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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Escargot, Risotto, Nutella Pie, & French Macarons: The Toddler Foodies Get Romantic

Since Valentine's Day is around the corner, we want to help you plan something romantic for your special someone.  We know what you're thinking:  what do a couple of toddlers know about romance?  Believe it or not, we know a lot.  Mommy doesn't realize it, but we are always listening - and we hear her when she talks (to her girlfriends or out loud to herself) about all the things she wishes Daddy would do or places she wishes Daddy would take her.  So, as a special treat to our grown-up friends, we've decided to focus this week's posts on romantic restaurants and sweet treats for your sweetie.  In addition to our usual Gummy Bear Ratings, we're going to include Hershey's Kiss Ratings to help you decide how valentine-friendly certain places are.  And we may even sprinkle in a few romance tips along the way, since we've learned so much from listening to Mommy's rants.   

           Romance Tip #1: Charm your date by being content, studious, & well-behaved.           

Violette (Atlanta/Emory)

Photo credit:
Toddler Foodie Rating:  2.5 out of 5 Gummy Bears (due to being a better atmosphere for adults).  Can you take kids here?  Yes, definitely.  Do you want to take kids here?  Maybe not, for your own sake.

Hershey's Kiss Rating:  4 out of 5 Hershey's Kisses.  Comfortable yet classy ambience.  A great option for parents' night out.

:) = Hands down some of the best service we've ever had.  They treated us like little princes, and we (and our Mommy) really appreciated that.  Live jazz.  Friendly, unpretentious clientele.  Authentic French food. 
:( = Food is pricey, as you might expect at a French restaurant.  Some of the food was a bit oily.  We're not sure if a true French food expert would appreciate it as much as we did.  The temperature inside the restaurant was a little chilly - wear layers.

Notes:  Violette is right off the Clairmont Rd. exit on I-85.  Their sign is not flashy or overly conspicuous - blink and you will miss it.  Valet service is complimentary, but have cash on-hand if you want to tip.  


We've heard Mommy say to Daddy, "I wish you paid attention in your high school French class.  French is sooooo romantic."  Keeping that in mind, we decided to take Mommy out for French cuisine at a cozy little spot that's known as one of the most romantic restaurants in Atlanta and one of the top ten French restaurants in AtlantaViolette.  We chose Violette over all the other local French restaurants because the host there, whom Mommy called a couple days in advance of our visit, was so nice and helpful to her.  She asked him whether it was okay to bring two toddlers to the restaurant "to let them try French food" (she did not mention that we moonlight as Toddler Foodies).  He answered honestly that the restaurant does not see too many little diners, but would be happy to accommodate children's needs.  He even helped her figure out the best time to visit for dinner (5:30 PM, when the restaurant opens, because it's not too crowded at that time) and named some menu selections he thought we would enjoy.

When we arrived at Violette, we received warm greetings from the host and the restaurant's manager.  The host immediately led us to our table.  Our server, Julian, came out to meet us shortly after.  He was one of the nicest servers we have ever met - he talked to us, joked with us, asked us about ourselves, and taught us about the items on the menu in terms we could understand.  He treated us like little adults, even though we were probably some of the youngest customers he had ever served at Violette.  He brought out crusty French bread right away, along with some yummy olive oil for dipping.  He even asked us if we wanted butter, to which we replied, "Yes.  But... what is a butter?"

Romance Tip #2:  Always look for ways to bring
your date's hand close to yours.

Romance Tip #3:  Your date will love seeing you
make funny faces while you're eating.

For dinner we ordered escargots (snails cooked in white wine-garlic butter) and Canard Colvert (seared duck breast with garlic-tomato confit, sauteed spinach, chorizo-garlic au jus).  

Escargots + National Geographic animal flash cards. 
A day in the life of a toddler foodie.

Heard as this photo was taken: "It's a duckie! Quack quack!"

The escargots were our favorite part of dinner, much to Mommy's surprise.  (In fact, we ate 5.5 out of 6 escargots, while she only got 1/2 a snail foot.)  The escargots were cooked perfectly - not rubbery, very easy to cut and chew.  They were served with crunchy sticks of bread that we could dip in the white wine-garlic butter once all the snails were gone.  

