Mama Madison: Rate the restaurants

Why can't family-friendliness be indicated with a system?

Shortly after the birth of my oldest, a dear friend whom I hadn't seen since I was in maternity clothes (truth be told, I was still in maternity clothes) suggested we go out for lunch -- just she, baby and me. She didn't suggest McDonald's, or a place with a kid's menu (not that it mattered, he didn't have teeth yet, anyway), but instead convinced me I needed to venture out to a downtown hotspot "- the kind of place where deals were discussed and the women all had manicures. And I, desperate for adult interaction and a meal that wasn't consumed while simultaneously changing a diaper, agreed. Sure, my baby fussed most of the day when he and I were home alone. But perhaps the din of a crowded restaurant was all he needed to relax peacefully in his car seat while I enjoyed a couple of tuna rolls and girl talk.

I quickly learned a nice restaurant was not an infant spa. Instead of quietly dozing as I had foolishly hoped he would, my newborn cried the whole time. Not just a whimper, but full-on newborn shrieks that could only be appeased by my attempting, relatively unsuccessfully, to breast-feed in my booth. Things got a bit better when I took over my lunch date's seat; nursing is much easier in an armchair. But needless to say it wasn't the dining experience I was looking for. Or the experience my friend was looking for.

And perhaps most importantly, it wasn't the experience the rest of the lunchtime crowd at the restaurant was looking for either.

Now, I am normally an advocate of child inclusiveness. I am cool with kids screaming on airplanes, in religious services, and even in the library (more about this next week). But I have to say, I think there are certain kinds of restaurants where babies, and even youngish kids, even relatively well-behaved youngish kids, are a distraction. Many adults are in that fine or fine-ish dining establishment to have a quiet, contemplative food experience. And watching a six-year-old pick at her salmon isn't one of them.

Now, I'm not saying that parents should never take their kids out to eat. There is a time, and more importantly a place, for everything. But wouldn't it be nice if sit-down dining establishments had guidelines for kid appropriateness? You know, like a movie rating system for restaurants. Nostrano or Harvest could be an R. No one under 17 admitted unless they, not their parents, could explain the difference between braising, sautéing and searing. Then the PGs might be places like Graze or Lombardino's. Light enough in attitude to handle kids, assuming they stay in their seats, are willing to try new foods and don't need to color on tablecloths to complete their culinary experience.

The Gs are almost too numerous to name in the area, with Ella's Deli the undisputed queen. But I'd like to give a special call out to Sofra Bistro in Middleton, a place that once handled my party of 18, including six sticky-fingered pre-schoolers, with far more grace than the situation required. As far as X-rated goes, I'm thankfully at a bit at a loss. Unless, of course, you want to count Hooters.

So while I don't really want to go down as the Tipper Gore of the restaurant industry, what I'd really love to see is parents exercising good discretion when deciding where they might take their kids. And with Restaurant Week starting this weekend in Madison, it's a certainly a good time to try someplace new. But I'd advise thinking Bluephies -- the kid's menu rocks despite its "Vodkatorium" status -- as opposed to Steenbock's On Orchard . Not because I think the foie gras the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery-based restaurant is offering will be anything less than delicious. But because I'd rather not be sitting across from your seven-year-old when you try explaining to her she's eating fatted duck liver.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Young love

Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (Near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.

Mama Madison: What a mother fears most

All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.

Operation Fresh Start's Youth Conservation Corps helps kids, and kids help parks

Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.

Mama Madison: Summer stress solved by yoga

The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.

Mama Madison: The greatest fans of road repair

Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.

Mama Madison: The alarm sounds

As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.

Mama Madison: My summer book list

For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.

Make Music Madison gives young artists a chance to perform

The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.

Mama Madison: Watching talent grow

Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.

Mama Madison: Writing time at Olbrich

If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.

Mama Madison: When UW-Madison's semester is over, the kids want out too

There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.

Mama Madison: Another amazing talent show

My passion for the talent show clearly runs deep, but I'm more than just a fangirl. This year marked my second as one of the "Ziegfelds" of the Follies, Hamilton's annual showcase for singers, musicians, dancers and other varied forms of entertainment. Trust me, when you are part of the spectacle's "producing/directing" team you get a new-found appreciation for how hard the kids worked to get up on stage.

Mama Madison: Preserving children's stories

My daughter, who turned twelve just this past week, is not legally "of age" when it comes to social media. But I guess, in many respects, especially in those that involve screens, I am a permissive pushover. I've allowed her join some networks.

Tenting tonight? Not so fast -- take the time to prepare for the first family camping trip

What adults love about camping -- sleeping under the stars, getting away from it all, the sounds of nature -- can be scary for children. It's dark in a tent. Nothing is familiar. Of course, camping with kids is more work for adults, too. Stay cool, live in the moment. Forget about that lost fork. Making s'mores, spotting wildlife, that's what kids will remember.

Mama Madison: It's time for the college tour

I have just returned from a whirlwind, five-day, four-city college tour with my son. You know those "101 Things to Know Before Visiting Disney World" guidebooks that experienced theme park travelers have written to help the uninitiated? I think I am now officially seasoned enough in information sessions and campus tours to give some serious thought to penning a similar "insiders guide" for the junior-year parent.

Mama Madison: When mom gets a new roomie

This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition.

Mama Madison: Earth Day awareness

It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.

Mama Madison: Parents should know and understand school codes of conduct

I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.

Helping your kids stick with music lessons

Some clever-clogs is playing Rachmaninoff on the piano at a party, and there it is again, that oft-heard adult lament of lost opportunity from a dejected onlooker: "I wish I could play. I wish my parents hadn't let me quit music lessons. I was just a kid -- how was I to know?" It's a reasonable complaint.

A summer camp quiz for parents

If you're checking out summer camps for your child, there are many issues -- some obvious, some less so -- to keep in mind. Here's a list to keep handy when you contact camps and camp directors, looking for the perfect spot for your kids to have fun, relax, and learn this summer.


Emails from Isthmus Parents feature event highlights, story links, site updates, and occasional special offers from trusted sources. Name and email address are required. Thanks!