Originally constructed in 1905 as a stable house for the castle next door, Juliano’s was revamped into one of the more charming restaurants in the state in 1995. Since then, Chef Carl Kurokawa has been cranking out award-winning cuisine. After teaming up with his now son-in-law, chef Seth Carlson, the combo has been creating Asian & Hawaiian-inspired takes on culinary classics. The historic Victorian home also sets the mood for a unique and romantic experience. For thrill-seekers, you can also request to sit upstairs for your chance to have an encounter with the resident ghost of Earnest E. Murray who is said to give diners a genuine Montana haunting. My favorite aspect of Juliano’s is the fact that they reset the entire menu (lunch, dinner, and dessert monthly). The duo never exhausts their creativity and consistently come up with some of the most delicious meals in Billings.
Suggested order, date night for two: Since they produce a new menu every month, it is tough to give an up-to-date recommendation. I would certainly start with a bottle of Rombauer Zinfandel, and any idea they come up with involving octopus for a starter. I would lean into the lamb option (which is almost always on the menu) and any duck creation. I would suggest finishing the meal off with this month’s Crème brûlée option.
Three years have passed since Lilac closed their doors and I still think about them on a weekly basis. I would be remiss if I did not mention them, and all the phenomenal ways they served this community. The Lilac staff set the bar for the culinary experience in Billings. They always went above and beyond what people expected a restaurant to represent in this town and offered an "out-of-Billings" experience. Without question, they held my top spot as “Best of Billings” for 8 years. Anniversaries, birthdays, promotions, and just the run-of-the-mill Friday have not been the same. Shoutouts to Jeremy, Tom, George, and all the Lilac staff. Thank you for the memories.