We spend a lot of time talking about kid-friendly restaurants. But parents, how about when you’re out together without the kids? You need a special kid-not-so-friendly place of your own. Or call it a “pro date night” place. One with no crayons, no Wikki-Stix, no chicken tenders, no toy-lined alcove for small people to play when they get squirrelly.
We put together a list of candidates for that oddly desirable niche. In most cases, we don’t mean you’re guaranteed the stink-eye if you arrive with guests who don’t meet the height requirement for Space Mountain. We just mean you’ll enjoy the place a lot more if you’re not playing pattycake with a squirmy toddler, darting your arms out to rescue a glass of milk pre-spill, or spending half the meal pacing outside until the baby stops crying and you can return to your now-cold plate of halibut en papillote.
We owe thanks for the idea to Sharon Chen, a Seattle mother of 3, who loves exploring family-friendly restaurants, but finds it hard to take the best advantage of nights when the kids stay home.
“I mean, what restaurant is going to advertise itself as kid-unfriendly? But sometimes, that’s exactly what parents out without their kids want,” she said.
Here are our nominations, in no particular order. As you’d expect, many are finer-dining options. (For lower-rent runner-ups, consider romantic Dinette or Green Leaf in the ID (lots of kids do eat at Green Leaf, but we’re happier without ours in such a cramped space.)
Be aware also that chefs wouldn’t always agree with our rankings. Jason Wilson of Crush noted that he and wife Nicole are parents themselves, and they encourage families at their high-end restaurant.
“I think that adults can often be as mis-behaved as some children in restaurants, but a family enjoying dinner together trumps any assumption of formality, its a very important part of our culture,” he said.
Go to the comments section to — Junior, use your inside voice, please, Mommy’s talking — add your own recommendations.
1. Crush (2319 E. Madison St.): The first words out of my mouth when I first walked into this exquisite New American restaurant were “we are NEVER taking the children here.” I gave it one of the best reviews of my restaurant-critic career, and I wouldn’t have had such a lovely evening even with only my (ahem) extraordinarily well-behaved oldest child at the table. The heavenly beef short ribs and house-made Earl Grey chocolates deserve enough time to linger over each mouthful and focus on the flavors. The mod Verner Panton white chairs should be judged on their own without worrying that kicking feet might leave scuff marks. And the service would seem slow rather than luxuriously leisurely if we had to worry about getting out before a bedtime meltdown.
2. Sushi Kappo Tamura (2968 Eastlake Ave. E.): Chef Taichi Kitamura’s new Eastlake restaurant was recently named one of the best new sushi restaurants in the country by Bon Appetit. The magazine’s editors recommended sitting at the bar. Tough to do when your companions aren’t tall enough to see over the counter; even tougher when they’re at the age where their favorite fish are in “Finding Nemo” rather than on the night’s omakase order. Consider other good sushi restaurants as well. Where do Jason and Nicole Wilson of Crush go on their rare kid-free nights? Down the street from Crush to Nishino (3130 E. Madison St.)
3. The Walrus and the Carpenter (4743 Ballard Ave. N.W.): Everyone loves Renee Erickson’s fabulous little oyster bar, which is exactly why you want to save it for adult company. Even if your youngsters are the rare ones to appreciate briny-fresh Kusshis or white anchovy tartines, it’s hard even for full-grown adults to wait an hour or more to get a seat in the crowded room, and a decibel level that’s pleasantly lively for grown-ups might translate to overwhelming for toddlers. (They also don’t have high chairs. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.)
4. Altura (617 Broadway Ave. E.): The way to go at this Capitol Hill hotspot that’s been called the poor man’s Canlis (or at least the upper-middle-class man’s Canlis) is the 3-, 4-, or 5-course tasting menu that might include a foie gras torchon or squid ink tagliatelle. As one friend noted, the multiple course order takes out the option of ditching early if a child’s mood goes sour.
5. Cafe Juanita (9702 N.E. 120th Place, Kirkland): First, a confession: Back in my anonymous critic days I took a newborn to Cafe Juanita, and it went just fine. Holly Smith, chef-owner of the Italian-influenced restaurant, was either a wonderful actor or was truly happy to coo over her youngest guest, even offering to walk him around in his sling while we ate. (Appropriately enough, that’s what an Italian friend of mine says is the norm when she eats out in her home village.) But I love the place even more without children, because its calm but friendly ambience is as important a part of the place as the superb food. I wouldn’t bring that former baby in his current form as a delightful and energetic pre-schooler any more than I’d make a cell phone call from their tables.
6. Bisato (2400 First Ave.) Don’t even think about taking kids here, because, oddly, it’s technically considered a bar and minors aren’t allowed. It’s OK, though. Going solo means you can give chef-owner Scott Carsberg’s elegant, detail-oriented small plates your full attention. As critic Providence Cicero said when reviewing the place, “Carsberg’s severely minimalist style hinges on the best ingredients…an earthy crescent of morel pate flatters luxurious tagine-baked branzino the way a little black dress needs pearls.” It’s not a bad place to pull out your own dressy ensemble, without fear that anyone will wipe their hands on the skirt or try teething on the pearls.
7. Art of the Table (1054 N. 39th St.) Two of the savviest diners we know separately nominated AOTT as a great place to be… without your children. The local-seasonal food is a hit with all ages, but a lengthy prix-fixe meal can be hard on little ones, as can sitting with strangers at communal tables.
8. RN74 (1433 Fourth Ave.): Be honest now: Is a place where a key attraction is a Grand Central Station-style reader-board announcing which wines are about to sell out really a place your kids will enjoy enough to let you enjoy it? Besides, with the money you save not watching them pick at the $32 plate of halibut and the $9 frites, you can pay for the babysitter. (Note that the front desk says the chef will make accommodations for kids, so you may not be limited to the formal menu.)
9. Staple+Fancy (4739 Ballard Ave N.W.): Ethan Stowell, like fellow Seattle star Jason Wilson, is perfectly happy to see parents with strollers come into the restaurant where he loves cooking on the line. But if your kids aren’t gourmands with an adventurous palate and a late bedtime, you won’t be able to indulge in the “fancy” part of the fine restaurant, where you put yourselves in the hands of Stowell and staff and they send out plate after plate of surprises for the whole table. Yes, we appreciate the irony of saying that the “family-style dining” isn’t best for youngsters, but in this case it’s true. If the babysitter bails, consider Stowell’s new casual hangout, the Ballard Pizza Company, down the street.
10. The Coterie Room (2137 Second Ave., Seattle): Finally, with their third restaurant, fast-moving gastropub stars Dana Tough and Brian McCracken have an eatery that’s open to minors. Leave them home anyway. There are things kids could eat (even mac ‘n cheese, albeit $13 and truffled), but the big space has a distinctly adult vibe, and, like Crush, the food is so thoughtfully constructed that it requires at least one kid-equivalent of attention all its own.
Illustration: Jeff Paslay/The Seattle Times