Monday, April 21, 2008

When Crayons and Chicken Nuggets are Key

My fiancée and I recently hosted her brother and his family for a week, which included a very intelligent and outspoken three (almost four) year old and a boundless source of energy and troublemaking in the form of his brother, a one year old. Usually when dining out food was the main focus of the decision for the destination, followed by atmosphere and décor along with service. I learned when dining with the under 4 crowd, crayons can have an affect on where you dine. Décor does also, but in this case it has to do with tablecloths, in that a lack of them is ideal as it gives the one-year old nothing to grab onto and yank and cause irreparable damage to everyone else’s clothes when glasses and food go flying. Chicken nuggets are also key. They appear to be the food of choice that adults order their kids when out on the town. I don’t know what the equivalent food was when I was growing up, but the prevalence and importance of chicken nuggets in today’s society cannot be overestimated.

We wanted to give the brother and his wife a taste of Miami but we had these two lovable limitations. Here’s where we ended up:

Oasis Café (Key Biscayne) – we usually take visitors with young kids to the beach at Bill Baggs because the water is calm and I can take a walk along the trails if I need to get away. After crossing the causeway I realized we had empty stomachs and figured a pitstop for some Cuban sandwiches was in order. Both adults and kids loved them making this a stop on our second visit to the beach. Thumbs up.

Jaguar – although they don’t take reservations, you can call ahead and get your name on the wait list so you’re table is ready when you arrive. Obviously, with youngins in tow, we arrived too early for this to be an issue. Although Jaguar had no crayons or chicken nuggets and plenty of tablecloths, the meal went off well. We were given the most isolated table in the place which was perfect. The kids were entertained with the tortillas and baked pita that comes to the table first thing. We also had a bowl of decorative fruit at the table which the waiter said we could help ourselves to, but decided peeling oranges while smartly dressed was not a good idea. The waitstaff was very accommodating at getting us extra plates (the kids basically ate from what each adult donated, I was a little jealous as they got churrasco, ribeye, and chicken tacos). I’d give this place a thumbs up.

The Daily – for breakfast before our day at Jungle Island (formerly Parrot Jungle Island, formerly Parrot Jungle in Pinecrest). I’d never been for breakfast and only once for lunch. I really like the place. Ingredients seem fresh, menu is varied but everything came out well prepared. Another thumbs up.

Café at Books and Books (Beach location) – the stop after our exhausting day at Jungle Island. Although seating is outdoors and there’s some kids selections on the menu, the uncomfortable (for kids) chairs and the cumulative distractions of Lincoln Road means a fussy three-year old who barely touched his melted cheese sandwich (we had to fake it because he didn’t want a grilled cheese sandwich from the kids menu so we got him a melted cheese sandwich from the adult menu…at the kid menu price). Although I love the place, the food, etc., it’s not a place for the 4 and under set. I’d have to give it a thumbs down.

Hard Rock – on a side trip to Orlando. The place was noisy and not really much for kids to do. Kids were also exhausted. Not a bad choice, but not a great one. Then again, we’re stuck in Universal Citywalk and the pickings are slim.

Havana Harry’s – Cuban restaurants are mainly family restaurants and they handled the kids with ease. Mamey shakes came in disposable cups with straws, bread was brought out quickly and replenished even quicker. Only drawback was no kids portions, but with the size of the adult portions, the kids could’ve been fed from our plates. It was here, and at a visit to my parent’s house, that the three-year old discovered his love for Cuban food. He loved black beans and rice, roast pork, the mamey shake, flan…you name it. Unfortunately he and his family are from Sacramento and from various visits there I know that good Cuban restaurants, or any Cuban restaurants for that matter, are non-existent. Guess uncle L2M will have to do some cooking next time he’s out there.

So that’s my experience with the four and under set. It’s an entirely different world when dining with kids. Luckily the (almost) nephews were well-behaved and receptive to trying new things – more so than their parents in some cases! I don’t know if there’s a tried and true method for picking a restaurant to take kids, but I think we did pretty well avoiding the crayons and chicken nuggets rule and still having a good time.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Red Light. Go!

It's a restaurant attached to a once down-and-out motel trying to clean itself up, across a crummy canal from a strip club that alternates between straight, gay, black or white performers and on a street that's been under construction since before the U.S. invaded Iraq. A recipe for success if I've ever seen one.

Kris Wessel has taken one of the biggest gambles in the city outside of the multi-million dollar Karu & Y space in, well, wherever it is. Judging from the crowd there this Friday night, his gamble looks like it's initially paid off. Everyone seemed to know each other but I knoew no one except Douglas Rodriguez who presided over the first booth by the entrance. Red Light is a small space (I hate the word cozy, but that's what it is) with booths in an "L" shape along the windows that face the aforementioned street, canal, and performance space. The bar, with cool vintage orange bar chairs, runs parallel along the booths. The outside area isn't quite done, but when it is I see many lazy Sunday spent there.

But believe it or not we went to Red Light tonight not for the location, but for the food. The menu is very limited and there's only about 5 or 6 dishes in appetizer sizes available. Apparently these dishes will be the basis for the upcoming full menu. 5-hour braised rabbit with carrots in a freaking insanely good stew sauce, bbq shrimp in an even more insanely good sauce and a savory oyster pie were the dishes we chose. I'm not much for sopping up sauces with bread, but we didn't leave an ounce of sauce on the plates of the rabbit and shrimp dishes. We skipped on a fish chowder, ceviche, and frog legs. We saw most of these dishes come out and watched people's faces as they ate. No negative reactions at all. There shouldn't be. The food came out freshly prepared and piping hot. Desserts were limited to a key lime pie and homemade banana rum ice cream which was more banana than ice and cream (so I used it as an excuse to count it towards my fruit intake for the day).

There's the obvious kinks in service but you get the feeling that when they get worked out this place is going to be really, really good. It's the kind of neighborhood place every neighborhood should have (which we had when Michael's and Michy's first opened and before the national media took notice) and I'm glad it's in mine. Yet another nah-nah-nahnah-naaaah to South Beach.

Foodie and Drink Event for a Good Cause