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Jul 13, 2011 04:54 PM

Fine dining with a well-behaved four year old

My daughter and I want to plan a special dinner in Chicago for a Saturday night the end of July. We both enjoy great restaurants in the city and live in the suburbs. Looking for ideas of where a truly well-behaved four-year old little girl would be "accepted". Not a "kid-friendly" restaurant. The men in the family are all going to an airplane "fly-in" and we are planning a girls out evening.

Any ideas? This child is accustomed to restaurant dining.

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  1. I don't see why a well-behaved child shouldn't be accepted in ANY restaurant. (Bars are a different story.)

    A few questions for you.

    Are you coming from another city, or do you live here? The only reason I ask that is, when you say you "both enjoy great restaurants", I'm not sure whether you mean high-end fine dining (e.g. Alinea, TRU, etc), or places that are a bit more casual. Maybe there's a place here you've already been, and might like returning to.

    How interested are you both in unusual foods and techniques? Do you enjoy ethnic foods?

    What about price and formality? Would you enjoy going to one of our high-end fine dining places, where gentlemen wear jackets and prices for adults who accompany their food with moderate alcohol can reach $200/pp including alcohol/tax/tip, or would you prefer a more casual atmosphere and lower price point? Would you enjoy a bustling noisy nightlife type place, or would you prefer a place that is a bit more laid back?

    What about location? It might be more convenient to dine within a short walk of your hotel (or even inside your hotel), in which case you might mention your hotel or a nearby intersection. Or, it might be fun for your daughter to go with you on a ride on a subway or commuter train to a restaurant.

    Answers to these questions will help with recommendations.

    I'll close with one of my favorite stories about restaurant service, which involved a child dining. The best service I have ever observed in a restaurant was at Everest, the fine-dining French restaurant on the 40th floor of the Midwest Stock Exchange Building, looking out over the city. Seated at the table next to ours was a couple with their daughter, about the same age as yours, and perfectly behaved. A waiter noticed that the sun was in her eyes, and politely addressed *her*, rather than her parents, to ask if she would like for him to lower the blinds. I thought that was precious, just a wonderful way to treat her.

    3 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      I took my then 7 year old sister to a dessert tasting at TRU (big age difference with us!) where she was perfectly behaved and not one server blinked - now if I was worried about the smallest possibility of tantrums being thrown then I wouldn't have taken her there, but IMO with the amount of immature adult diners out there no restaurant should have an issue as long as she doesn't need a special menu. TRU was great for our dessert tasting menu despite my sister dropping her napkin on the ground about 10 times and them bringing her new ones - in fact a couple of the servers really seemed to enjoy having a child there who was so outwardly enthusiastic about the whole experience (this was a few years ago but I'm hoping nothing has changed).

      Will she eat everything on an adult tasting menu? Obviously a restaurant would make small accommodations but the only issue I could foresee is if you went and she only ate mac and cheese, hot dogs, etc.

      1. re: PHXeater

        We are Chicago-area people and frequent downtown dining. The four-year old has rather mature food experiences having travelled to Madrid, Belize and loves mussels and paella. (also likes mac and cheese and hot dogs). Sophisticated four-year old eater.

        Our concern was really raised by the recent restaurant press surrounding "no children please". We didn't want to disturb the eating experience of others.

        Is cost an issue? Of course....look at the economy...but we are used to the Chicago "fine dining" prices. As far as formality....this is a 4-year old who likes "fancy Nancy". She would love to get dressed up...and so would the rest of us.

        Thank you for your great questions....looking forward to your suggestions.

        1. re: ldubois2

          Thanks. Based on that info, I'd start with Chicago's top entries for high-end haute cuisine. Unfortunately, it's too late to get a late-July reservation at Alinea, which is widely regarded as the best restaurant in the United States, but you may want to consider it if you have another opportunity to visit in the future, with more advance planning. They start taking reservations on the first of the month, 2-3 months in advance; for example, on August 1 they will start taking reservations for October. They fill up shortly after they open the book, and wind up with a long, long waiting list.

