Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Restaurant Babies

Last September Mark suggested that we take the twins to a restaurant. I thought he was nuts. Previously, taking them to restaurants meant hoping they’d sleep through it, as when they were a few months old. My parents and I took them to AG Ferrari and Armadillo Willy’s BBQ a couple times when the babies were around 11 months old, so the proud grandparents could get a chance to show them off. We hadn’t taken the babies out to eat with us since, and I assumed that bringing them and keeping them entertained would be unpleasant for everyone - us, the babies, and anyone within earshot of the restaurant.

So we took them to Taiwan Restaurant, where the servers remembered them from their last visit when they were four months old, and it went great! They were model eaters. Even though they can be a handful when they eat at home, they’re not when they’re out.

James and Julia eat at a restaurant for the first time.

"Does every meal at a restaurant end with a cookie? I could really get behind this."

So after that we took them out to restaurants all the time - usually 4 times a week. James and Julia’s penchant for eating slowly means we can’t always do all the activities we want in the morning but at a restaurant it really pays off! They usually finish long after we do and it’s fine - we don’t have to worry about entertaining them at all. And they are excited to look around a new place. They even ask to go!

The twins are generally very well-behaved so we aren’t even forced into the kid ghettos of restaurant chains and fast food restaurants. Plus all the nice attention because they are twins, quite young (we started when they weren’t yet 2), AND the only kids in the place is fun. We even patronized fancy restaurant, Anzu, during San Francisco’s Dine About Town promotion.

The twins enjoy fine dining at Anzu: “They better not forget the truffle oil on my mac ‘n cheese.”

James seemed terrified by the belly dancer at Morocco’s.

(James close-up) Bubby said, “Wait ‘til he’s 18.”

They also like perusing the menus themselves. Often Mark and I barely get to glance at ours! When our water is refilled, not wanting to be left out, James and Julia insist on having their water cups opened and refilled as well, even when their cups are already full.

"I'll have the Tom Kha Gai, and the gentleman - I mean my *brother* - will have the Pad Kee Mao."

Julia is a big flirt at restaurants. (My parents say I was too but that I don’t hold a candle to Julia.) She often will go up to tables when it’s time to go and say “hi” to each one, leaving charmed diners in her wake. (Mark often encourages it and tells her it’s time to say “bye” to the tables. Sometimes when we take her out of her high chair, she’ll stand for a moment and announce “bye” to the restaurant as though Queen Julia is taking her leave.) When someone smiles at James he often will act bashful and turn away and then turn and smile back.

James and his tomato-sauced face flirts with the table behind us at Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi Too.

The restaurant they’ve visited most is probably Su Hong. After going there a few times they thought every meal out ended with a fortune cookie. (When asked the name of the restaurant, they say, “Cookie Restaurant.”) They also like the chicken and string beans, the broccoli in the Empress Chicken, and soup. They’re especially enamored with the colorful bendy straws and Papa once stealthily collected one in each color for them to take home. (Once when Julia had a meltdown after dinner and refused to get in her car seat and struggled so much we couldn’t buckle her in, the straws saved the day as a much needed bribe.)

Julia bites off a mu shu pancake.

Bubby points out Grandpa's big watch to Julia at Su Hong.

Julia particularly likes to say bye to everyone she passes upon leaving Su Hong, and Mark noticed that once she even made a sullen teenage boy smile. We often have other diners actually approach us to say that they’ve never seen such well behaved toddlers at a restaurant, which is very very sweet. One time, James told one such patron, “Hi sweetie” and she smiled and melted, saying, “You’re too young for me.”

Other favorite or notable restaurants:

Sweet Mango - At this Burmese and Chinese restaurant, the servers go gaga for them and constantly hug them and kiss their heads. Surprisingly the babies aren’t taken aback by the lack of personal boundaries and are really good about it, and by the time we go, hug them back and smile. One visit Julia wore a shirt with an anchor and hearts that said “S.S. Cutie Pie.” The babies had learned the words “cutie pie” that day so James called the proprietress a cutie pie. Right afterwards I could hear her speaking Burmese in the kitchen except two words in English stood out: “cutie pie”! She was talking about them!

James hugs Cindy, his cutie pie.

James loves the curry chicken noodle soup here so much he has been known to pluck the noodles out of my bowl. And the fried banana with ice cream is a big hit too.

The Old Siam - This was Bubby’s first restaurant experience with our toddlers. James loves the tom kha gai soup so much that when he had the leftovers he ate so much he threw up. He also loves the mango (“more mango!”), satay, and any dish with bamboo. I get exhausted feeding him here. Often I can’t give him food fast enough, and I barely get a bite in myself!

“Mango, where have you been all my life?”

Blue Line Pizza - Three reasons this restaurant is popular with the babies: 1) pizza, 2) kid menus on the back of travel doodlers, and 3) we can sit outside and watch the light rail trains go by.

James eats pizza for the first time in a restaurant and really needs to close his mouth.

Dining al fresco at Blue Line

James plays with the travel doodler.

