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Dec 2, 2008 06:29 PM

Toddler birthday tea and dairy-free cake

My husband, our almost two-year-old son, and I will be arriving in San Francisco a week on Saturday for a ten-day visit from the culinary wastelands of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

The day of our arrival happens to be our son's second birthday. We're looking for somewhere to take him for either afternoon tea or an early dinner to celebrate. It should be somewhere where the staff will sing him 'Happy Birthday' and where we can get some sort of cake with candles (ideally with a car or train on it!). Only thing is, he's highly allergic to dairy, so the cake would have to be dairy-free.

Othewise, if you can recommend a bakery where we could buy a suitable cake and then a toddler-friendly cafe or restaurant where we could take him to eat it and celebrate, that would work too.

We'll be staying in Union Square and will not have a car, so we'd need recommendations that take that limitation into consideration.

Thank you!

P.S. Any other suggestions for toddler-friendly restaurants would also be warmly welcomed!

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  1. Wherever you choose to go see if they have an in house pastry chef & ask if they will make a dairy free cake for you. You'll pay a little extra but usually it will happen unless they are really really busy. If so I'm sure a pastry chef would know where to find a dairy free cake through the grapevine.
    I usually get requests for dairy or vegan desserts & with the right amount of notice I will usually do it.
    Otherwise here's a few bakeries I know of that do dairy free..some are in the east bay so you can check about delivery fees to wherever you are staying. This may seem like an odd choice ( a vegetarian place)but they have good vegan cakes here & if you don't mind a nice walk & eating vegetarian it's near Civic Center & they have stuff like veggie chicken nuggets, pizza, nachos..etc for kids. If you called ahead I'm sure they could make you a small vegan bday cake.

    1. You might call Crown and Crumpet and see if they can accomodate that

      If they can, ask for the corner window with a view of the bay.

      It is in Ghirardelli Square, but you can get there via cable car.

      What parts of the city are you planning to visit and what does your toddler eat?

      10 Replies
      1. re: rworange

        We're planning to visit a number of museums and kid-focused attractions (Exploratorium, zoo, Hyde St Pier boats, etc.) in different parts of the city.

        Our toddler eats next to nothing, subsisting mainly on a diet of breastmilk, with the odd bit of fruit, bread and goat's milk yogurt thrown in. He does like cake, cookies and soy ice cream for the occasional treat though.

        1. re: rusugiru

          A breatharian, eh? I have one of those too. It will get better. If you're in the Hyde Street Pier/Fisherman's Wharf area, the Aquarium of the Bay is a good place to take a little kid.

          1. re: Atomica

            Do you have suggestions for restaurants based on your experience? I tend to note places as kid-friendly if they have a kid's menu.

            I would think that coming from a cold climate, the Saturday morning farmers market at Ferry Plaza would be a good stop. There is so much food to eat there, but if you take the street car to the ballpark from the Ferry Building, Town's End is a place that is very toddler friendly.

            The Academy of Science has two good restaurants so that should not be a problem.

            The zoo is one long haul for someone without a car. There's not much out that way to eat, but here's some old posts about what is nearby

            1. re: rworange

              For me, whether a restaurant can truly be called toddler-friendly or not is largely down to the attitudes of the staff (and to some extent the other patrons). Are they happy for a little person to toddle around looking at things and saying hello to all and sundry? Are they bothered by a toddler's sometimes noisy exuberance, or by a tendency for food, books and crayons to find themselves on the floor (sometimes repeatedly)? Is there anything interesting for a toddler to look at either in the restaurant or out of the window (fishtanks are a favorite with our son)? Best of all, are there any child-loving staff or regular patrons who will entertain the child for a little while to give the parents a well-earned break and a chance to enjoy their meal for a few minutes? (Sound far-fetched? Not in Japan (where we travelled with our son a few months ago) or in many other countries. I assume we'd be more likely to encounter this in ethnic restaurants in this country.)

              1. re: rusugiru

                I've always thought this was a good site for kid-friendly as it has ratings by parents and tips on who provides crayons, etc.

                Oooohhh ... using that criteria you will find SF EXTREMELY un-toddler friendly ... and not from the staff but fellow diners.

                Seriously, don't even step in a nicer restaurant if you plan to let your child wander ... though you might check out Berkeley

                The only place I've heard where the staff looked after a child was Chez Panisse. Rent a copy of Babyboom and you will probably encounter the same thing Diane Keaton did when trying to get the staff member watch a child.

                People pay a lot of money to go out to dinner ... often to get some time off from their kids. Some ... not all diners ... will tolerate a little noise ... it goes with a kid being there. However, I've heard some VERY snarky remarks loud enough for the parents to hear when just walking in the door.

                For everyone else, once a kid starts to fuss, it is expected to remove the child and walk outside so not to disturb other diners. So restaurants with an easy out are the best option.

                Town's End which I recommended is very good on all levels. Easy out and a staff that has more patience than anyplace I've been. I watched during one brunch as this child took handfuls of scrambled eggs and threw them on the floor. The parents not only did not clean up, they complained about some piddling thing and stiffed the server. As the server was down on her knees cleaning up the mess, she didn't complain when I made a comment about it. I left her a big tip to make up for that.

                Town's End is one of my favorite breakfast spots. It also has a nice three course prix-fix menu for $21.95. They have an in-house bakery and an excellent bread basket.

