Dining out with children is an exercise in situational awareness. Each experience is unique, with different variables leading to different possible outcomes, DEFCON-like in their escalating threat levels. Keen observation, forward planning and prior experience are critical in determining the proper strategy. Here at DEFCON Dining, we do the grunt work for you. It ain't always pretty.
I used my good friend James for oysters. I'd say I'm not proud of it, but that's not entirely true. You see, every September, I begin an eight-month dilemma. It typically reaches a fever pitch just after Christmas, as waters are at their coldest and oysters at their briny best. The dilemma? My family doesn't like 'em.
I know what you're thinking -- "they don't have to eat them, then." True enough. Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. They're not big on seafood generally, and it can be a bit tough to find a restaurant that caters to the oyster-lover in me and the landlubbers in the rest of my family. Every once in a while, I can catch them on a good day for fish and sneak in a dozen or so, most often at Good Co. Seafood, which somehow falls into their general good graces despite its dearth of food options with legs. With James in town, I had an ace up my sleeve.
A food lover from Houston with Louisiana roots, James visits from NYC a handful of times a year, always making time to grab a bite or a beer with me and mine. Usually, he bends around the bizarre schedules that seem to dominate my life. This time, I told my wife, we were going to bend around him. To me, that included choice of venue. Having not been to town for a while, he asked me for some recommendations, preferably someplace laid-back where we could carry on a conversation. I sneaked Liberty Kitchen onto the list, and suggested to James that, since he likes oysters and I like oysters, our time would be well spent eating them together. James agreed, electing that we meet at Liberty Kitchen for dinner that night. His choice. The fact that Liberty Kitchen offers a full menu, including all-day breakfast for my famously egg-loving kids, made it an easy one for all of us.
Ordinarily, a 20-minute wait for a table with kids in tow can be a challenge. With lots of ten- and seven-year-old news to relay, and with James playing audience for all of their enthusiasm, the time passed quickly, despite being crammed into a small waiting space next to the bathrooms. We made it to our table without incident.
As we perused the slightly scatterbrained menu, our talk turned to oysters. "I've been talking a lot of smack about Gulf oysters lately," James admitted. I suggested we put that smack to the test, ordering half a dozen Gulf specimens to go up against James's selection of Wellfleets. That settled, we compared philosophies on the dressing and garnishment of oysters, easily agreeing that they're (generally) best left well enough alone. There are reasons we're friends.
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As the trays of oysters arrived, I noticed my kids eyeing them warily. I assured them that they would not be forced to eat any, due in no small part to selfishness. An unwanted oyster given to an unwilling child is one taken away from me, after all. When my eldest, who's developed a fondness for fried oysters, started indicating that she might want to try one, my attitude changed. While I wasn't willing to force the kid to take one away from me, I was more than willing to let her. We tried to coach her in proper slurping, but she went after it with a fork. Both James and I nearly jumped out of our seats when she threatened to spill the oyster liquor in the process. I mean, I'm cool with her charting her own course, but some things are sacred.
Liquor saved, we all waited with anticipation, her repeated head-fakes adding to the drama as she hesitantly raised fork to mouth, committed but concerned. She struggled a bit. To be frank, so did I, with my first oyster. Afterwards, she objected that she hadn't known it was raw. Lies.
Ultimately, the rest of the meal is a bit beside the point. We talked, we ate, we laughed. The service was a bit slow, the entrées a bit less than we might have liked. Oh, and if you're wondering how the oyster smackdown went, I regrettably admit that, this time, we both preferred the intensely briny, slightly sweet Wellfleets. All of us but Cecilia, who only hazarded the one. While I don't think she'll be my next willing pawn in the oyster-craving-game, I'm proud of the kid.