Furst Bites Restaurant Review Guide

Once upon a time I was a die-hard Yelper and would not even think about eating somewhere until I had properly vetted Yelp. This meant combing through the reviews and then engaging in deep analysis/arguments/discussions on whether or not I thought the reviewers were just plain whack or if they were the competition trying to knock this restaurant off a pedestal. Then there would be a group vote and God forbid someone suggested a place I had not heard of, it was back to the initial Yelp vetting process. Yelp was my everything and I took it very seriously. 

And then once I had a kid, I just didn't go out to eat as frequently (SAD) and now I just look for a different type of review when I eat out. And it pretty much boils down to how much of a relative pain in the ass will my kid be in contrast to all the other diners. If it is high, I usually steer clear. It got me thinking that there really isn't a review site for parents. So Furst Bites is setting out to be the Zagat for families.  For our first review, I visited one of our neighborhood faves, Rucola.  I've done some extensive research (read: ask my friends) what they look for when deciding to take their kids out to eat. And here is a breakdown of what matters most:

How disruptive will my kids be?
Put another way, how many laser-beam stares of death will my family receive from the other diners when we walk through the door? If it is high (Pretty much ANY establishment below 14th street and west of 9th avenue in Manhattan) then walk away....slowly. 

Does the restaurant cater to kids in any way?
Is there a kid menu? Does the place have highchairs? Booster seats? Crayons? Plastic cups? A changing station? Do kids eat free? A wild mural on the wall to distract? Interestingly enough, the kid menu riles up many of my mom friends. They  are fed up with the "kid" options of nuggets, fries, pizza and any other name-your-processed carb. They want real/adult food for their kids....just in smaller portions.

Can I bring a stroller into the restaurant? 
Parents of wee-ones know this question can sometimes make or break the decision to dine out. Some places will let you take the stroller right up to the table...and others either don't have the space or don't want to start that precedent (which I can respect!)

How early does the restaurant start serving dinner? 
Add this to the list of depressing questions you might not ever have envisioned yourself asking when you were 25 and sitting down to eat your dinner at 10:30PM...because that's when you made the reservation. Kids rise early and they go to bed early. So you know what that also means...they eat dinner early. Eating at 5PM is not just for senior citizens...

Are their food options for allergic kids?
No, you are no imagining this...kids really do have more food allergies these days than they did in years past. For a parent who has to navigate a peanut allergy or a gluten-free existence, eating out can be really stressful. 

So there you have it. The Furst Bites VERY OFFICIAL review guide. I will be using these points as a guideline when I eat out with my family and rate place on a scale of 1-5 bites for "family friendliness", with five bites being equivalent to a massive playdate that just happens to be at a restaurant...and one bite being a sign to "leave your kid at home." I'll then post an accompanying video (HOPEFULLY every time) to give you an idea of what the place was really like. 

RUCOLA: 190 Dean Street, Brooklyn NY:

How disruptive will my kids be?
This is one of those neighborhood gems that is cozy (normally, you'd run when a place is referred to as cozy but it works at Rucola) quaint and has a "cool" vibe..yet is also a joyful place to bring kids. JOYFUL. With a little strategy, you can nab either one of the big tables in the front by the window that will allow your kids room to roam around and be out of the way of the main hustle. If I am going to take Jenson for brunch during peak hours, I always try to wait or reserve (they don't take reservations but if you have a bigger party with kids, they usually let you unofficially hold one of the booths.) Your kids might be disruptive (see my video) but somehow it is just OK at Rucola and you don't feel like you need to do the walk of shame and do an Irish goodbye out of the establishment.  The place can get really loud during busy periods so keep that in mind if you are hoping your baby will sleep through the meal. 

Does the restaurant cater to kids in any way?
They have highchairs but not boosters. No changing stations, but the bathroom is clean and big so it's not the worst place in the world to get diaper-creative. No crayons but the potential for distraction is off-the-charts if you can nab a table by the window as there is a lot of foot traffic outside. This particular occasion I asked them to warm up some milk for a bottle and they happily steamed it for me and frothed it. I am convinced frothed milk in an expensive coffee maker makes it taste 2000 percent better. No official kid menu. 

Can I bring a stroller into the restaurant? 
It is not encouraged, but it's not an absolute no. I took Jenson here many times when he was a newborn and had him in the big stroller. They made sure we were tucked away in a corner or the back area where we could squeeze the stroller up to the table. I would not attempt to do this during prime-time dinner hours, but it's been my experience that if you have a little baby, they will not make you fold down the stroller. 

How early does the restaurant start serving dinner? 
They serve food all day so if eating at 3PM is your fancy...then come on down. 

Are there food options for allergic kids?
Unofficially, yes. I called to ask about menu options for kids with severe allergies and the hostess said she wasn't even sure peanuts were used in the kitchen. She said while there is no official gluten-free or peanut-free menu, the server will be happy to accommodate any type of food diet. And what you just heard is a big sigh of relief from all the food allergy-minded parents! 

3 Bites
It just so happens that Rucola is in the middle of a community that has more stroller traffic than car traffic and I give them props, because rather than shun this segment of the population, which would be easy given the size of the restaurant, they've opened their doors with open arms. That being said, they are not actively recruiting your snotty kids to dine at their restaurant. So while it is as accommodating as possible toward kids, they don't have changing tables, crayons or kid menus.