Hannah Ahlo was scrolling through Instagram when something caught her eye: a photo of toddlers eating at Per Se, the three star Michelin restaurant often considered among the country’s best. Intrigued, the stay-at-home mom and big restaurant fan dug into what the toddlers were doing in such a high-end establishment. What she stumbled on was Nibble and Squeak, a dining club for parents—and their children. She eventually became the Seattle host for the club.
This week, Ahlo and her husband held their first Seattle event at Goldfinch Tavern, the Ethan Stowell restaurant inside the Four Seasons Hotel downtown. A half-dozen families, all with kids under three, gathered for a three-course feast. Priced at $105 for adults and $12 for kids (but free for those under two), the event allows adults to enjoy the kind of fine-dining meals that don’t usually welcome patrons still in their terrible twos.
I went into the event a bit dubious: as the daughter of a food writer, my two-year-old has likely eaten at more upscale restaurants than most her age (not to mention many adults), though usually at off-hours or wedged in at a back table. I came out sold on the idea.
Secluded in a private dining room (though at other events, the entire dining room is used), the romper room atmosphere gave the event a fun ambiance. Turns out, fancy food goes surprisingly well with happily shrieking toddlers. Especially for those who spring for the wine pairings for an extra $20.
The event began with crayons and plastic cups of water with curly straws, tipping me off that they would be well-prepared for toddler-style dining—something I was dissuaded of when my daughter handed me her place setting, saying “Knife sharp. For mommy.” From the menu, she—like every other child old enough to make the decision—chose the mac and cheese. It was, of course, made with fresh pasta, and a serious cut above the boxed stuff (and, she informed me when asked, my own homemade version). The other options, a Dungeness crab spaghetti or wild mushroom risotto, seemed to be tough sells to the small set.
For adults, the evening started with bruschetta and salad on the table and shooters of warm butternut squash soup. Given kids’ need for immediate gratification and constant snacks, it would have made sense that there be snacks for them, too, but instead my child made do with croutons she picked out of the salad, while another parent proffered Cheerios from a diaper bag. My daughter was also very excited to eat the edible flowers from the salad until she actually tasted them. Still, it would have been fun to have them on a dish for her. The Dungeness crab spaghetti proved to be a much more popular option on the adult menu, where it shared space with a mushroom pasta and a seared black cod entree.
By dessert—milkshakes for the kids, doughnuts or ice cream for the adults—most of the kids were out of their chairs and running around as adults finished wine and sipped coffee. That nobody cared what the kids did made for a relaxing evening, a feeling somewhat incongruous with the noise level.
Despite the enjoyable evening, I still balked at $105 (tax and gratuity included) for an adult ticket. After all, I probably wouldn't have hesitated to bring my child to Goldfinch Tavern at 4:30 on a Sunday (and would have paid less), though I would have made her stay in her high chair.
But then, I spoke with Ahlo about her plans. Her dream location for Seattle's Nibble and Squeak chapter would be Canlis. She’s currently working on planning the next event which will hopefully be at a higher-end, less kid-friendly restaurant. It would significantly up the appeal—and be more in line with Nibble and Squeak's other events around the country.
As the parent of a reasonably well-behaved toddler, I hadn't cared much about Nibble and Squeak’s mission to “normalize and simplify dining out with kids,” as I thought I did that on a regular basis by eating out with my children. But eating dinner with a group of food-loving parents in an upscale atmosphere turned out to hold other perks I hadn't considered. Perks like meeting new friends with similar interests.
In the end, my daughter left happy, swinging her swag bag from her shoulder, feeling very fancy, and that made me happy. As did the fact that a kid-friendly dining club meant that nobody had batted an eye when she ate a crayon and puked blue onto the dregs of her pasta.