Oh Yes It's Ladies Night, and The Steak Is Right
It started with a salad of baked figs, plump and silky, which accompanied a bed of mesclun greens dotted with a smattering of roquefort, sprinkled with tiny bits of crisped bacon, and dressed with a perfectly balanced vinaigrette. Next came the steak frites, medium rare as requested, the warmth melting the dollop of roquefort butter into a salty-sweet pool. The matchstick fries were beautifully crisped and salted, so much so that you could continue enjoying them long after they'd cooled. And the service was warm yet so authentically European that the query "Ketchup? Mustard? Mayo?" for the fries did not surprise.
I picked mustard.
The second glass of Pinot Noir took me straight through to the beginning of dessert, for which I went the distance with a hazlenut profiterole. Oh, mama. The chewy puff pastry was thankfully filled with ice cream and not some airy cream filling (blasphemy!) then drizzled with a bittersweet espresso-chocolate sauce and finished with crunchy slivers of blanched almonds and a little powdered sugar for show.
I had to stop myself from ordering a glass of port - it was hardly 7:30 and I didn't want to pass out before getting my fill of crappy TV for the night.
I walked out of Le Petit Marché (I wish I could link you! I love you Le Petit Marché!) a bit tipsy but not too tipsy, a bit full but not too full, and I felt whole again.
Like a human being. Like an adult.
Like I used to.
And yet there are people out there who would hate me for it.
Not hate me as in "I hate you because I was home eating Lean Cuisine out of the microwave." Not hate me as in, "you total pretentious foodie douche" - but honestly hate me.
Because Sage was there with me.
My little four month old, who alternately slept or cooed or gnawed on a hopefully lead-free rattle would, in some circles, be described as an inappropriate dinner companion. And I, in turn, would be described as a selfish, inconsiderate, breeding bitch who deserves to have my ovaries yanked forcibly through my nostrils for deigning to enjoy a nice meal out in my neighborhood--even at Earlybird Special hours--on a Saturday night.
Since having kids, I've followed the children in restaurants debate with great interest. I can see both sides.
I'm not a fan of rowdy, hyper, disruptive kids outside the playground, much less in restaurants that don't have "E. Cheese" in the name. I am mortified when I see children running underfoot, all but ignored by their parents, while waiters carrying heavy trays or carafes of scalding coffee try to avoid them. It's stupid. It's dangerous. It's entirely their parents' fault and there's no excuse for it. If the children can't behave appropriately, remove them. Get the food you ordered to go and wait outside while the waiter brings it to you.
But then, I'm not a fan of rowdy, hyper, disruptive adults either. I've had more than one meal compromised by some drunken suit at an all-expenses paid table for twenty, some five-top of outer-borough Bachelorettes with penis hats on their heads, or some oversexed match.com couple masturbating each other under the table with their feet.
Well-behaved children and adults alike are welcome to breathe the same 02 as me any time, any place. Pull up a high chair, kiddos, Shirley Temples are on me.
I've written before about restaurant-goers who hate people with kids, the eye-rollers who assume that any family with children under 15 or so needs Supernanny on the case. I used to think it was the issue of a few self-centered childless 20-somethings (raising my hand as formerly belonging to this group), maybe a few self-centered childless 80-somethings tossed in for good-measure. But now I'm starting to think it goes deeper. I'm starting to wonder if it's an American problem--an overall lack of respect for families. Respectful families.
I see it in the pervasive notion that breastfeeding in public is "disgusting," or any of the other angry (Angry! Grr! Let's hate on the boob!) descriptions I've seen tossed about. It's in the painfully short maternity leaves. It's in the guys on the subway who stare at you standing uncomfortably with two kids, all while splaying their legs into a second seat for themselves. And it's in the pervasive belief that once you become a parent you'd better erase that silly fantasy that you are in any way entitled to the world's perfectly cooked steak frites.
Someone (edited to add: Hungry Beans! It was Hungry Beans!) recently pointed me towards this 2006 post from a really lovely NYC food blog called Megnut, about an incident where an inattentive waiter counted infants at a table towards the party of six needed to include a tip. The discussion ranges from thoughtful and articulate to downright infuriating as it veered off into breastfeeding and other parents-in-restaurant issues.
(Some San Diego tourist trap manager declared in comments that if you ignored his server's suggestion to nurse your infant in their bathroom, "your service will be perfunctory or non-existent, your food will be awful, and we won't miss you a bit when you leave and don't come back." )
I found a comment from a reader that summed up my thoughts far better than I could.
Becoming a mom, no one told me, means people will expect you to give up everything you care about. And most of the time you do it. In the first three months you don't sleep, you often can't use the bathroom when you need to, you can't eat more than a bite or two of food at a time and you can be hungry all the time while fat. Then later, you start to get bits of your life back. You have a meal all the way through, you sleep a night, then another night (then you don't sleep because of teething.) Maybe you start to cook again rather than defrost. Maybe you eat out. If you love food, you dream of that first time you can sit down and really taste beautiful food lovingly prepared...You need it in your life, especially when you are down.Oh, she speaks for me. She speaks for a lot of us.
It breaks my heart to think that I might not wanted in the restaurant culture any more, a world that my father and grandfather introduced me to so many years ago. Some of my dearest memories involve so-called fancy restaurants as a kid. I remember learning to use a finger bowl. Tasting red wine (and hating it). Trying to figure out whether it was cool or creepy that a restaurant kept spare jackets and ties in the coat check for the rare under-dressed guest. It was a magical, special adult world and I felt so privileged to enter it a few times a year.
I knew how to behave, and so I was welcome. No one ranted about it. No one told me that "children DO NOT belong in a place like this!"
(Do people just rant more these days?)
Nate and I don't want our daughters to grow up thinking that all restaurants have a $3.95 mac n cheese special or tablecloths you can draw on. We want them to know that some meat doesn't need ketchup. Sometimes it doesn't even need fries. And sometimes, if you're not going to finish it, you just need to push it around on your plate the right way so you don't insult the chef.
And we want them to know that there are rules when you're in these kinds of places. And that if you follow those rules, people will treat you with the respect you've earned. No matter how old you are.
It's weird to think that one night you can sit at an airport gate, crying and banging out a post, simply to preserve your own sanity (and keep from having to make eye contact) and that a few weeks later, someone will email you to say, guess what - to me that post was perfect.
Thanks so much, Bitsy Parker. I'm honored.