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Sep 24 2013

Best Place to Take Your Toddler Out to Dinner: Nowhere

By at 2:23 pm

alexis kort dinner with toddlerBack in the good old pre-baby days, my favorite activity was going out to dinner.

As far as I am concerned, the very best part of living in New York City is having the chance to go to one of the thousands of places to eat in the five boroughs. I loved trying new restaurants, going out with girlfriends for happy hour cocktails and shared appetizers, dinner with Jdates, and then later on, sharing meals with my husband.  I even enjoyed going out to eat by myself with a glass of wine and the latest New Yorker.

Now, I hate going out to eat. Well, to be exact, I hate going out to eat with Charlotte. I love her, but she is the worst dinner date. I love when she loves what she is eating, because I take so much joy in food. But restaurant dining is just not her thing. I do not hold it against her that she has the attention span of a 2-year-old–because she is a 2-year-old. I just wish we could find a restaurant that could actually cater to her 2-year-old needs.

It doesn’t matter how many crayons or bendy straws you throw at her, Charlotte does not want to sit in a high chair for more than two consecutive minutes. She’ll practice her percussion skills with chopsticks for five minutes at a time, but that’s not so fun for the surrounding diners. A booth works well, until she climbs over to the other side. We go for super early dinners–4:30 early-bird Palm Springs retirement style, before the dinner rush, but still, I find myself spending most of the meal walking around with Charlotte, wolfing down a few bites here and there, until her dad takes a turn entertaining her while I gulp down the last of my overpriced Pinot Grigio.

Every month or so we try again. I get tired of cooking every night, and I’ve never been the type who is satisfied to have a bowl of cereal for dinner. We sat down for dinner every evening together when I was growing up and this is something I very much want for my family too. But some nights when we haven’t had a chance to go grocery shopping in a while and I am uninspired to cook, I want to go out. More importantly, I want someone else to make, serve, and clean up from dinner.

My husband and I are not opposed to putting an iPad or iPhone in front of her for a while. The other morning at 6:15 a.m. Charlotte watched a half an hour of various YouTube “Wheels on the Bus” renditions while I snoozed in bed. Lord knows I don’t judge parents who bring electronics to the restaurant table; we just haven’t done it yet.

What gets us every time is that period between ordering and when the food actually arrives. Mexican is our best bet, because Charlotte is happy to eat and then crunch up tortilla chips for a good seven-minute stretch. Brunch is a better option for us, and one place in particular where they put out those little individual half n’ half plastic thimble containers. Charlotte will do shot after shot until they are all gone, or we hide them behind the napkin dispenser. Since she’s still a bit below average weight wise, we figure some straight cream is good for her.

She is particularly fond of this local hamburger chain in Seattle. But the thing about Dick’s is that you eat in your car. Not exactly the restaurant experience Mama is looking for. After Rosh Hashanah children’s services, she shouted that she wanted to go to Dick’s so she could eat French fries and a strawberry milk shake. We told Charlotte that Dick’s was closed because it was Rosh Hashanah. My parents used to tell me and my sister that McDonald’s was broken when we wanted to go there for lunch and they didn’t.

I would like to recognize that my restaurant angst is a total “one percenter” non-problem problem. In another year or two, Charlotte will be a fabulous dinner companion and we’ll have a three-week window between the time that she likes to go out to eat and her currently un-conceived sibling will take up the baton of being a holy terror in confined, crowded spaces.

In the meantime, one of the other things I miss the most about living in NYC is take-out and delivery.

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