Romance Tip #4:  Impress your date by stuffing your cheeks full of snails. 

The Canard Colvert was not our favorite dish, and Mommy ended up bringing her portion home to Daddy.  The sauce was somewhat watery, and the potato served on the side was a little hard.  The skin on the duck had good flavor, though; and the meat was tender enough for our little teeth to bite into without Mommy having to cut it into small pieces.

Romance Tip #5:  Sometimes it's okay to eat with your hands. 
Just make sure you wash them first.

For dessert, we tried the Tarte au Myrtilles (blueberry tart with a brown sugar crust, served with vanilla ice cream and fresh berries).  Wow, was that a treat!  The blueberry filling inside the tart was more like a blueberry infused custard than a traditional blueberry pie filling.  And the crust was divine - flaky, but not crumbly; and not overly sweet.

Romance Tip #6:  Show your date that you know how to share. 
After trying French food for the first time, we can certainly see why French culture makes Mommy swoon.  As certified romance experts, we can confirm that Violette provides a great taste of French culture and would be an excellent place to take a special date on Valentine's Day (or any other day).

Sotto Sotto (Inman Park)

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Toddler Foodie Rating:  2 out of 5 Gummy Bears.  We called in advance to make a reservation and spoke with the restaurant's general manager, who was extremely warm and open to the idea of bringing in two toddlers.  But the staff's demeanor and overall atmosphere make it clear that this restaurant really isn't meant for little ones.

Hershey's Kiss Rating:  3 out of 5 Hershey's Kisses.  Intimate setting, extensive wine list.

:) = Tasteful décor.  Hassle-free location with complimentary valet parking and ample parking spaces.  Eclectic menu of authentic Italian dishes, including risotto and handmade pasta.  "First course"-sized portions of the risotto and pasta dishes are available, which are less expensive and perfect for hungry kids.
:( = The food we ordered was not as tasty as we expected it would be given this restaurant's excellent reputation.  Some staff members were standoffish and aloof, which took away from the restaurant's charm. 

Notes:  Sotto Sotto is next door to, and shares valet with, Fritti.  The sign for Fritti is more prominent, so look for it instead of the Sotto Sotto sign.  Have cash on-hand if you want to tip the valet.  

Mommy's not the only one who teaches us about romance.  Sometimes Daddy shares his wisdom with us, too.  One time Daddy told us that if Mommy's mad at him, all he has to do is feed is her pasta, and she will forgive him right away. So we think pasta must be a verrrry romantic food. 

We Googled "best pasta in Atlanta," and the link to the 10 Best Italian Restaurants in Atlanta popped up.  Sotto Sotto is #6 on that list.  We chose Sotto Sotto because when Mommy called to ask if it would be okay to bring two toddlers there "so they could taste real Italian food," the general manager himself was really nice, told her it would be fine, suggested we come at 5:30 so we could avoid the adult dinner crowd, and even offered to make special dishes for us or order us pizza from Sotto Sotto's adjacent sister restaurant, Fritti, if we didn't like the dishes on the menu.

Romance Tip #7:  Ask for permission before you double dip.
Given that we got such a warm and enthusiastic welcome over the phone, we had high expectations when we walked into Sotto Sotto.  Unfortunately, the host and other staff members did not appear to share the general manager's enthusiasm for receiving a Mommy and her two toddlers.  Even though the restaurant was virtually empty when we arrived a little late (right at 6 PM), and the staff appeared not to be preoccupied, they seemed unnerved by our presence.  The hostess asked one of the servers to get us a high chair, to which he responded, quite unapologetically, "No" and walked away.  Eventually we did get a high chair, followed by one glass of water for Mommy, and then a basket of bread and olive oil for dipping.  Nobody thought to bring us water until Mommy flagged down our server and asked for it.  Thankfully, the bread was soft and yummy enough to keep us satisfied until we got our food.

A 3-year-old foodie's photo of his Italian feast:
First course sizes of Risotto ai Funghi, Papardelle al Sugo d' Anatra,
& Lasagnette alla Bolognese. 

