Friday, May 6, 2011
KIDS AT CHIANTIS - A NATURAL FIT
Upon finding ourselves on our own one Friday evening last May, my seven year old son Lucas and I decided to go out for dinner. I posed two different restaurants to him and after a brief consideration Lucas announced Chianti as his choice. As he is an occasional fan of the cooking channel and a fine cook with a discerning palate, I did not question his decision. ;; It was a fine spring evening and we headed off on foot from our White Street home; an easy 15 minute walk with a few minutes budgeted in for a young man’s wanderings.
When we arrived at Chianti we were treated as always with smiles of warmth and recognition. I said it would be dinner for two and presented my young companion. Debora Zecchini, the general manager/ hostess, warned that it would be forty-five minutes to an hour for a table, but upon seeing my young dinner guest, suggested that we could be seated immediately at the Chef’s Counter in front of us. Lucas and I nodded in agreement and Debora showed us to our seats. The counter has three seats adjacent to the kitchen that affords its diners a perfect view of the busy kitchen.
Presently, our server Michele appeared with smiles and words of welcome. As we have been there on a number of occasions, being remembered by the staff is always fun for my kids. Lucas made his drink selection of cranberry and orange juice combined and I ordered water and a glass of 2008 Salviano Turlo. It is a Super Tuscan and is all at once complex and deeply satisfying after a mom’s long week. After looking over the menu, my son was inspired by the cooks before us and announced that he was going to start cooking. Upon his bread plate he combined olive oil with balsamic vinegar and added a dash of salt. After which he dipped his bread, with great satisfaction into his creation and relished his good life: dipped bread, alone time with mom and pasta on the horizon.
Being seated near the kitchen prompted another inspiration for my son, and he spotted the dish that he would order. Upon Michele’s return with our drinks, Lucas was ready and ordered pasta with prosciutto in a pink sauce, Mezzanine all Vodka. Michele treated him with respect and took his order seriously. He felt validated as a real diner. I ordered a Insalate Semplice and Pollo Al Limone Candito.
Normally while waiting for our food in a restaurant, we engage in a napkin folding contest, but tonight with the kitchen before us we had plenty of activities to fill our time. From our handy position, we identified the salad station, the pasta area and determined who the head chef was. In the deeper recesses of the kitchen we witnessed the burst of flames as a steak entered the grill. Waiters and waitresses dodged incoming customers and hurried to pick up food from the counter. We were at the epicenter of Chiantis and loving it.
My salad arrives and Lucas and I share the delicious plate of greens. The Insalate Semplice is an organic field of greens with grape tomatoes, grana padano and Chianti’s special dressing. Normally a ranch dressing fan, Lucas clearly enjoys the balsamic and olive oil based dressing. While eating our salads, we were treated to the birthday song, sung loudly and with gusto at a nearby table by the wait staff and most notably the owner David Zecchini. The song is being sung in Italian and we join in singing. My son has taken to singing it at home loudly, passionately and with operatic styling.
After the song, David spots us and comes over to say hello. He converses with both of us asking Lucas how school is going and how our dance company is doing. Our food arrives and David excuses himself to visit with other customers. He appears to speak to everyone whether they are first timers or regulars like us.
Lucas digs into his plate of pink sauced creamy pasta with a touch of fresh tarragon, I into my Pollo Al Limone Candito. My delicious dish is a chicken breast pan roasted with lemon juice, shallots and candied lemon zest. It’s light savory flavor compliments the spring weather and Lucas sneaks a bite. For a full ten minutes my son is completely committed to the plate in front of him and does not speak or move. Most meals at home are spent reminding him to stay seated and continue to eat. But here and now, he maintains his seated position and is a well mannered and appreciative customer. We enjoy our meal together.
After awhile, Lucas slows his pace and Michele comes over to check on us. We assure her that everything is great but we might need to take some home. He says he can eat a little more and she comes back for our plates in a few minutes. And now, the requisite trip to the rest room. As we pass tables on our way people regard us with a mix of surprise and smiles. Children are not common here but certainly welcome.
When we return, Michele greets us with a complimentary dish of ice cream. In the past, waiters have brought desserts to the kids saying that it was a reward for their good behavior. We took it at face value, but also felt that it meant “Come back again with the kids.” Lucas who moments before, had told us he was full, looks at me with a shrug and well - goes at his ice cream with the same attention he gave his pasta. As he is truly enjoying his dessert, I manage to only negotiate a taste or two from his bowl. I sit back, finish my wine and wonder at my terrific evening with my young date.
Finally, he looks at me and announces he can eat no more as he has consumed beverage, bread, salad, pasta and dessert. I think we’re done here and we ask Michele for the check. Lucas helps me look over and pay the check and we head out with a final farewell from Michele and Debora. Back out on Division St., we start our stroll home sated, happy and relaxed.
Epilogue: The secret to our successful evening at a nice restaurant with children is a combination of the restaurant and family practices. Our children are not the shy retiring sort and give us a run for our money at home but manage to put on their public face when we are out. In addition they have gone out to restaurants since they were very young and know what’s expected. Couple that with a fun welcoming atmosphere at Chiantis and the kids are happy to rise to the occasion. They feel a warm welcome at Chiantis and are treated with respect as valued customers and not just as appendages of us. The message comes across as “This is a nice restaurant and we know you will behave , but go ahead be yourself, make a little noise, enjoy.” Although it is certainly fun to dine out only with adults, we are also grateful that we can enjoy an elegant evening out with the kids.
Don’t know where to start in transitioning your children out of a “Friendly’s” evening? Try Chiantis – believe me your children will know the difference and the boisterous atmosphere will make them feel at home. No kids menu but plenty of delicious kid friendly food that will prepare them to not always expect a kids menu but that everything on the menu is for them.
Diane Lachtrupp Martinez