January 30, 2008

Eatin’ Out, Elena-Style

When she eats at home, Lady E. flings food around our eating space with gusto. This usually results in a Rorschach blot of residual clumps of rice, half-chewed carrot strips and whatnot on our floor. Naomi and I frequently derive objective meaning from the imagery that results, but we emphatically do not enjoy the endless cleanup (especially Naomi, since she does most of the work). Feeding our beloved little one can be a chore.

To take a break from the chaotic transition-to-solid-food routine, we head out once a week to a new local family restaurant chain. It is called CoCos; kind of a faux Western roadhouse eating experience.

I am giving it a plug here because Elena regularly wreaks havoc in our booth—smearing stuff on the table and glass divider, dumping food all over the floor and gleefully overturning dishes. We feel guilty about leaving the mess. But the truth is we only go there because it is a baby-friendly environment, plus the fact that we don’t have to tidy up makes OUR food taste that much better. The wait staff is friendly, although I think I have seen them discreetly flipping a coin while we wait to be seated. The loser of the coin toss seats us in his or her section. We also change restaurant locations every week in hopes that they’ll forget our faces…

CoCos restaurants offer a number of attractions that keep us coming back: toddler seats with safety belts, lots o’ plastic cups begging to be banged on the table, semi-edible crayons, coloring paper and a huge Doraeman menu, all of which keeps the little one busy for about 2 minutes. (Doraeman is Japan’s most popular animation character for the under-10 set.) Surprisingly, the restaurant offers bibs, special baby meals and utensils as well. These chain eateries won’t be featured in the Michelin guide. But for us exhausted parental units, every meal there is a feast because the food dances on the tongue when we know we aren’t on the hook for the post-feed cleanup.

The cat with the blue hair is Doraeman

We also find that our usually finicky daughter eats more when we’re all sitting together. Work prevents me from being home in time to eat as a family unit most of the time, so these weekly outings are also special in that regard. Naomi and I use a tag-team approach to the delivery of the day’s rations. It seems to work most times, but occasionally we need to patrol the aisles of the restaurant, with Elena eyeing the other toddlers and mercilessly working the other diners for attention. She’s not very shy (see below) and makes friends easily, it seems.

"Excuse me, would you happen to have any Grey Poupon?"

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