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May 4, 2013 06:10 AM

Dinner with a 3-year-old

Though I've posted on Chowhound a number of times before with similar questions (and gotten great feedback), I feel kind of strange doing it on the Chicago board because I went to college there, have been back many times since and know it better than anywhere except my hometown of New York. But I haven't been back since my 3-year-old was born, and though I know plenty of people in Chicago, I don't think any are really going to be able to give me good recommendations on this.

So this coming weekend, I'm going to be in Chicago with my wife, my son and my in-laws for a very close friend's wedding. (The in-laws are driving down from Michigan to babysit during the wedding). That's five of us. Friday is the rehearsal dinner, Saturday is the wedding. That leaves Sunday uncovered for dinner.

Where should we go? Cuisine doesn't really matter, but I'm looking for a place that's well-respected, well-liked, maybe a little hip -- and of course, completely appropriate for small children. My son is a very very picky eater, so ideally this will be a place that offers the standard kids' menu of chicken fingers, etc.

One more thing: I tried searching Chowhound before I posted, and I found a bunch of recommendations like, "Try this place, it's across from Millennium Park!" and "This one is an easy walk from Navy Pier!" I'm not looking for restaurants in the Loop or River North. I'd rather use the opportunity to visit neighborhoods that are less central -- like Bucktown or the West Loop (where we were going to be staying before our Airbnb fell through). Even well-trodden ground like Lincoln Park is fine, though I'd rather avoid Lakeview, where the rehearsal dinner is being held, and Andersonville, where we're staying and will definitely be enjoying brunch.

Specific enough for you? Oh, yeah, and don't forget that Sunday is Mother's Day. So even though my wife's 60-something mother will be with us, I'd like a place where people aren't as likely to take their 60-something mothers -- so no special menus and no need to make a reservation weeks in advance.


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  1. The Bad Apple in Lincoln Square is pretty hip, with gourmet burgers, a stellar beer list and a kids' menu. Not likely to be swarmed with moms.

    5 Replies
    1. re: mcgeary

      I LOVE Lincoln Square. One of my favorite Chicago neighborhoods. So that's a good call -- thanks!

      1. re: masterofzen

        Lincoln Square has lots of options, Fork is another great one. They serve a great mac and cheese.

        1. re: ferret

          The menu at Fork looks great, and my kid will definitely eat the macaroni and cheese (currently his most consistently eaten dish), but is it OK for kids? Yelp says no and there's no indication of any kids' menu or high chairs or anything on the website.

          1. re: masterofzen

            Fork can be iffy with kids. They have high chairs and when I walked by this afternoon kids were eating there (outside). This was lunch time though. When we went with our then 1.5 year old on a Tuesday night for dinner we got some ugly looks from some customers but wait staff was great. My impression from being in the 'hood and walking past it a lot is that it caters more adult as the dinner hour approaches. Food is really good (duck poutine...) and staff is lovely. Just maybe not for kids for dinner.

            However we just went to Big Bricks on Lincoln and that was fantastic! Great food (BBQ), nice beer list, and awesome patio. Plus they immediately laid crayons, placemat, and water in a plastic cup with lid and straw for our now 2.5 yr old. Kid friendly but also grown- up friendly. You don't feel as if you are dumbing down your dinner experience.

            3823 N Lincoln in North Center (right outside Lincoln Square)

            1. re: lbs

              We just did dinner there with an 8-month old and not a single "ugly look."

    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. So, please feel free to keep offering suggestions -- because you never know, and who knows who else might read this later -- but we just made reservations at Fork. The menu was terrific, and I'm thinking dinner on Mother's Day might be more kid-friendly than usual. Thanks for weighing in, everybody! I always check in after the trip to let everyone know what I thought.

        1 Reply
        1. re: masterofzen

          Please report back on Fork! It is one of my favorite neighborhood places (not just because I can practically look at it from my apartment) . Haven't gone back there with the toddler since then (been there without her) but Ferret had a good experience and hoping to add back!

        2. Well, better late than never -- I promised a report, so here it is!

          Fork was pretty good. It wasn't great -- it was pretty good. I think everyone else in my party enjoyed it more than I did. (My father-in-law, who I have to say is somewhat famously given to hyperbole, declared his duck club to be one of the best sandwiches he'd ever had.) I have to say this: Maybe it's just because it was Mother's Day, but anyone predisposed to shooting dirty looks at people dining out with small children would have been shooting a lot of dirty looks that day -- there were kids everywhere.

          The children's menu was great! I'm a sucker for a place with a creative and interesting children's menu. There was even an appetizer of Goldfish crackers that we had to hide from my son after a while because he was in danger of filling up and not eating his real dinner. We were also provided with crayons and a placemat upon arrival, the true sign of a child-friendly restaurant.

          Anyway, I appreciated the large menu full of foie gras and various high-endy delights. We shared a bunch of appetizers and some cheese. My entree of salmon -- they have a different salmon preparation every day, which I found intriguing -- was a little disappointing. It was good, but the fish itself tasted like salmon often does in the hands of unambitious cooks (it can taste transcendent at the best restaurants), and the other ingredients (beets, mushrooms, pesto) proved to be an odd combination that just sort of seemed thrown together and didn't compliment the fish too well.

          The big problem was that -- again, Mother's Day -- the service was very slow, which was particularly frustrating considering I had a 3-year-old whose bedtime was receding further and further into the past. But there was a silver lining to this: They brought us free dessert to apologize. (We never complained, by the way, so this was a proactive move on their part.) I REALLY appreciated that, because while the service was slow, and we were all definitely conscious of it, I wouldn't quite call it free-dessert slow, if you know what I mean.

          Oh, yeah, and we left our doggie bag at the table and the waiter came running out after us, even somehow finding us around the corner.

          So would I do it again? I'd probably seek out something else, honestly. But at the same time, I can't complain -- terrific service, great for kids, competent food, everybody left happy. I would recommend it with a few reservations and certainly would go along without complaint if someone else wanted to go.

          Thanks a lot to everyone who weighed in! Fun trip overall, by the way.