When I was about eight my mother took me to the Russian Tea Room on 57th Street in Manhattan. It was my first foray into what I believed was the glamorous world of grownups. I wore white gloves and my best dress- up dress, and acted like a lady. I remember a waiter ladeling soup into my bowl from a tureen, and growup conversation all around me.
I don't think I would have remembered it so well but for the fact that I was convinced then that I was really a princess, finally recognized by waiters and other diners for my true heritage. Otherwise, why would everyone be treating me so respectfully?
I have a daughter that age now, and I believe that she thinks there is a princess lurking somewhere inside her. Recently she and I tried to find the place where lunch comes complete with recognition of royalty, the restaurant where her imagination would have room to wander.
Because of school and work, we needed a restaurant that was open on weekends for lunch. (Also, a restaurant crowded with weekday expense-account patrons cannot be a place to unearth a princess.) I wanted one where, if Martha wore a party dress, a ribbon in her hair and black patent pumps, she would not be overdressed. There had to be fine table service. Counter people at a fast- food restaurant would not recognize a princess; nor would pizza-parlor servers with their slap-it-on-the-table informality. Finally, the restaurant had to have a tempting menu and be interesting enough to keep an eight-year-old absorbed during the long wait between ordering and eating.
The last requirement turned out to be no problem: eight-year-olds are past the picky eater stage, and neither Martha nor the friend she brought on each outing had a problem finding something beyond hamburgers that was appealing.
We found some winners and some losers. Price was no guide. All the restaurants were within $5 of one another. In fact, the two most expensive ones were the worst, perhaps because I tried to rescue some mediocre meals with fancy desserts. Quantity of food also seemed to be unimportant, in part because our favorite restaurants offered the most and the least food, and in part because the girls never finished an entire meal, no matter how little they were served. Two eight-year-olds can share one meal happily.
MRS. K'S TOLL HOUSE in Silver Spring was outstanding. It was suggested by friends who had been taken there as little girls, and it is still a good choice. The food is hearty American, with a limited menu that changes daily. For a fixed price ($6 childen, $7.95 adults) you get soup or juice, salad, main course, vegetables, dessert and beverage. The girls (Carol was Martha's guest this week -- a big honor, as Carol is Martha's younger sister) were fascinated by the crinolines the waitresses wore under their Colonial-style uniforms, and by the enormous umbrella over the patio room where we ate. Martha had turkey a la king, and learned she liked fresh asparagus. Carol had pot roast, and asked me to make it at home some time. For dessert both girls had ice cream (it was far and away the most popular choice every time we went out.)
Afterwards we toured the house which had been converted to the restaurant. The girls particularly loved the upstairs child's bedroom, with an antique doll in an antique cradle. Do allow time to tour, and take advantage of the maitre d's eagerness to talk about some of the fascinating items.
Lunch at Mrs. K's was $23.95 with the tip.
The FOUR SEASONS HOTEL on the edge of Georgetown is a good place for princesses, especially for a weekend lunch, when the beautiful tea room/cocktail lounge is uncrowded and sunny. Melyssa was Martha's guest here, and the girls chose a table near the indoor garden where they could sit side- by-side on a loveseat and eat at a transparent tea table. They admitted they would not want to do it often, however, because it was difficult to get full spoons and forks to their mouths at such a great distance. Fortunately, the starched linen napkins are large.
I was surprised at their choices: they shared both the cream of cauliflower soup and the cheese-and-fruit plate. I didn't think children would willingly choose cream of cauliflower, but it was impeccable taste. It also was served beautifully, with two plates and a doily beneath each small bowl. I was surprised the girls did not choose the beautifully constructed open-face sandwiches, which came two to an order, rather than the cheese, but they said they did not think they could finish even half an order apiece. (They took the extra cheese home with them, wrapped in napkins brought by the waiter.) Martha's jasmine tea was served elegantly, with a side pot of hot water so that she could adjust the strength. For dessert I had the waiter bring the tray of French pastries, asking the girls to take a look before they ordered ice cream. They were torn, but finally decided to try the pastries, which they enjoyed. Later they primped for 20 minutes in the luxurious ladies lounge. Lunch and tip came to $26.99.
