A 2 year old in a restaurant is not any easier than a 2 year old on a plane. But even parents who love to cook have to eat out with their kids sometimes. Until our recent trip to Boulder, CO, I took the stress of such meals as part of life. But The Kitchen Next Door showed me that eating out with kids could be enjoyable for everyone involved. The experience was almost surreal. How could a restaurant appeal to both a hyper-energetic toddler and a food-obsessed adult?
- Tasty Food. The Kitchen Next Door served simple, but fabulous food. Yes, it's farm-to-table, local, organic, fresh, blah, blah, blah. But so are all the restaurants we go to. What set this one apart is that the food was actually tasty. They used the right amount of salt and cooked proteins to the right temperature. Out of all the restaurants I've tried in the US, the ones that can pull this off reliably can be counted on one hand.
- Kids Eat Beets. A normal response to "our kid is allergic to A, B, and C," is "We can do pasta with butter." My kids are no different from yours. Given pasta with butter, they won't eat anything else. But as soon as the pasta curse comes out of the waiter's mouth, it's impossible for us not to order pasta without causing a scene. At Next Door, the response to the allergies was "he can have roast pork with beets or kale." I was about to kiss the waitress. Our kids ate pork, beets, kale, polenta and loved it all. The only thing that differentiates the kid menu from adult menu at the Kitchen Next Door is the portion size.
- No Courses. 2 year olds don't do courses. The Next Door gets that concept, but most restaurants don't, even if we try to explain it. It's really not that hard to send a soup and 2 entrees out at once. Don't send us an appetizer our allergic child can't have without sending his food out too. If you send the kids' food out, don't send our entrees 30 minutes later. We can only keep a 2 year old strapped into a high chairs for so long.
- Kid Entertainment. You can only color Dora for so long. At the Kitchen Next Door, they met the challenge of bored and restless kids without ruining the grown up experience at the slightest. In the back of a restaurant was an enormous photograph of vibrant vegetables on a black background that looked like it came straight out of "Modernist Cuisine" by Nathan Myhrvold. A closer examination revealed that it was a magnetic board and the veggies were movable. As soon as we'd place our order, I'd take the kids to the veggie board and watch them make veggie trains, towers, and faces. It didn't get old even after 5 meals in one week.
- Live Music. It doesn't need to be Old McDonald had a farm. Not only did the Kitchen Next Door have a great jazz band twice a week, but they started playing at 7pm right as we finished dinner. Our waiter seamlessly moved us to the communal bar table in front of the band and even got us an extra tall high chair so that our 2 year old wouldn't miss anything. Jason and I got to relax for half and hour with after dinner drinks -- a luxury we have never experienced at a meal with kids.