Every year, my side of the family gets together for a Birthday Dinner. It's tough to get together all the time some one weekend a year, it’s everyone’s birthday. We make a cake like our grandmother used to make and sing "Happy Birthday to Us" after coming back from a restaurant dinner. It’s a good time.
In recent years the party has moved from Connecticut to the Albany area leaving me in charge of picking the venue. No pressure. If I’m counting correctly, this was the 4th time I was the only member of the Birthday Dinner Restaurant Selection Committee. The restaurant I chose last year would have earned a return trip from the family, but they closed so some research was needed. The restaurant needs to meet a few conditions:
It has to be nice enough to feel celebratory but not so nice that it becomes cost prohibitive for a party of 10.
It has to have an accessible wine list. If the cheapest bottle is $50 or $60, you end up being cost prohibitive again.
It has to be good for a vegan and people that don't eat beef/pork/chicken.
It needs to take reservations. We’ll show up around 5 and be out of your way before the real Saturday night dinner rush start.
It needs to have offerings that two 11 year olds and a 12 year old will eat.
And finally, it needs to be relatively close to my house. I’d say within a 20 minute ride anyhow.
I don’t want this to turn into a restaurant review mainly because I don’t enjoy writing them. Everything was good, this place met all of the above criteria, service was very friendly and accommodating and the bread was freshly made - I wish I could make rolls like the ones being served. So the two discussions I’m starting aren’t specifically about this restaurant but more about my general experience in restaurants that meet the above criteria and reside in the greater Albany area.
1. More often than not, I think the appetizers are better than the entrees. Maybe it’s because a lot of appetizers are deep fried. Maybe a chef feels they can be more creative with a small plate that is priced at about half as much as an entrée. When my immediate family goes out to eat, we rarely get an appetizer. I'm starting to think we should just get a parade of appetizers instead. Is it just me?
2. When we dine out, the kids almost never get a soda. As parents, that’s our judgment call. There are plenty of calories in a restaurant meal, no need to add a sugar bomb. Since this was a special occasion, all three kids went with Shirley Temples. Now combining the way parents and kids were spaced around the table with my youngest daughter finishing her Shirley Temple first, a server asked her if she would like another one. Not quite sure how to handle the question, she kind of timidly said, “yessss?” knowing her mother and I were in earshot and would stop the transaction if we disapproved. Special occasion, knock yourself out, kid. I’m not exactly sure what happened (because it was the other end of the table), but my brother wasn’t thrilled when his son got a second soda. I later explained that we had allowed the second soda so the server, most likely in the interest of fairness, refreshed the other two sodas when the first round was gone. There was a happy hour thing going on and the second round of sodas were not on the bill. So in this instance, cost wasn’t in the equation. Here’s the question: should a server ask the parents about a refill? I’m not sure. I think the question should be asked to the kid and the parents have veto power. In this case, it felt like one set of parents made a decision for the table and that might not have been best thing, but what do you think? I’ve been encouraging my kids to respectfully and politely communicate their order in a restaurant. A quick eye glance/head nod communication between a parent and child should result in a “Yes, please” or “No, thank-you.” Just my two cents.
Friday night my wife was running late so she caught up to my mother, my two kids and me at a different restaurant (I usually don’t get out this much). I got an “I’m on my way order something for me” text. So I looked over the menu and came up with a plan for two dishes for us to split. As luck would have it, she got to the restaurant moments before the waiter arrived to take the order. For the first time in 25 years (we’ve been a couple since ’92) I ordered for her in front of her. Felt completely different from picking something out for her when she wasn’t there which has happened many times in those 25 years. While I didn’t actually say, “And the lady will have…” it still felt weird. I didn’t like it. Men should never do it. If you do, I will judge you. Unfavorably.
On Sunday, we celebrated my youngest daughter’s birthday. She turns 11 today. In an effort to make her birthday party all about me, I baked 11 pizzas in the wood oven and giggled after launching each one.