                When you are in Fisherman's Wharf, Scoma's would be good. There are lots of boats in the Marina to watch. Until 3:30 they have a 3 course prix-fix for $22. They have their own fishing fleet so the fish is very fresh. The sides are kind of blah, but love the fresh fish. You can get a nice shrimp salad with that prix-fixe too.

                Sometimes I see a single parent shopping who obviously is stressed out. I've thought of offering help. I don't. The perception of a strainger grabbing the kid or doing something else inapproriate, discourages that. I have an older gentleman friend who delights in children. I know he is a great person. However, it makes me cringe when he interacts with families in restaurants because he thinks the kiddies are sweetie-pies and enjoys their antics. The culture in this area is not such that you can interact as you mentioned without most people fearing for their children. Sad, but true.

                1. re: rworange

                  Some good points. But even more than that, letting your child wander is more than just a question of obnoxiousness. It's a question of safety.

                  My first job in town *cough* years ago was as a busboy at a busy lunch destination. Sometimes frantically busy. I charged around taking drink orders, clearing and setting tables, subbing for waiters on break, etc. A child wandering around could easily have been tripped over. That puts everyone at risk.

                  On a positive note, I remember a diner at a table that had just been trashed by his toddler handing me some cash and saying, "This is just for you, because I know you're the one who has to clean this up."

              2. re: rworange

                We usually only take our 3 year old out for breakfast or lunch. I think Chinatown is a good bet--lots of families eating out on the weekend with their children, and a lot of places have fish tanks. For breakfast, Chow is one of my favorite places. Very high quality and organic and they provide crayons. On Market Street, you'd take an F streetcar west and get off at Church St.

                But the other posters are right--having the child wander around the restaurant probably will bug most people (not me! but most people). The only place in SF that someone actually held my baby for a few minutes was Lotus Garden. I would never expect it.

                215 Church St, San Francisco, CA 94114

                1. re: Atomica

                  The other good thing about Chow is there's a patio in the back. My cousins bring their toddlers there all the time, and the servers were kind and accommodating.

                  We've taken friends toddlers for dim sum. Lots of interesting food to go by including toddler friendly pork buns. And fish tanks and lots of noise.

                  I am one of those people who does not like parents who let their kids run wild in fine restaurants. But then San Francisco also has a lot of dog owners who think they're the exception to leash laws, or red lights or stop signs. The problem is rarely the children, it's parents who are oblivious to the impact they're having on their environment.

                  The new Academy of Sciences is fun, but it is quite literally a zoo. I would not expect any kind of calm dining experience there.

                2. re: rworange

                  If you go to the zoo, I believe Java Beach is now open across the street. i haven't been, but their other location has good sandwiches and would be toddler friendly.

                  1. re: Pandora

                    Good idea, Pandora, because the SF Zoo has truly horrible food choices. The zoo would be a really long ride on the streetcar.

                    Rusugiru, if you will not have a car, you should definitely look up the very new Muni Culture Bus (74X). It does a loop between downtown and the Asian Art Museum and Golden Gate Park (where you could go to the new California Academy of Sciences and the much-lauded Moss Room--to keep this somewhat about food). Here's a thread about the Moss Room:

          2. Previous thread and another view on San Francisco's hospitality for kids.
            Another thread.

            Put toddler in Search This Board for other ideas.

            5 Replies
            1. re: wolfe

              Thank you for the honest assessments of the toddler-unfriendliness of the San Francisco restaurant scene. Better to be forewarned. Are there any good restaurants that deliver to hotel rooms? How would we find a list of those that do? (It seems that you don't have a general delivery service a la Takeout Taxi in DC.) That way we can eat well without bothering other restaurant patrons. Thanks!

              1. re: rusugiru

                Oh, a further search reveals a much dissed company called Waiters on Wheels. Guess we'll give them a miss. How about restaurants near Union Square that have an online menu and allow you to order over the phone and pick up? Is that done?

                1. re: rusugiru

                  I've been happy with Waiters on Wheels. Don't remember much dissing here. The main objection being the delivery charge.

                  There is also Plug in your zipcode and all the restaurants that deliver come up.

                  You do have that link to child-friendly restaurants and a few suggestions. SF can be child-friendly, but probably not as defined by standards in Europe or Japan. Keep the wandering in check and if the noise level goes above in-door voices take a brief break outside and things should be dandy. However, you know your own circumstances, so if delivery is preferable, those links should help.

                2. re: rusugiru

                  You might contact these folks for suggestions on where to get this treat for your son. There is a danger that he will want ice cream when you get home and all there is like it is snow most of the year. Sorry ex-Detroiter. I see they also have delivery.

                  1. re: wolfe

                    i highly recommend maggie mud, especially the soy ones (the coconut ones taste coconutty and are much fattier). there is NOTHING anywhere close as good in terms of dairy free "frozen desserts" as maggie mudd. if you have a toddler with a dairy allergy, maggie mudd is the holy grail. do not miss it, even if you just pick up a pint or three at whole foods.

              2. Whole Foods make a good vegan cake.

                1. You might check out Samovar Tea Lounge. They used to have a a vegan chocolate cupcake that was decent, and some other veggie/vegan dishes that are good. Their menu has changed over the past year or so, so I would recommend contacting them first. Plus the Yerba Buena branch is close to Union Square. If the weather is nice, you can sit outside and he can run around to his heart's content.

                  Samovar Tea Lounge
                  730 Howard St, San Francisco, CA 94103