Sotto Sotto offers all of its risotto and pasta dishes in "First Course"-sized portions (which amounts to a little more than half of the regular-sized course, per our server).  For dinner we ordered 3 first-course sized dishes:  Risotto ai funghi (camaroli rice with wild mushrooms and reggiano cheese), Pappardelle al Sugo d'Anatra (fresh papardelle pasta with braised duck ragu), and Lasagnette alla Bolognese (baked lasagna with a Bolognese béchamel sauce).  The food, like the chilly welcome we got upon our arrival, disappointed us a little bit.  The risotto had a distinct truffle flavor, but some of the rice was still hard.  The pappardelle was definitely fresh and delicious, and heaped with generous portions of braised duck, but the sauce lacked any memorable flavor.  The lasagnette was similarly unremarkable.  Our favorite part of the meal was the white chocolate bread pudding with amaretto cherries that Mommy ordered for dessert.  It had a nice firm yet chewy texture and was not overly sweet. 

Romance Tip #8:  Always save room for dessert.

On a positive note, our server eventually warmed up to us a little bit.  Mommy told us he would be nicer to us if he saw that we knew how to behave in a restaurant, and she was right.  He even made a little bed on the table for our teddy bear!
For Teddy Bear, only the finest Italian linen will do.

Overall, we weren't as impressed with Sotto Sotto as we thought we were going to be.  Maybe our expectations were too high.  Or maybe we just caught the staff on an "off" day, or ordered the wrong dishes.  In any case, while we appreciate that Sotto Sotto gave us a chance to stop by, we think Mommy and Daddy may try out other restaurants the next time they want to have an Italian-style date night.

Crave Pie Studio (Duluth)

Mouthwatering display of Crave's assortment of sweet 5" pies,
including yummy Nutella cream pie.
Toddler Foodie Rating:  4 out of 5 Gummy Bears

Hershey's Kiss Rating:  4 out of 5 Hershey's Kisses.  Crave Pie's unique sweet (and savory) pie flavors are sure to make your Valentine feel loved.

:) = Cute little eatery in the heart of quaint Downtown Duluth. Casual, low-key atmosphere.  Quick service.  Good beverage options (assorted coffee drinks for parents and juice boxes for little ones). Parents will feel comfortable eating here with their kids, but also have the option to order to go.  
:( = In terms of service, this eatery is somewhat do-it-yourself (get your own napkins, grab your own drinks from the cooler, etc.).  Do not come here expecting a regular sit-down meal with full service.   

Notes:  There is some construction taking place right in front of the restaurant, but don't let it scare you away!  There is ample parking behind and around the restaurant, and the sidewalk is still open.  

We have been around long enough to know that Valentine's Day is really about eating lots of sweets.  So for the last two stops on our Romance Tour, we decided to try a couple of eateries that specialize in serving yummy sweet treats.

Our first stop was Crave Pie Studio in historic Downtown Duluth.  We arrived around 10:45 AM on a Saturday morning, when the area was still relatively empty.  When we walked in, we were enthralled by the display of assorted mini (5") pies.  We were especially drawn to the spread of cute little chocolate pies (because what's Valentine's Day without chocolate?!).  Mommy and Daddy weren't quite ready for us to indulge in chocolate so early in the day, so we ordered the Apple-Pear Pie, Southwest Chicken & Vegetable Quiche, and Chicken Pot Pie.

Crave Pie Studio's assortment of quiche.
This photo was taken by a 3-year-old - we are getting better at our craft!
We have nothing but good things to say about these pies.  Each pie (especially the Chicken Pot Pie) was stuffed with fresh-tasting ingredients.  The chicken pot pie had loads of white meat smothered with a tastefully seasoned, creamy filling.  The crust of each pie was perfect -  buttery, flaky, crispy on the outside with terrific flavor in each bite - but our favorite crust belonged to the Apple-Pear pie.  In addition to being flaky and buttery, it had a nice caramelized sugar crunch to it that tasted like candy.

Chicken Pot Pie tip:  Ask them to heat it up for a few extra minutes to make sure the filling gets warm enough. 

