Um, waiter, there is a child in my saucePublished 6:45am Sunday, February 2, 2014
Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster
Am I a horrible mother for understanding that my children are not wanted everywhere?
Questions of whether it’s OK when upscale eateries choose to ban babies and other children of a lesser size were in the news again this month.
Chef Grant Achantz of Chicago’s Alinea restaurant tweeted that a couple brought an 8 month old baby in for dinner because their sitter canceled and the baby cried from soup to nuts. “Tell ppl no kids? Subject diners 2crying?” he asked.
Pretty soon everybody was arguing again, thumping their chests right through their babies in their Baby Bjorns, convinced they were on the right side of a serious moral debate. Except for me, I stared at the ground and shuffled my feet hoping no one would ask my opinion.
I get uncomfortable when this subject comes up, only a few people know how I really feel, so please don’t tell anyone when I say ban the little rabble-rousers.
That may sound harsh, but is it really as harsh as having your one night out in months ruined because somebody decides a two year old needs to eat macaroni and cheese in a dimly lit dining room and drink apple juice out of a wine glass? Eventually that two year old is going to go full toddler and everyone’s going to suffer. That’s harsh.
I’m not spouting theory. It’s experience. We occasionally take Gertie and Clara to decent restaurants. I learned early on not to linger over the menu or expect normal healthy digestion and to rely on breath mints for dessert because my days of admiring the caramelizing on my crème brulee are over.
The first time I realized the folly of fine dining with toddlers was when I ordered a big slice of tenderloin and had to cut it with the sharp edge of my broken fingernail because we’d removed all the knives from the table. Then as I was tending to Clara on my left, Gertie’s hand darted out from the right and punched my béarnaise sauce right in its tarragon. What kind of maniac would treat a beautiful meal that way?
That’s when the idea of a ban started to make sense to me. If I didn’t want to eat at an expensive restaurant with my children, why did I expect anyone else to?
She wasn’t even remorseful. It was like she shot that lovely béarnaise just to watch it die. “Kid,” I said softly and slowly, “You can wreck my house, ruin my clothes, deprive me of sleep and lay waste to my bank account, but never ever mess with my sauce.” Then, just to make sure she knew I was deadly serious, I stuck her little paw in my mouth, licked it clean, and used it to signal the waiter for a doggie bag. Somewhere I fell off message because she just laughed and stuck her other hand in my mouth.
People are tired. They work long hours. Money isn’t as plentiful as it once was and babysitters are expensive. Many have one night out a month, (I almost wrote week, but who am I kidding?) to go out and enjoy dinner without interruption. As cute as I think my kids are, as much as I think they are a gift to the world, who am I to subject other people to their undeveloped table manners at 30 bucks a plate and a two week wait for reservations?
The world is wide; there are many places to get a tray of calamari. What’s the big deal if a few swanky restaurants want to keep kids out during peak dinner hours so patrons can enjoy a side of peace and quiet with their sea urchin and trout roe? I don’t get the fury this incites. Very few places can afford to turn away customers of any age, so it’s not as if families will be hanging around back alleys looking for discarded baskets of stale artisan bread.
If a ban is really too upsetting, how about a compromise where every child under 12 has to answer one question before he or she is deemed Michelin star ready?
Youngster, what do you order when you dine at a fine restaurant?
a. Whaa! Whaa! Whaa!
b. Chicken strips.
c. I have to go to the bathroom.
d. Don’t rush me. I’ll tell you in 45 minutes after I’ve had a cocktail.
Nothing but “D” will do. Sorry, kid. There’s a Chuck E. Cheese down the road.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears every other Sunday. She may be reached at email@example.com, and her blog is at alexandrakloster.com.