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Out to eat, with and without child



Felix chomps on a slice. - PHOTO BY BESHA RODELL
Panzanella in Carrboro, May 1

"What's for dinner?" Ryan asks. It's our Sunday ritual. For breakfast and dinner, we struggle with where to go eat. He cooks for a living, and I cook all week. Neither of us will cook on Sundays.

We decide on Panzanella. We have been meaning to try dinner there for months. We enjoy their brunch; even if it isn't the exciting and strange brunch I long for, it is creative and the food is fresh. I am so sick of $10 eggs with two sad strawberries for brunch, and Panzanella does better than that.

We arrive at Panzanella with my son, Felix, who is 19 months old, and sit after a kind woman waiting at the door behind us coos at him. My child is adorable, funny and cherubic. Everyone always says, "Isn't he good? Is he always this good?" and I tell them he is. He eats everything. Last Sunday, at Thai Palace across from Glen Lennox on N.C. 54, the waiters were amazed at his handle on curry. It was there that he said his first sentence. When we asked him if he was done with his bowl of rice and spicy red curry chicken, he replied, "No, not done!"

We look over the menu at Panzanella. Most of the appetizers seem to be a variation on a vegetable, and none of them strike my fancy. We look at the second part of the menu, the part titled "Pizza," and look warily at each other. Should we? Our son has recently developed an obsession with pizza, referring to it longingly as "peetzs." When the Papa John's coupons arrive in the mail, he hands them to me, excitedly, chanting, "Peetzs! Peetzs!" Later I find him sitting on the floor looking at the picture, sighing, "Ahhh, peetzs," with more melancholy than a one-and-a-half-year-old should be able to muster.

We decide to start with the pizza, let Felix finish it for his dinner, then move on to entrées. I order pecan crusted trout with sweet potato, and Ryan orders gnocchi with oxtail. We also order some wine.

When the pizza arrives, Felix is ecstatic. "Peetzs, peetzs, peetzs," he cries. It is too hot to give to him. I cut a piece into smaller pieces so it will cool quicker, and offer one of those to him. "NO!" he screams, pointing at the other, intact pieces. I put the small piece on his plate and bite into the remainder of the piece on my plate. It is good, with Giacomo's sausage, seasoned well.

Felix is demanding another piece again, after demolishing the small piece I gave him. I hand one to him, and he turns it over, attempting to eat it upside-down. Ryan tries to catch the hot cheese and sausage that is sliding off, and Felix screeches. Loudly. I think of myself three years ago, how annoyed I would have been to be sitting near us, how disgusted at this child screaming and demanding pizza. How I would have thought smugly how well behaved in restaurants my sisters had been when they were small, and how well behaved my own children would be. I should have known that smugness would come back to bite me in the ass one of these days. Today is the day.

By the time our entrées come, total meltdown has occurred, and it is no longer possible to try to ignore him or hope it will pass. I take him outside. On the way out, a man stops to talk to Felix, saying, "Are you the one with the loud voice?"

"He's been at his grandparents' house," I offer. "This is what happens." I am not entirely truthful here. He has been to his grandparents' house, but this is not what happens. Or is it?

Felix and I watch through the big Carr Mill windows as Ryan eats his dinner. Every time I try to go back inside, Felix starts screaming bloody murder. Finally, I take him back in, screaming all the way, Ryan takes him and leaves, and I sit down to eat. I scarf my cold trout, which is still good despite being cold, but I don't notice. I gulp my wine. I ask for the check. With tip, $70. I feel like crying, and I leave.

Zely & Ritz in Raleigh, May 21

I have never been to a bachelorette party before, but I think the point is to get myself and the bride as inebriated as possible. The cilantro cocktail is quite a hit, savory with cucumber undertones, and would go well with sushi. The chocolate cake martini is not so popular, being as it doesn't taste like chocolate. My mojito does taste like chocolate though; it's the sweetest damn mojito I've ever had. I drink up.

I, being a Chapel Hillian, am jealous of Raleigh's trendy restaurants. It seems like there's a new tapas and martini bar springing up every week. Some of them are rumored to be great; others exist more for the martinis and the mini skirts the martinis attract. I like the idea of eating as part of a social experience. I want the option to eat a few small plates of brightly colored food, without the formality of the traditional dining experience, perhaps with a cocktail, and without a reservation.

We are seated at the high, long "communal" table. As the small dishes begin to come out to us, I try not to pounce on them, my hunger and interest detracting from the civility of our girly party. Tuna carpaccio with baby arugula, cilantro and tangerine makes for a wonderfully fresh mouthful. Bay scallop ceviche with avocado and orange segments has a bitter aftertaste. The cheese plate comes with an onion tart that tests my one-bite-and-pass-it-on willpower beyond my comfort level, but I wish the cheeses were more interesting.

The "starches" section of the menu turns out to be my favorite, with an amazing edamame risotto and a creamy polenta with tarragon. The desserts are good too, but it's a bad idea to eat the goat cheesecake after the chocolate cake, seeing as the cheesecake has almost no sugar in it and tastes tart and sour after a bite of the super rich chocolate. I order scotch, and we tell the one single girl among us that the trick to finding a good man is to look for someone who is good, rather than someone who is cool. (I tell this to my boyfriend later and he takes offense, complaining that I don't think he's cool.) One of the girls stands up and taps on her glass, demanding the attention of the restaurant.

"I just want to let you all know that our friend Heather is getting married next week, and we hoped we could get a round of applause for her!" she says to the room. We cheer wildly, getting some applause and a lot of blank stares. I know if we were at T.G.I. Friday's, the whole room would have erupted with support for my friend, and I am reminded again that coolness is the opposite of warmth.

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