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Anniversary dinner with baby -- venue a consideration as well as food

Dear CHers,

It's our third anniversary in January, and as usual, am looking for CH for help in deciding where. Both my wife and I love our food and there are few styles that we don't enjoy. However, although we don't mind casual dining, for our anniversary, I'm looking for a place with a touch of formality -- so it's not just about the food. Price-wise, ideally want to keep it at under $100/head including tax and tip -- but we're teetotal, so that should help.

To fill you in, for our first anniversary we went to the Oak Room -- the venue itself was fantastic, and they really looked after us, gave us free dessert etc, and overall it was great. I personally really like their steaks (I know it has some detractors on this board), so the food (aside from the greasy sides) was good too. Last year, we went to Hammersley's. The food was good, but the atmosphere left a lot to be desired imo. We were stuck in a corner, next to a very loud party of four. Despite their knowing it was our anniversary, it was not even acknowledged once -- we weren't looking for freebies, but a "Happy Anniversary" would have been appreciated. And my wife was pregnant, but again, the wait-staff didn't take any care with regards to steering us certain parts of the menu etc (that isn't critical, I can do that, but the attitude was v. different to many other places we dined at when she was pregnant).

So this year, I'm looking for a romantic venue AND great food. We'll have our (by then 6 month old) daughter with us. She's pretty good about eating out with us, and I don't have qualms about taking her to a formal venue, as long as the staff were welcoming.

I've thought about L'Espalier, but have a couple of misgivings. I've had lunch there a few times, never dinner, both at old and new venue. The old venue would have been ideal, and I would have overlooked the other problems, but the new venue is fairly uninteresting. In addition, although I think the food is fine, it is not outstanding. I've had many better meals for less cost (mostly outside of Boston admitedly). So I'd be hesitant to go way over budget for a good, but not unforgettable meal.

Aujourd'hui would have been perfect, but sadly is no more (if only I'd known, we should have gone last year).

Of the other places discussed on the Board that I'm thinking about.

--Troquet -- never been. Food looks interesting, but many of the posts point to the wine as a great plus for here, so that wouldn't be a draw for us. Is the venue romantic/ pretty formal?
--No 9 Park -- not been. Again, very mixed views on quality of the food, venue sounds more interesting.
-- Mama Maria -- not been. The food seems to divide posters, and we've not been to a really good Italian for a while, so that would be good for us. I think I've read about a small room just for two. If we can get the baby in there aswell, it sounds ideal, since we don't need to worry about disturbing other diners with our daughter, should she fuss.
-- Salts. This place really wasn't on my radar until a recent post, recommending it: what are people's thoughts?
-- O Ya. I know that the budget might be blown on this place. Is it too noisy for a romantic anniversary dinner? We both love sushi, and although this isn't a 'sushi place' as such, it sounds good. Is it worth all the hype though?

thanks in advance,

tb

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    1. I think O-ya is completely worth the money- if you got a babysitter. Not a good environment for a small child. I'm a huge fan of No. 9 (and everything BL does) but would suggest you contact the restaurants to see if bringing a small child is something they could accomodate. The only reason I suggest that is because I've seen parents with babies kicked out of similiar places in Boston (none on your list) but would hate for your anniversary dinner to take a nasty turn.

      1. Prezza would be nice choice for Italian as well although would not be a place I would bring an infant.

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        Prezza Restaurant
        24 Fleet St Ste 1, Boston, MA 02113

        4 Replies
        1. re: cassoulady

          I am a mom of two whose children were taught at an early age to behave appropriately in a good restaurant; however, I don't believe, for the sake of other diners, that an infant should accompany you to any of these restaurants. Most importantly, you clearly want a romantic evening, not easily done with the stress of anticipating baby's needs; everyone else in the restaurant that night will be spending as big of a sum for a special meal as you and probably don't wish to anticipate your little one's needs as well. I say spring for a trusted sitter and enjoy a couple of hours with your love!

          Lori

          1. re: rosiebcook

            At three months, our daughter was great in restaurants; at six months, she was knocking drinks off tables. If you definitely want to take the baby, I'd vote for Fuloon in Malden. It's substantially less of a special occasion restaurant than the places you mention, but the food is great and they are very very baby friendly -- I've seen people mixing formula at the table, and they once gave me the party room to nurse.

            1. re: WilderPenfield

              do the rest of us a favor and consider not taking a six month old, however great she is, to an expensive restaurant, when she might decide she just does need to cry, as babies sometimes do. if you insist, i'd consider mama maria, il casale, or perhaps blue ginger. l'espalier is not baby-appropriate

              1. re: teezeetoo

                Yeah, not to pile on, but... it might be best all around if you got a sitter and had a nice romantic meal the two of you.

        2. I think I was one of the people that steered you toward Hammersley's last year (and heard about it afterward), so you can take my opinion with a grain of salt. Like other posters have said, I take my (now 3 year old) daughter *lots* of places, and she is extremely well-behaved, but if I'm looking for a romantic anniversary at any of the places you mention, I'm getting a sitter. Not only for myself, but for everyone else. If I'm paying top dollar to eat at O Ya (and paying a sitter for the pleasure), I'm not going to be thrilled with a baby at the table next to me.

