I really hate dating.
I used to love it. In college I would sometimes go out on several dates per week, not really caring how they turned out, just enjoying the fact that I was meeting new people and trying new restaurants and bars. I suppose part of it is that I am only recently single, but now, whenever I have a date, I actually get nervous and drop things and worry about what to wear. What is THAT about? Where is the carefree 20-year-old whose only concern was that she might double-book herself? Apparently she's somewhere in 2002 having a fabulous time while I dab on eye cream and fret in 2008.
I guess dating is also different now that I'm 26 and not 20. It's usually expected that a first date take place in an actual restaurant (and not, say, a dorm room), and that at least a small sum of money is spent. All of this is good, as I like restaurants, but disaster can STILL lurk around the corner. Choose your first date restaurant poorly, and you'll only up the anxiety that a first date already provokes.
In my opinion the ideal first date restaurant should be:
1) Centrally located between you and your date. Of course, if you and your date live in different cities or if only one of you has a car and public transportation is not an option, there are exceptions, but if you are meeting for the first time (like in the case of a blind date), or you don't know your date very well, I think it's best to arrive separately, that way, if you need to escape after your meal, you can do so without having to ask be driven home, or having to drive someone home first.
2) In both parties' price range. Obviously, you can't ask your date what his/her annual salary is before making a reservation, so when in doubt, go with a somewhat casual restaurant with low-medium prices. Even if you are planning on paying, it can feel awkward to the other person when the prices are above their price range.
3)Equipped with a full bar, or at least beer and wine. If, you or your date don't drink, then of course this goes out the window, but for me, I like to know that if I need a glass of zinfandel to quiet my nerves, I'll be able to order it.
My favorite first date restaurants in San Francisco are:
Monk's Kettle: http://www.monkskettle.com/
Osha Thai: http://www.oshathai.com/