Maybe it's because I just battled the flu, or because Lucy battled the flu too, and for awhile we were losing, with our night sweats and 102 temperatures and the days where all we wanted to do was have people leave us alone and let us nap, but we're feeling kind of snappy now. We're coming out the other side. And frankly, I feel like kicking a little ass.
The questions is, who's ass do I want to kick? Well, just this week, I've knocked two restaurants off my list of places to eat. Two, in one week. Two among a handful of places that had been fun for us adults and also for the kids - good food, good vibes, good folks. Not perfect, not worthy of critical accolades, just easy, un-stressful, comforting, not expensive, welcoming.
It's not easy to eat out with kids, but we've done it since they were babies. I've breast fed under blankets in restaurants, pulled screaming toddlers out from underneath tables, ran after one that ended up startled but weirdly happy in the arms of the chef in the kitchen. My children have dazzled guests and staff with their strangely obedient and demure behavior and table manners, and occasionally people have complimented us, told us how great our kids are, how mature and sane they are in public places, how cool we are as parents.
Also people have given us pissed off glances, rolled their eyes at us, and loudly remarked about how kids shouldn't be allowed in restaurants. We've been a beacon for other parents desperate to get out of the house, and social pariahs ruining the dinners and good times of the childless. It just depended on the day, really.
We've never allowed our children to destroy someone's meal and on more than one occasion, we've thrown in the towel, and simply left or when we couldn't leave, one of us took the hit for the team and walked up and down the sidewalk, comforting and coaxing our child to sleep while the other one stayed inside and entertained out of town guests or colleagues.
We're glad we did all of that...
Our kids know good food and good restaurants. And because of our whacked out sense of adventure, they know bad food and bad restaurants. But I'm finding it isn't enough to just eat out anymore. Just being out in the world and learning to eat in public, sit quietly and amuse oneself in a banquet, and try new food is no longer enough. The girls are older now. They are starting to develop habits, see certain things as normal. They are taking it all in. I have to be more conscious.
The truth is, we've been in a restaurant rut. At our place in the country, in New Paltz, one of our favorite places is Gomen Kudesai. We go there and love it - you can see why here, but that's not what this post is about. It's about how a restaurant the kids call "The Treasure Chest" and another called "Main Street Bistro" just got on my every last nerve this week. Maybe it's the fever talking, maybe it's my sleep-deprived, cranky self, but I've wiped them off our list. I won't be going back. I can hold a grudge.
The Treasure Chest (better known among adults as McGillicuddy's) re-opened last year with a bright new chef fresh out of the CIA and a manager/owner who was trying to upgrade everything about the place; the outside facade, the food, the clientele. He was on a mission. Every time they saw us, the chef poured out of the kitchen with the newest steaming dish they created and were just about to add to the menu. They proudly offered us a sample. We loved their joy, their sense of hope, their anticipation of the future, the way they wanted to create something.
They also instituted "The Treasure Chest", a big plastic pirate trunk filled with dollar store toys. The kids got to pick a couple and spent the majority of the dinner playing with pink fairies or painting little wooden flowers. David and I got to have that extra glass of wine and sit for a little instead of eating and running out of the restaurant with irritated, crazed children.
We also felt catered to. They wanted to attract families. We got that the treasure chest was a cheap marketing ploy - a step up from a McDonald's Happy Meal, I suppose - but we appreciated the effort, the attempt to woo us. The food was definitely bar food, nothing new or surprising, but they were trying and that meant something to us. We wanted to wait them out, give them a shot. Anyway, the steak and salmon fajitas were fresh, hot, predictable in a good way, and we stuck to what was good.
That is until this week. The kids begged to go mostly because of the damned treasure chest. As if it were Disney World. We went. We chose our toys. We all ordered food and with the exception of David's steak fajita, it was all bland, limp, flavorless, gross. The salad I ordered was mushy globs of head lettuce. The pasta the kids ordered didn't even have salt. I cursed myself that I didn't order them the salmon fajita, but I want them to be independent, have choices, not have a food nazi mother.
The food was so bad it was a revelation.
The food had been getting worse lately, but I had turned a blind eye, wanted to give them a chance, hoped they'd pull it together. I let the stupid trunk of toys set the agenda for where we ate even though I knew the food was getting more and more pathetic. The bright young chef from CIA either sucked, or he gave up, or they let him go. We won't be going back. They are off the list.
I just can't send a message that one of "our places" is full of mediocre food, prepared with a flippancy and lack of care that you can taste on the fork. That is not a message I want to send for an $80-$100 family outing. Or any outing.
The other restaurant to get thrown off my list, The Main Street Bistro, cooks all kinds of wholesome vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free menu items. They are hippie-dippie. Cheap food, nothing fancy, but real food. Try to get a table there for Sunday brunch, just try, the line heads down the street. The Main Street Bistro is the kind of place that attracts brunch-goers, foodies looking for a casual lunch, and college students. The kind of place where you know when you order that burrito, it will come out to you hot, fat and over-stuffed with tomatoes, avocados, chunks of chicken and thick globs of salsa and sour cream. Just the way you want to eat it after a hangover.
I got exactly what I thought I would, which is why when Edie said she wanted chicken nuggets, I said great. She wanted clam chowder or another kind of soup, but I knew the jalapeno soup wasn't going to go down well. So, I figured these people probably did a decent nugget. Surely a place like this - so focused on healthy food and things garnished with alfalfa sprouts - would make their own chicken nuggets.
It didn't even occur to me that the processed, crap food on the menu at this restaurant was reserved for the children. That healthy was for adults only. That all that catering to food preferences and food allergies didn't extend to catering to children. Maybe because they don't have a voice. Maybe because they'll accept whatever crap we put in front of them.
Truth is, The Main Street Bistro pissed me off more than McGillicuddy's. I expected mediocre bar food from a third rate bar. I expected our kids would get the shitty food we got. I saw it coming. In my heart of hearts, I knew it, saw the decline coming, the lack of attention, the enthusiasm waning, even if I didn't want to admit it. Even if I was rooting for them. But the Bistro really pissed me off.
Don't flaunt your cool, wholesome, hip, organic, vegan, gluten-free menu options at me and then deliver my kid completely gross, processed chicken nuggets from a box. Put your money where your mouth is and roll a few bits of chicken in panko, salt it and bake it. A little parsley garnish wouldn't kill you. Don't make it so obvious that you care about the people with the wallets but you're willing to serve my kids the crappiest food available.
Do not short-change my kid. I'll pay a little more if I have to. I'll order an app size of a main for my kid when I can - some shrimp on the grill and a good hearty soup maybe - but every so often my kid wants some chicken nuggets and I want to say yes. Serve your own kids the box stuff at your own house, but don't do it at your healthy restaurant. Be true to who you are. Be healthy, hippie-dippy or just make crappy bar food and bring out a treasure chest full of cheap gifts.
Either way, I'm not going to back to either of your restaurants. Because my kids are watching what we do. And I need to do better. That's on me.