Tiffin Project

Nesting Instinct

by admin on July 11, 2007

This past week’s column on the Little Nest:

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A Lunchtime Haven for Parents and Kids
Andrew Morrison | WE – July 5th, 2007

When I was a child of five or six, I wasn’t very comfortable in restaurants. My big brother and I had to follow a completely different set of rules from those that dogged us at home, and our parents were only too aware of how well (or poorly) we toed their line. But the only thing we really gleaned from such excursions was the value of a successful deception.

Our goal was to trick everyone into believing that we were not, in fact, the deplorably inept Philistines from the planet Drool that they suspected us to be. Instead, we were diners of the well-schooled breed, admirably dexterous with knives and forks, hyper-conscious of such sins as talking with our mouths full, resting our elbows on the table, and refusing to eat the more “icky” species of vegetable. (Ptooey!) The moment we left the restaurant, however, the burden of appearances left the brows of our parents, and we were allowed to revert back to the glories of our more savage selves.

I have no earlier recollections of eating out, but if my own offspring are any indication, it’s entirely possible that I was a difficult diner. My oldest son, Jack (five years old), is only now becoming marginally receptive to the concept of eating like a biped, and my youngest, Pip (nearly two), could make a rabid Tasmanian Devil look like a thoroughly bored dog.

It is, therefore, with great sadness, guilt and not a little relief that I do my very best to avoid their company (love them dearly though I definitely do) in all restaurants but one.

The Little Nest, which landed on Charles Street, just off Commercial Drive, early last month, is a new parents’ retreat. My wife and I stumbled upon it entirely by chance and fell for its charms immediately. It’s a beautiful, airy space with old hardwood floors, eclectic pieces of 1970s furniture, floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto several sidewalk tables, and a little play area that comes complete with its own pretend kitchen with pots, pans, and carefully chosen retro toys (nothing like a good Fisher-Price fry-up!). With its communal table and pew-like seats, the place screams character, earnestness, and originality.

Owner Mary MacIntyre used to be a pastry chef at Lumière before she became a mom. Lucky for us, a combination of her yen for a return to the restaurant life (she’d been at it for more than 15 years) and Vancouver’s dearth of the kind of parent-friendly neighbourhood cafés she grew up with in Melbourne, Australia, has steered her back to the apron with a concept that is already winning her the affections of many a Vancouver mom and dad.

Chef Mark Cornett, who worked the line at Lumière with MacIntyre, has put together a menu (scrawled in triptych on large chalkboards) that is locally sourced, seasonal, and organic where possible. Its eye on the appetites of littl’uns is what sets it apart, though — forget the chicken fingers, fish sticks, and all the other ‘kiddie menu’ afterthoughts of the past. Here, our kids can feast on healthy delights and indulge in orange-almond pancakes with fresh cherries and honeyed ricotta whip ($7), perfect scrambled eggs and toast soldiers ($5), little bowls of delicious house-made alphabet soup ($3), farfalle pasta with tomato sauce and Bocconcini cheese ($5), mac and cheese that comes secretly infused with carrots and cauliflower ($5), and much more.

Parents can rejoice, too, over melon-and- feta salad with basil and black pepper ($6); mixed greens with radishes, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, and vinaigrette aux fines herbes ($5); and thoughtfully constructed baguette sandwiches priced from $7 to $8. (I loved the flavours in the Cambozola, proscuitto, and fig jam version.)

For babies, they even make special avocado or banana purées ($3). Though it’s unlicensed, open for brunch and lunch only, and without table service (you have to line up at the counter), it’s still a win-win.

My kids were thrilled to be in a restaurant without the pressure to behave like stuffed-shirt adults. Instead, they played and grazed, played and grazed, and then played and grazed some more. They loved the environment and engaged other kids between bites of this and nibbles of that. Mommy and Daddy were able to drink their coffee (fair trade and organic) and eat breakfast in peace.

From my point of view as a parent, this was good, wholesome food that my children gave me zero grief over. Here, it’s all about feeling comfortable, and I’m all for encouraging that. Should tantrum tears flow after a “sharing episode” or a nasty faceplant ensue after a Velcro disaster, nobody will roll their eyes or make tsktsk noises, because every adult in the joint is an empathizing parent. Indeed, if my Pip walked into a wall or Jack had a jetliner crash-land abruptly on his pinkie toe, there’s a mighty good chance someone else’s kid would soon pick his nose and another would start smelling like poo.

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My column tomorrow is a review of Goldfish.

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