To celebrate a new school year and to say farewell to Chef Brad (he's leaving to open his own restaurant), Aunt Jenn took us all to La Balena for dinner last night. It's one of our very favorite restaurants and we adore the owners, Anna and Emanuele. As we were leaving Anna gave them hats. They were thrilled though they both did lament, "We can't wear these to school!" It's against their dress codes to have any hats with writing or logos. And, of course, the big one - yes, I do mean my husband - joked, "Where's mine?!?"
My rule has always been - and Jenn's obviously is also - they eat what we eat. Now that parenting style has its downsides: we have to share!
For several years the boys didn't care for lamb. Jake and I would grill lamb and they would get chicken, beef, or pork. But I had them try the lamb every time. And in the last few years, they have really started to enjoy lamb. So, now, I have to buy twice as much lamb and cringe because chicken, beef, and pork is less expensive. Oh, well. I really am glad they enjoy lamb now.
Back to my story...we settled into our table on the patio and G, who hadn't been to La Balena since he was 4 years old, exclaimed, "I remember this place! They have really good octopus. We're getting the octopus, right?!?" Of course! Back to the downside of creating adventurous eaters - we probably should have ordered two octopus plates.
What comes with the octopus changes with the seasons. This time, it was served with rustic chunks of watermelon, luscious tomatoes, piquant red onions, and seaweed. We battled over every last piece of octopus. In fact, I don't even think Jenn got to try a piece.
"Mom, you're going to order the tripe, too, right?!" asked R. I caught the eye of the man at the table next to us. He smiled. Yes, I will.
"Your kids are good eaters, " he commented. It was my turn to smile.
In addition to the octopus and tripe, we had their roasted cauliflower, sauteed dragon beans, two different salads, a whole roasted fish, ricotta gnocchi, and pasta made with squid ink. The polpettine are always amazing and, again, we probably should have ordered two plates. But we all shared and waited for the parade of deliciousness to continue.
After we had picked the bones clean from the fish, I caught G playing with the fish skeleton and my heart soared. He asked, "Can I eat the eyeball?" Sure. It's important to me that kids know that fish, the food, is actually an animal. It certainly doesn't come in breaded sticks naturally! I know my kids have never had fish sticks. And I doubt that Jenn's have either.
But balance is important and it's not all about whole animals, stomach lining, and fish eyeballs. Before we went, I emailed Anna and asked if they had D's favorite dessert - spumoni bomba. They did. And, unlike the octopus and meatballs, we actually did order two! Little N pointed at the wedges of spumoni with a chocolate shell and declared, "It's a boat!" He was so happy.
Thank you, Jenn, for treating us to a fabulous meal. We'll have to go back again soon. And when Chef Brad opens his place in the Fall, we'll all go. Our treat!!