The PENTHOUSE RESTAURANT in the Pentagon City Quality Inn did not meet all our requirements -- it isn't open for lunch on weekends -- but Martha had a school holiday and we decided to celebrate by taking her friend Virginia to lunch in Virginia. I chose the restaurant for its view of the Washington skyline (and, of more interest to the girls, of the Fourteenth Street Bridge). It was not a good choice. All the tables next to the window are tables for two, and in order to see well we had to be seated uncomfortably close to some smokers. The waiter asked whether the girls or I would like something to drink before lunch, thus initiating Martha into the exciting world of Shirley Temples. (Virginia was an old hand at this drink, and showed Martha many interesting ways to capture the maraschino cherry.) We were not charged for them.
Virginia's eyes sparkled when I told her she could choose anything. She ordered a shrimp cocktail and nothing else. She insisted it was sufficient. Martha decided to try eggs benedict, but could not finish them. Even she realized the hollandaise was too lemony and not delicate enough for the eggs.
They ordered chocolate ice cream for dessert, and were fascinated by the bits of ice in it. When the dessert cart came by they also ordered a piece of chocolate cake, but it was more a feast for the eyes than the mouth, as it was dry.
The bill was $28 with tip.
I chose the DIAMOND HEAD RESTAURANT in Bethesda because I remember how much I enjoyed the skewered meats and the gardenias floating in my drink when I went to a Polynesian restaurant for the first time. Unfortunately, the girls' experience was more pedestrian than exotic.
Michelle was Martha's guest this week, and deferred to Martha when it came to choosing who would sit first in the fan-back rattan chair. Martha said the chair made her feel like a queen, and for a while the girls pretended she was. The chair was the high point of the luncheon. The menu was more Chinese than Polynesian, and the girls opted for something familiar, chicken with cashews. The waiter brought the enormous drink menu, and suggested that the girls might enjoy the fruit punch or the coconut punch. They ordered the coconut punch because it came in coconut shells, and although the shells were earthenware copies, they liked the tiny paper parasols that decorated their drinks. (They did not like their drinks -- they were pina colada mix without the rum, and much too sweet.)
A heavily cornstarched egg-drop soup came with the lunch. As the girls had asked to share the chicken, they also had to share the soup -- and the single spoon. After a taste, they did not finish it. They did not finish their chicken either; it was chalky with too much hoisin sauce.
The girls wanted ice cream for dessert, but I suggested they try the Banawnas Foster, as that was ice cream with a flaming sauce made table-side. This appealed, and they ordered it.
The waiter was a creditable showman but placed himself so far from our table that I had to twist uncomfortably to watch and the girls had to stand up. The girls liked the vanilla ice cream, which was good, but they left the too-sugary topping.
The bill was $27.50 with tip.
There are good restaurants for lunch with little girls besides Mrs. K's and the Four Seasons. NORMANDY FARMS and EVANS FARM INN, like Mrs. K's, have children's meals and require reservations on weekends. THE CARVERY at the Mayflower, which is just a few steps from the Farragut North subway stop, is open weekends and has a children's menu and elegant service. We have had good service and nice meals at the KENNEDY CENTER ROOF TERRACE. There are many Georgetown restaurants, such as CHEZ GRAND MERE and RIVE GAUCHE which are open for elegant lunches on weekends.
What did we learn from our lunches?
We learned that it is still possible to feel like a princess if you go to a good restaurant, that the good restaurants are not at shopping malls (which are crowded on weekends) or inexpensive; that it is worth getting dressed up for the way it makes you feel, and that it is fun to be with little girls.
learned a little about manners: Martha and her friends always very politely included me in their conversations, explaining who and what they were talking about, and keeping away from subjects they knew would bore me. I am sure I have not been as solicitious of Martha when the group included two adults and one child -- but I will try to do better.
Martha learned that there was food beyond pizza and hamburgers and that she is old enough to appreciate and enjoy it. She also may have discovered the princess within. I don't know -- that's not something you tell your mother.