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.
As much as I love eating out with my kids (sarcasm only partially intended), I also really love the opportunity to do the same without them. Over the past eight-or-so-years, my wife and I have probably dined solo a dozen times, excluding anniversaries and other sundry special occasions. That's cool; it's just part of the territory. A couple of weeks ago, though, it looked like we were going to enjoy one of those rare coups.
A school friend had invited the girls over for a play date, or at least that's what we thought. It was a simple case of misjudged intentions, and we actually caught it before the disappointment of our younger daughter had the opportunity to blossom. As my wife and I discussed the fact that, in all likelihood, it was a one-on-one deal, we decided to mollify the left-out youngster with brunch and a park outing.
Beforehand, the plan had been for my wife and I to catch the final, final installment of Money Cat Brunch. I thought I might be able to pull of a different sort of coup, and get my Money Cat regardless. After-all, the kid sure did like those donuts. . .
I think you know where this is headed. As soon as first Bobby Heugel and then Justin Vann informed us of the 90-minute wait (optimistic projection), we aborted the mission and sought comfort elsewhere. In a brilliantly strategic move, my wife suggested Xuco Xicana, theorizing that many of the Midtown hangout's regulars would have been similarly drawn to the Justins' siren song.
She was, of course, correct. Or we happened to show up at the perfect time, in a complete coincidence. Either way, we had the restaurant virtually to ourselves. Our sole companionship came from the stray dog who approached us as we entered, then settled on the patio, as if he were waiting for someone.
Inside, the kid was contented with a couple of fried eggs a la carte, and a portion of her mom's pancakes. Those pancakes, redolent with orange and ancho chile, were honestly larger than my daughter's head, and fed her for the next three days. That was after my wife ate half of them.
I don't think I've ever been to Xuco Xicana and not ordered ceviche. Those dishes of pristine fish are consistently among my favorite things to eat in the city of Houston. It's bristling with chile heat, electrically charged with citrus, and balanced out by a deft hand with a supporting cast of vegetative elements. I can think of few bites that are more exhilarating, more purely pleasurable than those.
This one featured Blackbeard Grouper, radish, red onion, cilantro, and basil in a deeply flavored and vibrant bath of rocotto chile, lime, and orange. It overshadowed my "real meal" of a carnitas mollete topped lasciviously with a fried egg. That's saying something. The following week, I won over a fish-curious vegetarian dining companion with another excellent ceviche, this one juxtaposing its animated mix of flavors against a lush and buttery fan of avocado. I'm telling you, the stuff is transcendent.
Remember that dog I mentioned earlier? I don't know if it was a capsaicin high, or the sense of well-being that comes over me when I eat something truly delicious, but we took that dog home with us. For now, we're calling him Mr. Little Jeans(very, very slightly NSFW).
In case this weren't obvious, when you tell a dogless five-year-old that she's taking one home that day, it doesn't matter how many play dates her sister goes on without her, and thoughts of the park vanish like dreams that never were.
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My wife and I explained over and over that this was, at least for now, temporary. The dog might have a family, we told her, and we have to try to find it. She agreed, and I think she meant it. A rainstorm, a flooded car, an exploding water heater, and an extended stay at my mother-in-law's got in the way of those good intentions, so I'm trying to get back on track.
If you know this dog, say something in the comments. We've grown fond of the shoe-chewing bastard, but we really do want to reunite him with his family, if such a thing exists apart from us. If not? Well, I guess that's just one more variable in the DEFCON equation.