Some parents may wonder whether children really take to French cooking. Actually, there is rather conclusive evidence that French children do - so why shouldn't others?
They probably shouldn't because all too often the bill in a French restaurant, unlike the food, can be hard to swallow.
Still, in our town one needn't test the youngsters in a gold-plated maison with four-digit prices for everything. The fattening fact is that there are some fine moderate spots around where any kids beyond the spill-and-wail stage can adapt easily to good old staples prepared in good new ways.
Some of these places - like La Brochette, subject of our report today - even have menus that aren't done in that beautiful but absolutely illegible purple script that always doubles the embarrassment and frustration of non-French-speaking parents.
Indeed, many a customer here will decide that the best offerings on the menu are the assorted parentheses, which have been thoughtfully stuffed with English descriptions of all the French dishes.
Anyway, once upon a nippy night when our 9-year-old daughter was dining out at one of her favorite neighborhood spots - a friend's house - we informed our 11-year-old son that if he'd just slip into something comfortable and preferably clean, he could invite a friend along for a foray downtown.
Deciding to eat at La Brochette is one thing; parking anywhere near it on a Saturday night is quite another, unless you know that there's free dinner parking in the lot across the street. We didn't and after an undetermined number of laps around M Street's restaurant row, one practically needs a pit stop. But a slot finally opened up for us in the vicinity, and we hiked briskly from there to the steps next to the attractive bay window at 1825 M.
When you enter, the place looks tiny: an unsued fireplace and some brick walls encasing a little room with 10 red tablecloths bunched in it. If you happen to like stuffed pheasant, there's one mounted over a doorway.
That's as far as we got initially. A hostess, nattily attired in a lavender dress shirt, bow tie and tails, wedged us into a spot between a 4-foot-high wine-rack divider and the next table of four persons.
We might have understood all this chumminess if there had been more than six other customers at the room at the time. But why is it that when we're bunched up in small French restaurants we always end up next to Americans engaged in endless, all-too-clinical discussion of maladies, hospital wards and operations they have known and loved?
Besides, there is a much more plesant, larger dining room in the back, with dimmer lights, a huge walk-in-size fireplace that must be 8 feet high and works (even if it is a gas-jet fire licking around those logs), and baskets and French scenes hanging tastefully from the walls.
There are quite a few more diners in that room, too. But let them eat cake, for it's not worth uprooting our little encampment. On to a round of margaritas and colas and a perusal of the food offerings.
Our son's friend, a handsome lad with appetite to match, had voiced some initial low anxiety about encountering the unknown in a French restaurant. But to his relief and delight, he quickly found a favorite in the yellow pages of the menu, which seem to contain the list of a la carte dishes, while the dinner specials are in the white pages.
His choice: scallops in white cream sauce or, as they who can wont to say, la coquille St. Jacques, for $5.25. It proved to be everything he'd hoped and waited for, and more, since it arrived in large, attractive seashell.
His partner-in-creme, meanwhile, had begun with soupe a l'oignon gratinee, a.k.a. French onion soup, for $1.95. The word for this in both tongues was "excellent" - a pot with thick cheese and smooth broth, according to all tasters.
I tried the vichyssoise, at $1.65, which was creamy and presumably most caloric. Oh well.
The salad-eaters were all thumbs-up for the shredded carrots, tomatoes, black olives, lettuce and cabbage topped with a creamy dressing.
My wife and our son worked out a split for their entrees: an order of crepes poulette (two sizeable chicken crepes in a soft sauce) at $3.95, and la brochette d'agneau, which was gorgeous lamb on a spit, for $5.25.
"Le couscous," said I, noting the menu description of it as "famous North African dish with lamb, chicken and vegetabls on semolina," for $4.95, or, if you like (I didn't do it), with a glass of Algerian red wine for $5.75. I liked it, once I ostracized a handful of uncooked carrot slices.
None of these delectable dishes arrived all that swiftly, which may be excusable when careful preparation eventually shows, as it did. But itchy kids might go bonkers.
The range of options here is wide enough, with trout or swordfish at $4.10, sirloin strip steak with fries at $5.25, quiches and crepes from $3.75 to $5.25 and filet of sole at $5.75.
We never got to the desserts, for when these two boys beg off on account of fullness, who wants to feel piggy by topping them? We settled up for a total of $31.21 plus tip.
So to our family's reports on reasonably priced French cafes and restaurants - which so far includes La Fourchette. Les Delices, Aux Fruits de Mer and La Ruche on Capitol Hill - La Brochette is a welcome addition in the hearty heart of town.