Romance Tip #9: If your date gives you this look,
it means there may not be a second date in your future. 
Romance Tip #10:  Offer to cut your date a
slice of pie before serving yourself.

Overall, we loved Crave Pie Studio.  If your valentine pines for pie, we recommend getting her a sweet treat from here.  Crave Pie Studio is offering a Valentine's Day special that will include selections like The Chocolate Lovers Variety Pack or Cherry Pie with heart cutouts.  Follow them on Instagram (@cravepie) or visit their website for more details. 

Mac Lab (Duluth)

 There's no denying that these delicate, colorful French pastries are tres romantique.
Toddler Foodie Rating:  4 out of 5 Gummy Bears.

Hershey's Kiss Rating:  5 out of 5 Hershey's Kisses.  Your sweetie will swoon over these adorable little treats.  Trust us.

:) = Unique and creative science theme that makes dining fun. Conveniently located in a busy plaza off the Pleasant Hill Road exit on I-85.  Delicious, expertly made pastries and a broad selection of French macarons. Attentive service. Good selection of premium coffee drinks.   
:( = This cafe is not very big and has a beautiful, light-colored/white interior.  Parents might be nervous that their little ones will destroy the furniture.  We recommend stopping by here to order pastries to go, but not necessarily hanging out here with kids.

Notes:  Mac Lab makes fresh macarons daily.  Come early to ensure the flavors you want don't run out.  Also, the café is next to Ming's BBQ, which is one of our favorite Chinese restaurants in Atlanta.  

We've already established that all things French are sooooo romantic.  French macarons - delicate, airy little cookies made with egg whites, sugar, and almond flour - are no exception.  We have personally witnessed Mommy's reaction when Daddy surprises her with a box of macarons, and we know they are sure-fire way to put a smile on someone's face (or get someone's forgiveness).  So, for our last stop on our Romance Tour, we decided to try a new café specializing in French macarons.
Mac Lab is owned by a husband-wife team of two professional chefs who are very passionate about their craft.  Their passion is evident in the delicious, authentic macarons and other pastries they produce; the intricate and creative details woven throughout their café; and the excellent level of service they provide.  (Mac Lab's staff will even tell you that it's best to enjoy your macarons at room temperature.)  Macaron-making is a tedious process, and there's an art to it that Mac Lab clearly strives to master. 
Romance Tip #11:  Impress your date with your scientific knowledge.
Smart is the new sexy.
We ordered four macaron flavors when we visited:  green tea, salted caramel, chocolate, and black sesame.  We had no complaints about the macarons whatsoever.  They were the perfect balance of a crispy but not overly fragile shell with a chewy, flavor-filled interior.  And Daddy and Mommy liked the quality of the iced coffee so much that they didn't even have to add sugar to it. 
Romance Tip #12:  Show your date that you're not afraid to try exotic flavors.
Pictured:  Black Sesame macaron

There's no question that we adored the treats that Mac Lab offers.  We probably won't spend much time hanging out here (because Mommy worries about us destroying the place), but we will definitely be back regularly to order a box or two to go.  If your valentine likes sweets, we recommend checking this place out.  A very reliable source told us that Mac Lab is going to offer special macaron flavors in larger sizes for Valentine's Day, including champagne raspberry, passionfruit mango, and black sesame ice cream.  Follow Mac Lab on Instagram (@mac_lab) for more details. 

Well, it looks like it's time for our Romance Tour of Atlanta to come to an end.  In closing, we'd like to leave you with a few more romance tips:
~Atlanta Eats recently posted a listing of where to celebrate Valentine's Day, neighborhood by neighborhood.
~Living Social has some good V-Day options, too.
~There are some interesting things to do in Atlanta on Valentine's Day - check them out!
~Valentine's Day treats can be enjoyed by everyone, no matter their dietary needs.  Check out this selection of gluten-free Valentine's Day treats.
We think romance and love should be celebrated every day, not just on Valentine's Day.  But we do hope all our friends near and far have a memorable February 14th.  Until next time, happy eating (and romancing)!

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