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          O Ya
          9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

          1. Thanks for the feedback -- I hear you all -- leave the baby at home. I can't speak for a couple of months' time, but for now, we've never taken a babysitter -- our general policy is that she goes where we go -- but if at all possible, we try to go. Clearly, we don't go to the cinema or concerts, therefore, and I guess some posters are suggesting that fine dining be in the same bracket. I'm not convinced that is the case. For the former, listening/ seeing are the main activities, for the latter it's eating. As I mentioned, for last year, we were sat next to a very loud table. It did diminish my enjoyment substantially, but not iredeemably, and if I'd suggested they be quiet or leave, people would think I was mad. To date, our daughter's never been anywhere as loud as they were, but if she did fuss, the posters would no doubt have given us dagger looks.

            With regards to the specific suggestions, as a case in point, I remember being at L'Espalier once in the old venue, and this woman came in with her daughter (<1yr) and the staff were very charming and accomodating. Perhaps dinner is different, but the poster that suggested that it's entirely inappropriate is wrong I feel. I've been to Fuloon, and although the food was good, I wouldn't say the venue was even ball-park for the type of place I was thinking of.

            For those that have done so, with regards to the piccolo room at MM, does it cost extra to book/ is there a minimum (high) charge? It sounds sort of ideal for us (a recent post detracting the venue entirely not withstanding, which is a bit of a worry). That should sort out the don't bring baby brigade (not offended in any way, just mentioning) in that we won't be disturbing others.

            And Mrs Cheese -- still value your opinion. The food at Hammersley's was very good after all, the venue was just lacking imo. Finally, I appreciate I'll eat humblie pie on this one at some point, but for now, it's far more romantic to be WITH our daughter on a night out. I'm far more likely to be stressed worrying about her if she's not at our side, then if she was with us. I know this will change over time, and probably as she gets more mobile, we'll definitely have to look at baby-sitting, but in the spirit of being honest, that's where we are currently.

            thanks again,

            tb

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            L'Espalier
            774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

            4 Replies
            1. re: trueblu

              I am very child-tolerant (and loud adult tolerant, usually). So I don't at all think that a priori you couldn't bring your baby. I did also find that going out with a 3 month old baby was no big deal, but at 6 months, it was a real challenge. We went once to Hungry Mother at that point and it was agony--there was nowhere to to to even try to get ourselves sorted out. Honestly there was a period starting then where it was a real challenge to be out with the baby, but also really hard to not have her with us. We didn't go out much then! But it gets easier again...

              So rather than looking for a place that would tolerate a baby, I'd look for a place that has ample room to move around and some place with relative privacy to soothe your child if things get bumpy. I don't think it's a big deal if she squawks a little, but if she gets going, then you'll really want somewhere to go with her. So someplace like Salts would be a challenge because it's so small.

              The place I usually suggest to people with kids who want an excellent meal is Gran Gusto. The atmosphere does not rise to the level you're seeking, but the food is great and there is a kind of sitting room that is a good place to go with baby if she needs a break.

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              Gran Gusto
              90 Sherman St, Cambridge, MA 02140

              Hungry Mother
              Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

              1. re: dulce de leche

                Or what about Henrietta's Table? I thought the food there was quite good last time I went, the room is elegant, but the vibe is a little louder and feels a little less restrictive because it is in a hotel (so draws a more diverse crowd). I personally would get irritated if I were at a very nice restaurant and there was a very loud guest, be he or she a baby, a screamer, or a heavy drinker. But I do think this is ultimately your call, and it is up to you (not us) to balance your own needs against those you are dining amongst. That said, I don't think you are exactly right that eating is necessarily the main activity at the restaurants you mention. It is certainly the primary activity, but at a top-tier place atmosphere is just as purposeful as the food itself. So you should definitely not feel like it is crazy to ask an extremely loud table to quiet down. I have done so politely, asking the waitress or maitre d' to ask nicely when a table is simply taking up more atmosphere than they are allotted. When you are celebrating a special occasion at a fine restaurant, it is well within your right to expect other guests to heed your needs as well as theirs. That is good policy whether you are with a little baby or with your obnoxious uncle ;).

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                Henrietta's Table
                One Bennett St., Cambridge, MA 02138

                1. re: dulce de leche

                  Yeah, I'm with dulce on this one. When our little one was a newborn, she went everywhere with us and we loved it.....even 2, 3 months, she was ok. Then she started to get more mobile, more interactive, and yes, by 6 months she was no longer interested in hanging out in a car seat placidly watching us eat dinner. She was also beginning to crawl at that point so sitting still was not an option for her. Depends on your child, and chowhound is not really the place to get into a deep discussion about that; but I would agree with others that by 6 months you may change your mind about it being far "MORE romantic with her than without her" ---just saying. Once we hit the 9 mo. point, my partner felt it was more stressful to go out with the baby than to leave her at home for a couple of hours while we actually sat and enjoyed our meal together --not really an option when the chatting, crawling, squealing baby was around.
                  Personally, if you are committed to bringing her along, I'd focus on somewhere a little less high end but still really good food ---maybe a place like Hungry Mother as I previously posted ---and hope for the best. Of course, your call in the end though.... Good luck!

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                  Hungry Mother
                  Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

                  1. re: dulce de leche

                    We go out with our almost two year old to many restaurants, and echo the sentiment that dining with a 3 month old is not the same as dining with a 6 month old. Your night will be a lot more enjoyable if the restaurant you choose has some space to get up and walk around with your baby. Trying to find space at Salts or Troquet with small dining rooms and closely seated diners will add a level of stress to your meal. You also might want to consider whether there is any waiting area in front (as you can't simply walk outside in January.) That being said, maybe consider a more suburban restaurant or the private room at Mama Marias if that can work out.

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                    Troquet
                    140 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116