There are dozens of restaurants within walking distance of granddaughter Amalia’s apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, but not all of them welcome the sight of an almost three-year-old coming in the door. Maitre D’s take one look at Amalia and have visions of food dropped on the floor, water spilled on the table and melt-downs that cause other diners to ask to have their table moved. (She’s done it all.)
So, after canvassing the neighborhood for child-friendly restaurants, Amalia has narrowed down her list of eating-out favorites to about ten. Here’s her Toddlers Restaurant Guide to the Upper East Side.
Strawberry ice cream at a table outside of Eli’s, on Third Avenue near 80th, is a hot weather favorite. (It HAS to be strawberry ice cream, Amalia’s favorite because it’s pink.) Here she is with beloved super-nanny Julia, who just got married on June 20 and embarked on a two-week honeymoon, which is why Yiayia Joanie stepped in for the first week and Abuela Carmen came up from Nicaragua to handle the second week. The reason Amalia is looking with suspicion at the ice cream is because she doesn’t want chunks of strawberries in it—just uniform pink color.
Here is Amalia eating with Papou at his favorite restaurant, Dué, only steps from her door. Dué counts as a serious, non-toddler kind of restaurant, especially at night, but during the day, when it’s not crowded, the staff lets Amalia in as long as she’s with Papou. They know to immediately bring her a basket of Italian bread with butter and/or olive oil to dip it in, and she won’t ask for anything else.
At Tandoor Oven, at 175 East 83rd Street, they greet Amalia by name and always bring her pistachio ice cream for dessert. For dipping, she likes Indian bread, naan, just as well as Italian, and will share the Tandoori Chicken with whichever adult orders it.
Big Daddy’s at 1596 Second Avenue, calls itself a “blast from the past” and it’s a favorite with all the kids in the neighborhood, because it provides crayons and pages to color, trivia game cards (for older customers), penny candy machines, and really big portions of glorified diner food. Amalia usually orders the Mac and Cheese from the kids’ menu.
Every weekend, early in the morning, Amalia likes to go to her most favorite restaurant, Alice’s Tea Cup, which has over 150 kinds of tea as well as children’s books to read. Here, as soon as Amalia comes in the door, she gets sprinkled with sparkly fairy dust and handed a pair of wings to wear.
At Alice’s Tea Cup Amalia always orders, in a loud voice, corn pancakes, which need to be slathered with butter and syrup and then cut into pieces under her direction. (Unlike most brunch and breakfast restaurants, Alice’s opens at eight a.m. and if you come much later, you will find a line outside the door, waiting for seating.)
Photo at the entrance to Alice's Tea Cup
Since Amalia visits Central Park almost every day, she highly recommends the Dancing Crane Café at the Central Park Zoo, Kerbs Boathouse Café on the Model Boat Pond (where you can feed the ducks), Le Pain Quotidien, just North of Sheep’s Meadow, and the elegant Boathouse restaurant (and less fancy Express Café at the Boathouse). They’re at East 72nd St and Park Drive North, and you can feed the fish in the lake or even rent a rowboat or hire a gondola and gondolier.
But Amalia’s most favorite restaurant in Central Park is the Petrie Court Café and Wine Bar in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where her parents often take her. It has a moderately priced ($37 with a glass of wine) prix-fixe three-course dinner keyed to one of the current exhibits, and although it’s an elegant restaurant, Amalia behaves there because, when she gets tired of sitting still, she can walk around and look at the statues or enjoy the panoramic view of Central Park. Or turn her napkin into a hat.
On a recent Saturday night, Amalia and her Mommy took Yiayia into the Met and up to the roof, where Amalia likes to run around, wending her way through the reflective glass walls of the Roof Garden Commission by Dan Graham with Gunther Vogt, which the museum describes as “part garden maze, part modernist skyscraper façade.”
The roof of the Met also has the Roof Garden Café and Martini Bar, and many folks were enjoying martinis as well as the view, but it was too crowded, so Amalia led us downstairs to her favorite section—the Egyptian Wing with the Temple of Dendur-- where she always has to say hello to her favorite crocodile and throw coins in the water while making a wish. Then it was off to the Petrie Court for dinner.
On our last day before returning to Massachusetts, early in the morning, Amalia and her Mommy put on nearly matching sundresses.
With Abuela Carmen—who had arrived the night before to take over babysitting duties— and Papou, we all walked to Alice’s Tea Cup for breakfast where Amalia got sprinkled with fairy dust and put on her wings.
Abuela Carmen helped Amalia cut up her pancakes and Papou told her scary stories while we all ate indulgent, calorific breakfast treats.
Finally it was time for Papou and Yiayia to load up the car and head home, while Amalia took another power nap, dreaming of crocodiles and fairy wings and bottles labeled “Drink Me” that make you very big, and pancakes with lots of butter and syrup.