Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Birthday Dinner

There is no better way to celebrate the birthday of a friend than a lovely dinner at Belleville, a French bistro on Fifth Avenue, with an interesting group of people from Park Slope, Greenpoint, and Tribeca. And Saturday was just that with a twist. It was Origami Master's 46th birthday and he and his beautiful wife, Abstract Painter, invited Smartmom, Hepcat and the others to bring their children. Notably, this was the first time in the eight years that this group has been getting together to celebrate Origami Master's birthday that the children were invited along. In a sense, it was a sign of changing times, a harbinger, if you will, of children growing older.

Eating dinner out with one's children can be a tricky proposition. Soon after Teen Spirit was born, Smartmom and Hepcat decided that it just wasn't worth the expense or the aggravation to dine out in nice restaurants for three reasons: it wasn't fair to the other diners, the kids didn't much care for it, and it wasn't much fun.

For years, the only place Smartmom and Hepcat ever took their kids was Two Boots, Park Slope's legendary child-centered Italian/Cajun pizzeria on Second Street. Two Boots is so agressively child-centered, that the saintly wait staff let the kids run wild while the parent's anesthetize themselves with margaritias. They serve something called a "pizza face," which is a small pizza with tomatoes for eyes, a sprig of brocolli for a nose, and a slice of red pepper for a smiling mouth. It is the ultimate in child-friendly fair and it's quite delicious too. Of course, all of those vegetables must be promptly removed before the child will take even one bite!

But the centerpiece of the Two Boots experience is a trip to the pizza window where the children are invited to stand on a special platform to watch the "pizza man" roll pizza dough and twirl it in the air. The "pizza man," a paragon of patience, even gives the kids their very own piece of pizza dough. These pieces of dough have been known to get thrown about, sometimes landing on one's plate of fried calimari, or in a strong and much-needed pink Cosmopolitan. Splat.

And let's not forget the coin-operated musical bunny, which writhes spasmodically outside of Two Boots. Teen Spirit used to insist on riding on that migrane-inducing ride ad nauseum right after a "soothing" meal at that den of mayhem.

When OSFO came along, the family continued dining at Two Boots and limited their grown-up restaurant trips to rare "date nights" alone or with friends. But recently, the family has, in a sense, aged out of Two Boots. Smartmom and Hepcat are plain sick of the place and the dynamic duo seeem to have gotten more adventurous, too. Recently, Teen Spirt and OSFO have enjoyed eating out in real restaurants like Thai Sky, La Villa, Beso, and Szechuan Delight -- any restaurant, really, as long as they serve root beer. Actually, Teen Spirit has been quite willing to try all sorts of new dishes and cuisines —and OSFO seems willing to join in. Which isn't to say that she doesn't still enjoy a trip every now and then to Two Boots for her piece of pizza dough and her ride on the coin-operated bunny. But she does seem able to do without the Disney coloring book and the crayons most of the time.

So in a sense, the evening out to celebrate Origami Master's birthday was also a milestone for Smartmom and family because it signified an evolutionary shift: OSFO and Teen Spirit have moved beyond the Two Boots stage of things into something a tad more sophisticated.

As is usual for a Saturday night, Belleville felt like a bustling, festive, decidely grown-up place. The tables were reserved days in advance, and people were waiting outside in the autumn chill to get in. Smartmom recognized many prominent Slopesters interspersed in the not just local crowd. People come from as far away as Cobble Hill, Prospect Heights, Windsor Terrace, even Ft. Greene to enjoy the Casoulet, the Pork Loin, and the Frenchy ambiance.

The adults and children sat at separate tables right next to a glass case by the door that showcases the restaurant's charming collection of Tin Tin memorabelia. This is actually a fetching touch for the kids. For those who don't have boys: Tin Tin is the name of a vintage Belgian comic book about a young boy detective named Tin Tin. It is a favorite of Teen Spirit and Origami Master's sons, and all have read and re-read many of these wonderful books with names like: "The Cigars of the Pharoahs," "Secret of the Unicorn," "Red Rackham's Treasure," and "Destination Moon."

The two girls and four boys, ages 7-15, did remarkably well in this white napkin bistro, even if they did devour plates of bread and butter before their entree orders were taken. Impressively, they ordered ALL BY THEMSELVES and not just from the extensive children's menu. Teen Spirit selected Steak Frites, others had burgers and OSFO stuck with the good old, tried and true: Macaroni and Cheese. The teen boys looked suitably cool with their 1970's rock star hair and their new, more manly faces. For the most part, they huddled together talking about whatever it is 12, 13, and 14-year-old boy's talk about. The two girls, however, were at opposite ends of the age span. One a charming and poised 15-year old sophmore at Dalton, the other a scandalously fun and shy second grader at PS 321.

The adults: two writers, a computer type, three artists, and a sucessful businessman (with a plethora of extracurricular interests), were largely unconscious of the goings on at the children's table so involved were they in the lively conversation at their own. They drank too many bottles of good red wine while the kids ordered sodas and Shirley Temples, that classic mix of Ginger Ale, marachino cherry juice and a cherry. Smartmom was impressed that there was no rough housing and no inapprorpate play. Except of course for OSFO, who decided to sneak up on the adults underneath their table. At one point, to Smartmom and Hepcat's dismay, OSFO disappeared. When Smartmom found her outside on the street she said, "Shhhhh. I'm trying to be a spy." While her behavior was wildly inappropriate for Belleville, it was nothing compared to the madness at Two Boots.

Aside from OSFO's tiny infraction, the children's behavior perfectly complimented the purpose of the evening which was to celebrate the 46th year in the life of Origami Master, so-named for the remarkable way that he once learned to make origami creatures of every stripe. He is also a bike racer, an electric guitar player, the owner of a sucessful business and the father of Teen Spirit's best friends since pre-school. And if that's not enough, he's a wonderful person too.

As the meal drew to a close, the waiter carried a slice of choclate ganache cake gaily lit with a single candle across the restaurant. The children joined the adults in a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday," to which they added flourishes like, "Cha Cha Cha," and "Are you 1? Are you 2? Are you 3?" They stopped at 3, as is polite for a mid-life birthday party. The party ended earlier than usual (the young need their beauty rest), but a wonderful time was had by all, truly a night to remember.


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