I was ecstatic to score a lunch reservation at Quintonil in Mexico City, currently ranked number 22 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list. I was traveling with my husband and 18-month-old son, Sammy, and my joy soon turned to anxiety. Toddlers and fine dining don't mix. Or do they?
Sammy is used to eating out; he's even been to Manhattan hot spots like the John Dory Oyster Bar, High Street on Hudson and Cosme. He has three stamps in his passport and a Southern road trip (where he dined at Decca in Louisville and Rolf and Daughters in Nashville) under his belt.
But Quintonil was different. This would easily be Sammy's fanciest restaurant yet—it's so fancy, in fact, that kids aren't even allowed at dinner. More concerning, though, was that seemingly overnight, he had become a full-fledged toddler, screaming when things didn't go his way.
We spent the week strategizing: We'd tire him out at the playground beforehand, ply him with snacks when we got seated and make sure to leave a large tip.
When we got to Quintonil, the restaurant staff whisked our stroller away and sat us at a large four-top. Off to a good start. Did Sammy scream just when the dining room seemed hushed? Yes. Did he throw his napkin and much of his food on the floor? Absolutely. But he didn't break anything, he tried food he'd never seen before and he sat in his portable booster seat for almost two hours. Plus, my husband and I got to eat one of the best meals of our lives. Success!
It's easy to avoid dining out or stick to places that are used to hosting kids. But great culinary experiences are always worthwhile. Here's how to decrease the chances of a meltdown and increase your child's palate.
① Let the restaurant know you're bringing a baby.
The place might not have high chairs or room for a stroller. And it's worth requesting a larger table on an end—squeezing into a cramped two-top means everything will be within reach of your child. Hello, mess.
② Dine during off-hours.
While you may feel lame eating dinner at 5 p.m., chances are the restaurant will be emptier than usual—or filled with other families. On the flip side, if you must dine during peak hours, there's a good chance the restaurant could be packed—and therefore noisy. This will work in your favor when your kid decides to scream the ABC's at a trendsetter like abcV.
③ Get food ASAP.
Order something for your child as soon as you sit down or bust out some snacks. (Side note: Remember to take snacks.) As soon as my son is in a high chair, he wants to eat. At this age, patience is not a thing.
④ New foods are your friend.
Get a variety of dishes and don't be scared to attempt feeding your tot something new. Kids don't have preconceived judgments about things, food included. Case in point: Sammy loved the huitlacoche (a fungus that grows on corn) much more than the plantain-and-cheese soup we thought would be a shoo-in.
⑤ Take a walk.
My husband and I use this one a lot: If Sammy is fussy, one of us will take him outside for a short walk or on a little jaunt around the restaurant, checking out the open kitchen or visiting another table with a kid. Just make sure to stay out of the waitstaff's way.
⑥ Know when to say when.
Toys, books, an iPad—whatever will entertain your child between courses or allow you to somewhat leisurely sip your wine—are lifesavers. And while it's easy to rely on Elmo right out of the gate, use these items only when necessary—the more human and food interaction, the better. But it's crucial to know when the jig is up: If your kiddo is reaching the upper level of endurance, maybe don't order that after-dinner drink.
Devorah Lev-Tov is a contributing writer for Tasting Table who travels the globe—and traverses NYC block by block—in search of her next amazing meal. See her latest adventures on her Instagram at @devoltv.
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