Friday, March 09, 2007

A Night Out

My mother-in-law gave all of us Barnes & Noble gift cards for Christmas. Thing is, there isn't a Barnes & Noble store within 50 miles of Winona Lake. So we had to make it a night out on the town. Such a sacrifice. :-)

Our first stop was next door, at the FlatTop Grill. This was a new experience for me; the idea is that it's a build-your-own stir-fry restaurant.

You'd be forgiven for thinking the long counters were a salad bar. In actuality, they're the main attraction. You get a bowl, and start going down the line, adding ingredients and sauces, and at the end you can add a small bowl of meat, and hand it over to the cooks.

There were also some colored swizzle sticks you could add to the bowl, indicating that the chefs should do something additional, like turn it into a soup, or a wrap, and add tofu, shrimp, etc.

I hadn't had more than a noodle soup and a banana all day, and I was starving. Aiden was evidently even hungrier than I was, and once he saw the food, it was quite a job keeping him from crying, at least until I realized that I could put together a bowl of food that didn't have to be cooked, and take it back to the table right away. Problem solved. Restaurant owners, take note... parents who can feed their kids while the adult food is cooking can be very good, grateful tippers... the ability to choose exactly what was in the bowl was a huge bonus. Most "kids' menu" items are hot dogs or mac 'n' cheese. Brown rice with black bean sauce went over far better!

By the time Aiden was satisfied, the food started arriving. My first attempt at making my own stir-fry was... subtle. White noodles with eggs, tofu, tomatoes, mushrooms, and chicken are good, but none of those ingredients exactly burst with wild flavor. My second attempt more than made up for the subtlety of the first: Yellow noodles with tomatoes, cilantro, tangerines, a load of hot peppers, mushrooms, red and green onions, and beef, drenched an an Asian peanut sauce. Oh, that was good. The Kerrs split a mango sorbet for dessert.

Once we settled up the bill (kids four and under eat free; that helped balance out the right-side-of-the-menu sticker shock for adults) we walked next door to Barnes & Noble.

Deborah found a large, squashy armchair and a small table, and sat down with the kids and a few books to read to them, while I was sent to gather more. We took turns reading to the kids and exploring the store. I found a Calvin and Hobbes collection that had somehow eluded my attention all these years; there went my portion of the gift card. We found a neat book called Not a Box for the kids, and got a copy for a friend of ours, as well. Deborah got something by Mercedes Lackey, and I have no idea what Paul and May got. (The person who gave us the gift cards is reading this, which is why I mention all this.)

We stayed way past the kids' bedtime — the store closed at 11:00! — and paid dearly for that oversight when we got home, but it was, on the whole, a very fun night out.

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