“Don’t” Forget to Teach Them the Fine Art of Dining!

22 Aug

Nick eagerly eyes the ham on his plate (Katie is behind him).

 

Nick loves to dine.  Primarily he loves to dine out.  Now that he’s an adult, I love it that we can go out for a leisurely dinner or late lunch on a Saturday together and have cocktails, appetizers, dinner, wine and dessert.  It’s not necessarily that he loves to eat, he simply loves the art of dining.  He likes to chat with the maître d’, converse with the waiters, hear about the specials and engage in discussions about work, school, friends, family, travel or whatever.   

Nick also loves “to dine” during holidays.  On Thanksgiving, he always looks forward to coming over and smelling the aroma in the house, taking a look in the oven at the beautiful browned turkey or the clove-pricked ham, taking a bite of the water chestnut dressing, eyeing the plethora of pies and desserts while putting a finger in the fresh whipped cream.   

He likes to try new restaurants and while there are certain foods Nick doesn’t like (pork chops), he’s fairly adventurous about trying new foods.  I’d like to think that this comes from when he and Katie would spend Saturdays with us.  We would make the day an adventure and if we didn’t have anything particular in mind, my Mom and I would take Nick and Katie out to lunch.  Sometimes my sister would go as well depending on our planned dining destination.  And unlike most kids their age at the time, we wouldn’t go to McDonald’s or Applebee’s, as Nick and Katie’s palettes were far more refined, at least when they were with me.   

Nick loved food, dining and eating so much, my brother Tim gave him a chef's hat for Christmas one year.

 

One Saturday when he was about 9, my sister-in-law dropped them both off, and we made plans to head to the Plaza.  It was a crisp October day, and Mom and I were hungry for the Bookbinder Soup at Harry Starker’s.  It was one of their featured items, a classic soup with steamed fish in a rich sherry broth, served with homemade crisp sourdough bread.  (The original Harry Starker’s is no longer around, but it evolved to Starker’s Restaurant on top of Restoration Hardware at the corner of 47th and Wyandotte and they still serve this classic soup.)     

We sat down in one of the booths, and after the waiter brought over the water and bread, he went over the specials.  Nick asked him what was the “Soup du Jour.”  The waiter was taken aback for a moment, smiled and proceeded to share with Nick that the Soup du Jour was a Steak Soup, and of course, they always were serving the Bookbinder Soup.  Mom and I were surprised as well as we didn’t know he even knew the expression “Soup du Jour” – guess our Saturday dining experiences were starting to take hold.   

But that was just our first surprise.  After the waiter left to get the soups, Nick took out a little pocket-size spiral notebook.  On the cover, in a purple crayon marker he had written “Nick’s Restaurant Reviews.”   He told us he had decided that from now on when he eats out with us, he was going to do a review.  He had decided that by doing a review he would remember which restaurants he liked the best, plus it would just be fun and it would keep waiters or waitresses on “their toes” giving us the best service.    

He had made a rough spreadsheet (by the way, he’s now an accountant!) with restaurant names as columns, and twelve criteria listed as rows.  The criteria included 1) food looks, 2) menu look, 3) food taste, 4) type of food available, 5) waiter attitude, 6) soups 7) appetizers, 8) desserts, 9) comfortable chairs, 10) kids’ menu option, 11) looks/decorations (his version of ambience) and 12)condiments?!  Then there was a 13th row that said “bonus points.”  He planned on giving each criteria a score of 1 through 5, with 5 being the best.  He said he would give bonus points if something was truly awesome.   

As we waited for our soup, we all got into the spirit of Nick’s review and offered a few initial opinions of Harry Starker’s as he wrote their name into the first column of his notebook.  As the soup arrived Mom ordered trout, I had a Caesar salad with chicken, Katie had chicken fingers and Nick ordered a hamburger and fries.  We had to try the desserts, and while I don’t remember what I had, I know that Nick ordered Tiramisu.  He always ordered that or something chocolate like a torte, cake or brownie sundae.    

Lunch at Fedoras

Nick (about 11 years), my Mom, Katie (about 10 years) and Ian (3-4 years) at Fedora's for one of our Saturday lunches.

 

Harry Starker’s received 50 out of 60 points and did very well in Nick’s first review!  Several categories received a “5” including soups, desserts, waiter service, waiter attitude (to Nick there was a difference!) and condiments (he liked that the ketchup was served in a little white bowl).  He also rewarded them a few bonus points for the Tiramisu.    

That year and a year or two after that Nick loaded his little book up with reviews of other restaurants where we would go and have Saturday lunch.  At the time, they typically included restaurants on the Plaza, in Brookside or Crown Center  (about 1992-93).  We went everyplace from Annie’s Santa Fe (now closed) to Fred P. Ott’s; from Winstead’s to Fedora’s (also now closed, but it was a favorite!); from Houlihan’s to the Classic Cup.  We would also venture out and go to places he wanted to try like “V’s” Italian Restaurant  where he would order their really yummy French Fries with spaghetti and meatballs.  They also had a Tiramisu that he loved.  He had seen an ad for it claiming the best Italian food and that it was right next to “Cool Crest” a fun miniature golf course that we went to after lunch.    

Another favorite was Jasper’s Trattoria or the Marco Polo Market on Wornall (before they moved to their current location).  We’d get sausage sandwiches or pasta, and then of course the Tiramisu for Nick!  They always got 5 points in every category in Nick’s  book.  Jasper’s was also a dinner destination for us on the nights we would take the kids to Starlight Theatre and it still is.  JJ serves such wonderful food, the atmosphere is great and it is a family all-time favorite, including Nick, to this day.    

Trezo Vino Lunch

My Mom and Nick, after one of our recent Saturday lunches, in front of Trezo Vino in Park Place (in Leawood)

 

While Nick’s restaurant review notebook has long disappeared, the memories have not, and Nick, Mom and I still try to go to lunch on Saturdays a couple of times a year.  And sometimes Nick and I meet for lunch during the week, usually at Lidia’s (yes another Italian restaurant with a fantastic Tiramisu!) where we order the pasta tasting trio or the Frico.  The Frico is a specialty of the Friuli region of Italy – it is an envelope of golden-brown, crisp Montasio cheese with potato, leek and the filling of your choice – typically either crab, shrimp or sausage are the options available.     

Some of my favorite dining experiences have been with Nick – no matter his age, 10 or 25.  He has impeccable manners, we have wonderful conversations and we have great food at special places.  I’ll always fondly remember the time we went to Starker’s when he brought his review book and ordered the Soup du Jour.  But I especially enjoy the times we have lunch or dinner now, as eating with Nick is not just about dining, but about the time we spend together.

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