Cook’s Seafood - They love the fried fish and LOVE the French fries. And the little package of oyster crackers. And there are plenty of old people to ooh and aah over them.

Julia decided to walk into Cook's Seafood by holding onto both of Mommy's legs, and she now does this on every visit to Cook’s. (Whenever James sees this picture he exclaims "Crackers!" remembering the oyster crackers he eats here.)

Benihana - The twins can still name - four months later - the four foods they ate here (egg, zucchini, soup, and I have trouble remembering the other one but I’m sure they can tell me! (Update: James says the missing one is beef AND correctly named a fifth, chicken.) They enjoyed wearing hats and watching the chef do tricks at Benihana, but when we ate at Sakura Teppanyaki, a similar teppanyaki restaurant, it was a disaster. The chefs purposely shot up fire out the grills which delighted the 10-year-olds that this place is teeming with but terrified my 2-year-olds. (And even after your grill is off, fire shoots out of adjacent grills so my toddlers were perpetually on edge.) Julia was petrified and ended up on my lap the entire meal. And our table was populated by brats, one of whom got a couple inches from James’s face to tell him, “Stop staring at me.” Um, he’s 2. And right before this you shoved a mechanical bird in his face. And he’s never seen a brat of your caliber before, so I can’t blame him for staring. (Update: at a recent re-visit of Benihana, when the chef started juggling utensils James was afraid of the noise and sat briefly in my lap. He quickly got used to it, and was happy watching the chef by the end of the meal.)

Meet Iron Chef Julia and Iron Chef James.

Julia doesn't like the flames that leap from the grill at Sakura Teppanyaki.

Julia sits on Mommy's lap the rest of the meal but manages a smile at the end.

Chevys - The twins and Daddy call this “Fun Baby Restaurant” because Mark likes to take them here when I go to a Mom’s Night Out (or as Mark tells the twins, “Mommy’s going to a cool restaurant with her cool friends”). In case you missed it, let me repeat, Mark ENJOYS taking toddlers to a restaurant BY HIMSELF. We usually have the hide the chips because otherwise that’s all James and Julia would eat.

It's a momentous occasion - the twins' first trip to Chevys at 1 ½ months. Grandma and Kathy sit where else but in the bar.

First meal at Chevys, modern era

House of Bagels - Daddy likes to take walks here with the babies in the stroller in the late morning and share a bagel or two with them (and effectively fill them up so they won’t each lunch). The four of us have also gone here for lunch, followed by a haircut next door for Julia (while James - afraid of haircuts - cowers outside), and then Safeway for running around time.

Bagel lunch

Chaat Paradise - The twins like to dip Indian breads in the mint, tamarind, and the yogurt-y raita dipping sauces. Heck, they like dipping anything into them and that includes food I bring from home.

Julia dips her cheese slice into the mint sauce.

James happily submerges his peanut butter and jelly sandwich into the raita and then acts surprised when it’s a big white mess.

Casa de Cobre - Julia likes when Mark lets her drink from his glass. She drinks and then says “Daddy!” and he has to drink. Over and over again. It’s like he’s doing shots... with a 1-year-old.

The twins eat at Casa de Cobre for the first time.
James seems pleased...
Meanwhile Julia tries to escape.

The Old Spaghetti Factory - My criteria for dressing them for a visit here: dark clothes. My mom and I used to take the babies here until they were about 6 months old. (Since they weren’t on a schedule yet, every day my mom and I would hope that the twins would happen to finish their milk in a small window around 11 a.m. so we could scurry there for lunch.) My parents’ first meal out with our little ones as toddlers was here. The twins loved the pasta, and they tried ice cream for the first time. James was funny as he held it in his mouth to warm up and then swallow. Julia complained that hers was too cold and made my mom blow on it. But when they fell asleep on the way home and then didn’t take naps I declared a moratorium on all lunches out.

Papa feeds Julia.

James feeds James.

Gaga feeds James ice cream for the first time.

Time to go home


  1. I am so jealous! I have 17 month old twin boys, and OMG! I'm sure we will get booted out of the next restaurant we take them to - they refuse to sit down in their high chairs, throw food, want our silverware/salt and pepper shakers/etc.
    How can I train them better?

  2. I love that they dip their food into things! I bet Ernie will be all over that concept. Eating, grasping, AND taking out/putting in!!

  3. Vidya, we didn't do anything special. We are just super lucky, especially since my husband and I love restaurants to much and love to go. My kids, especially my son, are super slow eaters, and often that means I can't get out of the house to do fun things (so you're lucky on that) but works out well for restaurants.

    How did you find my site by the way? Thanks for reading.

    Kate, James LOVES dipping his food. Last time Mark's mom was here and took away his plate prematurely he announced, "I not done dipping yet!"

    Lots of things work for dipping: hummus, bean dip, salad dressing, applesauce, teriyaki sauce, pesto, marinara sauce, BBQ sauce. (I asked James his favorite food a few months ago and he said strawberries and BBQ sauce.)