Mason, dining at the Argonaut in Washington, DC, while accompanying Chris on the restaurant beat last summer.
Chris and I met in a newsroom but fell in love over food. Although our courtship took place a decade ago, we still remember the dishes that marked the major milestones in our relationship. The BBQ ribs from our first dinner together. The fondue we shared on our first Valentine’s Day. The crab cake sandwiches we ate the day we decided to live together. The red snapper we enjoyed the night we got engaged. And so on. After we got married we started to cook a lot and we fell in love with food (and each other) even more. When Mason was born we were determined to teach him to love food as much as we do. In addition to cooking together, an important part of his culinary education is going to restaurants as often as possible. Here are the best and worst parts about dining out with our one-year-old.
First, the delights:
1. The laughs. Bug loves action and New York City restaurants have plenty of it. He also enjoys the quirky characters he meets while dining out — they crack him up. What’s more fun than the sound of your child laughing?
2. The break. Someone else does the cooking, clears the table, and sweeps the floor. With all of my responsibilities as a working mom I’ve never appreciated this mealtime help more.
3. The new (to Mason) cuisines. Mason loves different flavors, particularly curry, and we’ve been lucky enough to introduce him to restaurants where people serve authentic dishes from their native countries.
4. The entertainment. See #1. In our experience, even the biggest curmudgeon can’t keep a straight face when a baby laughs — as long as said baby keeps laughing and doesn’t start screaming.
5. The date night. Chris and I eat alone in restaurants about twice a month now. Before Mason, we dined out at least four times a week. Now that dining out a deux is more of a rarity, we really enjoy it and each other.
6. The smarter spending. Since we’re only ordering the wine, the appetizers, and the desserts twice a month instead of several times a week we’ve saved a ton for our new, more important expenses, including Mason’s education.
Mason — cranky but keeping it together — while eating homemade sweet potato puree on the patio of a local restaurant.
Now for the debacles:
1. The meltdowns. There’s only been one (so far) — but the memory of it still stresses me out. We went to a cute cafe for dinner with a friend who hadn’t seen Mason in months and when I attempted to buckle him into a highchair he screamed so loudly (and unrelentingly) that we had to leave before our drinks arrived.
2. The mess. At a local Italian restaurant, Mason “painted” the white tablecloth with pizza sauce and then threw what was left of his meal on the floor. We cleaned up the floor but there was nothing we could do to save that tablecloth. Oy.
3. The delays. Mason’s at that age where he can only sit still for so long so if the food is late — regardless of the number of books, toys, snacks we bring — it’s over. Thank goodness for to-go boxes and understanding servers.
4. The inconveniences. A local cafe offers beautiful antique high chairs — but the trays, which lift up, don’t lock. Another cafe, which hosts kids activities every week, doesn’t have changing tables in the bathrooms (or anywhere else).
5. The speed eating. Before Mason, we made a habit of ordering several different dishes as well as after-dinner drinks. Now we cut straight to the entrees and eat quickly — before his good mood (and behavior) sours!
6. The (always) cold food. By the time I get Bug settled and make sure that he has everything he needs, my food is cold. Instead of ordering a dish that needs to be hot to be good, such as steak, I’ve learned to stick to salads.
What are your favorite/least favorite parts about dining out with your baby or toddler?
Photos by Chris Shott (top) and Kevin Wexler