IT began at Fred’s. I was tucking into a lobster salad over a business lunch at the swanky eatery inside Barneys when I noticed, amid the sea of designer handbags and diners who define chic, babies dotting the room. And instead of grudgingly accepting them, the staff was doting.
My daughter, Meenakshi, was 8 months old at the time, and my husband and I had been getting our restaurant-food fix by ordering takeout or hiring a sitter. Whenever we took her with us we ended up wishing we had stayed home.
At our favorite pizza restaurant, which was always full of families, we were told that we were not allowed in with a stroller — Meenakshi was just 4 months, too small for a high chair, and the thought of working our way through a pie while taking turns holding her was not exactly appealing, so we took it to go. A casual American spot with a separate children’s menu seemed promising, but I was left struggling with my stroller down the handful of stairs while the staff stood idly watching.
But after seeing the babies at Fred’s, I decided to try again. We were able to check in our bulky stroller, and when it came to ordering for our little gastronomist, then about 10 months old, the Fred’s waiter suggested an off-the-menu grilled cheese on whole wheat with a side of sautéed broccoli. It arrived within minutes. He was amused, not annoyed, by Meenakshi’s game of dropping her plastic cutlery on the floor more than a dozen times so he could pick it up.
Meenakshi turned 2 last weekend — we celebrated at Café Boulud, where she selected her raisin-walnut roll from the bread tray to go with her goat-cheese risotto balls, and finished with a milk chocolate and peanut butter bar plus chocolate tuile (they wrote “happy birthday” on the plate), followed, of course, by the signature madeleines. She has been to some of New York’s finest eateries, finding obliging staff and a hint of culinary adventure in an otherwise uninspired diet. (And, I’m sure, some fellow diners who had paid for baby sitters and were perturbed at her presence.)
There are no children’s menus at these places, where grown-up meals run as high as $100 a person, but they all have high chairs and find little ways to cater to the under-3 crowd.
L’ATELIER DE JOEL ROBUCHON 57 East 57th Street, (212) 829-3844
TOT-FRIENDLY TASTES Sliders with homemade ketchup and hand-carved fries ($25), spaghetti with butter or tomato sauce ($32).
TOT-FRIENDLY TOUCHES This serious dining destination at the Four Seasons Hotel does not just accept children — it welcomes them with amenities like a stroller check-in, a free Beanie Baby (the hotel is owned by the toy’s maker, Ty Warner), coloring book and crayons, and even a portable DVD player with a selection of age-appropriate movies like “Shrek.”
TOT SIGHTINGS Once a week, usually at 6 p.m.
GRAMERCY TAVERN 42 East 20th Street, (212) 477-077
TOT-FRIENDLY TASTES Meatballs ($18), bacon-and-cheddar biscuits ($4), mushroom lasagna ($10 for half portion) and smoked kielbasa ($10 for half portion).
TOT-FRIENDLY TOUCHES Stroller check-in, free milk and a freshly baked mini-cookie like peanut butter chocolate or molasses.
TOT SIGHTINGS A few times a week in the main dining room and even more frequently in the no-reservations Tavern. “We see babies a few weeks old with their parents who are coming out for their first post-birth meal because they know they are always welcome here,” said Kevin Mahan, the general manager.
FRED'S AT BARNEYS NEW YORK 660 Madison Avenue, (212) 833-2200
TOT-FRIENDLY TASTES Grilled cheese with vegetable or fries ($12.50) is not on the menu, but just ask; small portions of pasta with San Marzano tomato sauce or farmed butter ($12); pizzas ($18 to $24).
TOT-FRIENDLY TOUCHES This see-and-be-seen lunch spot offers ample stroller parking, but if your little one is sleeping or is too small for a high chair, you can bring your wheels to the table. Children’s orders get first priority in the kitchen. There “is never a point where a child is not welcome at Fred’s,” said Mark Strausman, the restaurant’s managing director.
TOT SIGHTINGS Multiple times a day for lunch and dinner, and Sunday brunch is kid central.
CAFÉ BOULUD 20 East 76th Street, (212) 772-2600
TOT-FRIENDLY TASTES House-made spaghetti with aged Parmesan and fleur de sel butter ($11), petite filet mignon with fries ($19), risotto balls ($10), Belgian waffles ($14), ricotta cheese blintz with apple butter ($14).
TOT-FRIENDLY TOUCHES Gavin Kaysen, the executive chef, has a 9-month-old son who loves being in the kitchen, so he strives to make the food and ambiance welcoming. Anjli Bhandari said that her 2-year-old twins loved the butter pasta and that she appreciated “how the staff was wonderfully patient as they replaced spoon after spoon that kept falling on the ground.”
TOT SIGHTINGS Several times a week for 5:30 dinner, and always a handful at Saturday lunch and Sunday brunch.
VERMILION 480 Lexington Avenue, (212) 871-6600
TOT-FRIENDLY TASTES Mini-thalis (free for children under 5) — a crash course on Indian cuisine — come with naan, rice, daal, kebab and two of the day’s special entrees. There is also a “milder adaptation” menu in which the normally spicy creations are tempered to appeal to children.
TOT-FRIENDLY TOUCHES Within three minutes of being seated at this elegant Indian and Latin fusion eatery, diners with children get a complimentary plate of sweet potato fries dusted with chaat masala. Their orders are expedited, and parents can have a three-course meal in 45 minutes upon request (plus the free mini-thalis!). “I find that parents dining out with infants want a great meal that’s not prolonged,” said the owner, Rohini Dey, a mother of two. “So that’s what we try to provide.”
TOT SIGHTINGS Several times a week, and more often in warmer weather for outdoor seating — the space can easily accommodate strollers.
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