          Our finest restaurants after that consist of Everest, Spiaggia, Avenues, and TRU. The cuisine at Everest, which I previously mentioned, is the most French of the group, although still in a contemporary vein like the others. Decor is traditional. I loved the way they treated the child at the next table, and the view looking out over the city is always thrilling. If you enjoy great wine lists, theirs is among the best anywhere. Spiaggia is the only Italian restaurant in this high-end group, and I've consistently found the food and service to be impeccable. Avenues and TRU both lean towards creative contemporary American cuisine, and the service is on a par with this esteemed group. The decor is traditional at Avenues, contemporary at TRU. The chef at Avenues, Curtis Duffy, just announced that he will be leaving there; I suspect that a meal at the end of July will still keep in his tradition, as it's too soon for any changes to take place. All of these feature the ultimate in food and service, the availability of lengthy tasting menus, high prices, and formal attire. Any of these four should be fine for your needs. Several other restaurants in Chicago have similar aspirations but have received mixed reviews here lately: Charlie Trotter's, L2O, Ria, and Les Nomades. Since you both enjoy dressing up, you should be aware that these are the only restaurants in Chicago where formal attire prevails (jackets for gentlemen), although enforcement is noticeably lax at L2O and Ria.

          I really don't see why a well-behaved four-year-old shouldn't be welcome at any of these. You might want to mention it when making your reservation and see what the reaction is of the reservationist. At any restaurant of this caliber, she should be welcomed by everyone, from the reservationist to the maitre d' to the servers to the runners and bus staff. If there is any hesitation on the part of the reservationist, that may be reason to consider reserving elsewhere. (Of course, you would have to phone them to make your reservation to see a reaction, which you won't get by reserving on Opentable.)

          There are lots more restaurants that are a bit more casual in style as well as attire, in case you decide to go that way. They typically don't have the armies of serving staff or lengthy tasting menus, but our best offer outstanding food in various categories; those in and near downtown include contemporary American (Sable, North Pond, Graham Elliot, Naha, Boka, Atwood Cafe, MK), Italian (Piccolo Sogno, Cibo Matto, the Florentine, Cafe Spiaggia), provincial Mexican (Mexique), French bistro (La Sardine), tapas (Mercat a la Planxa), and Latin fusion (Carnivale, Nacional 27). Of these, if I had to name just one or two, if you want a place that's closest in food and atmosphere to the high-end places, I'd pick Graham Elliot or Naha; if you want a place that has great food but not quite so cutting-edge, in a bustling bistro atmosphere, I'd pick Piccolo Sogno or Sable, or maybe Mexique. North Pond is also notable for its exquisite setting in the middle of the park. All of these are very good indeed.

          Some of these places do fill up in advance, especially for a Saturday night, so I recommend making a reservation right away. All of the above accept reservations on (except Alinea, which does so only over the phone, and La Sardine, which does so only over its own website). However, as I mentioned above, if you want to get a feel for how welcoming they are to a well-behaved child, talking directly with their reservationist may give you a feel for how deftly (or clumsily) the rest of the staff may react.

          HTH - feel free to ask more questions!

          As always, checking the sample menu on a restaurant's website will give you an idea of its culinary style. Here are links to their websites:

 (includes Spiaggia and Cafe Spiaggia)

 (Nacional 27)

          1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

          1729 North Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614

          Charlie Trotter's
          816 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, IL 60614

          Nacional 27
          325 W. Huron, Chicago, IL 60610

          Cafe Spiaggia
          980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

          2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

          Les Nomades
          222 E Ontario, Chicago, IL 60611

          Piccolo Sogno
          464 N Halsted, Chicago, IL 60622

          980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

          500 North Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

          Cibo Matto
          201 N State St, Chicago, IL 60601

          Graham Elliot
          217 W. Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60654