Waiter! More Crayons

Is fine dining possible with kids? Dear Dara finds out.

I got the idea that they were being so nice to me because I was being nice to them—there were two groups of men being completely rude to the women waiting on them when I was there. Servers may put up with a lot at Ichiban, which could lead to bouts of crankiness. I don't know. I do know that this spot won't be for everyone. Delicacy and rarity aren't words I'd use to describe this sushi, but your kids won't have to wait one nanosecond for food. If you've got sushi-loving tots, you should check it out.

Ichiban Japanese Steak House & Sushi Bar

1333 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
612.339.0540, www.ichiban.ca

Mysore Café

Speaking of buffets, the newish vegetarian Indian spot in Uptown is now doing both a Friday and Saturday night dinner buffet, which costs $11.99 for adults and $4.99 for kids.

I've been on the fence about this place since it opened, because I find some of the dishes thrilling, like the pungent, winy, hot-and-sour rasam soup, while others seem greasy, reheated, and elderly. That said, the dinner buffet is a great choice when you're trying to feed yourself and your kids on a budget in south Minneapolis.

I love the masala dosa that comes complimentary with every meal. This thin, crisp crepe, wrapped around a filling of savory, lightly spiced mashed potatoes, is delightful comfort food. The restaurant's cashew-flecked lemon basmati rice is light and graceful. The dal makheni, a buttery black lentil stew, is earthy and substantial, and two amply spiced South Indian specialties with a texture somewhere between polenta and porridge, here called pongal and avail, were delicious. Sometimes there's something with chickpeas that looks like it was left over from the Clinton administration—so leave that sitting there, okay?

You'll also find fruit, salad, raita, four sorts of chutney, rice pudding, and a whole host of pappadum, breads like fresh fry-bread poori, and pancake-like fresh iddly available on the buffet as well. Put a Kingfisher lager on the table for Mom, and a Taj Mahal for Dad, and rejoice in the fact that if the kids reject any of the dozen healthy dishes of grains or veggies that fill out this buffet, well, they weren't slaved over by you.

Mysore Café

2819 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, 612.871.1110

20.21

The fine-dining splurge I finally directed Steven in Northfield to, with his three boys under seven, was the opulent Sunday brunch buffet at Wolfgang Puck's 20.21 at the Walker Art Center. Reservations are a must for this luxurious event ($28 for adults, $14 for kids 12 and under.) What's so great about it? Everything. Fine china, complimentary Champagne or Bellinis for the adults, countless plush, chef-driven brunch treats for sophisticates (ricotta-stuffed brioche French toast, fluffy mascarpone and chive scrambled eggs, exquisite fresh-baked breakfast pastries), and things that are not scary for the easily frightened (bacon, eggs, potatoes). If that's not enough, the Walker's sculpture garden is a short hop away, perfect for running, jumping, climbing, and burning off steam, or for photo opportunities before or after the event.

20.21 Restaurant & Bar

Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis,
612.253.3410, www.wolfgangpuck.com

Big Bowl

Alas, Naomi, one of the things you seek, namely adult entrees in smaller, less expensive portions, doesn't much exist in the Twin Cities—though it does at the three Big Bowl locations. This is a fairly new development, and a laudable one.

"We used to have a mac-and-cheese and chicken nugget menu," Derek Gato, Big Bowl's local supervisor, told me, "but we've evolved to a more adult, healthier version. We find that nowadays parents are trying to open kids' eyes to different ways of eating, so we went with that."

That means that the dozen-item kids' menu offers a kid-size chicken pad thai ($5.95), a kid-size beef and broccoli ($5.95), and a special kids-only meal fashioned from some of the greatest hits off the regular appetizer menu, like the platter of chicken satays with spicy peanut dipping sauce, and chicken pot stickers ($4.95). All the Big Bowl kids' meals come with a complimentary beverage, which can be the house-made, fresh-squeezed lemonade. They put crayons on the table and hand out kid chopsticks, too.

I visited the Galleria Big Bowl one recent Saturday night (call ahead to put your name on the list, unless you're insane), and service was quick as lightning and all-out friendly. I was delighted to find that they're using local Minnesota pork in all their pork dishes. The barbecue pork fried rice, a huge portion of sweet lacquered pork tenderloin served on an admirably greaseless but savory fried rice ($12.95) was really good, and the spicy sesame peanut noodles ($3.95) were excellent, too, with weighty wheat noodles amply spiced with a clingy, savory sauce.

Big Bowl 

In the Galleria, 3669 Galleria, Edina, 952.928.7888; at Rosedal, 1705 Highway 36 West, Rosevill, 651.636.7173; and at Ridgedale, 952.797.9888,www.bigbowl.com

California Café and Napa Valley Grille

I raved about the new chef, Matthew Fogarty, who took over these sister restaurants at the Mall of America recently. It turns out that the excitement at these places isn't restricted to the food for adults. The Napa Valley Grille offers various three-course meals for kids priced at $6 or $8.

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