The arrival of twins seven years ago did nothing to slow our restaurant habit, as we feared it might. Rather, we took them along, finding two sleeping infants to be rather good dinner companions. For several months they slumbered away in their seats as we enjoyed evenings out, albeit at a much earlier time and more rapid pace than before their arrival.
As things happen, eventually those sleeping children woke up, sat up and, as quickly as their tiny fingers could sign, they asked for more. At six months they were trying out restaurant high chairs, eating avocados at El Barco, pancakes at Uncommon Ground and green beans at Bistro Margot. We became experts at menu reading, piecing together kid-friendly meals from ingredients offered in other dishes. Any restaurant that has a Cobb salad on the menu can offer a diced egg, avocado and small pieces of cheese. Mrs. Murphy and Sons fed them mashed potatoes, carrots and bits of roasted chicken; at steak houses we opted for for diced asparagus and baked potatoes; and in Asian restaurants we relied on tofu, edamame and broccoli. Sourcing the menu became a game, a challenge for us to see who could assemble the best non kid’s menu meal in the shortest time. The truth is, despite my being the family cook, it was their father who really mastered the art of reading between the lines and creating masterpieces for our budding gourmands.
Their restaurant skills developed along with their taste buds. Once they started talking, they started ordering. They developed favorite dishes, favorite restaurants, and favorite types of food. When they were unable to agree on something to share, we asked for half portions, and found most places agreeable to that request. More often than not restaurants seemed pleased to see young children interested in trying new food; that we try to eat early helps keep our hosts happy. The girls have eaten everywhere from Topolabampo to the burrito place at the end of the street. They eat close to home, downtown, in Chicago’s diverse ethnic neighborhoods, and occasionally in their own apartment.
Listening to us complain and compliment for seven years has worn off; Mary and Kate freely offer their own opinions on everything from service to food to atmosphere. Their reviews are both hilarious and often dead on, but they needed something else. Recently we had dinner with friends whose eight year old son Noah took a second helping of cilantro lime slaw and reached for the extra spicy sauce for his smoked brisket; Mary and Kate had found a partner. When Noah’s dad suggested we find an outlet for these young palettes The Taste Buds was born.
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