Monday, April 6, 2009

Best of Both Worlds: Family Friendly Nights At Aura, Boston

It isn't every day that you can eat out at a high end restaurant, enjoying a complex soup, while your kids play freely surrounded by puzzles, blocks and toy cars.

But at Aura, Rachel Klein, chef and mother to a 20 month old son, has tried to create a restaurant setting that combines the joys of eating out with a relaxing atmosphere that is so rare for parents of young children. On Tuesday and Friday nights from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m., a frosted door is drawn to separate out the main dining room and to create a space for families. It means that you can sit together and have a great meal, but to still be adjacent to a play space

We were lucky to be invited by Aura to try out their family friendly nights. This set up has so many benefits. First, and most importantly, I didn't feel the stress of time. I knew that Raphael would be able to play while we waited for the food and as soon as he and David were done, they could jump down. Ironically, at home they struggle to play independently, but here, surrounded by other children and the novelty of new toys, they were in heaven. My kids were the first to arrive and the quickly jumped into discovering the play tent, the wagon and the pretend food.Second, the controlled chaos of the children's area made it that much easier to enjoy the food as I didn't feel the tension that they were interrupting the dinners.

None of this, though, should distract from the reality that the food was delicious. Chef Klein designed the kind of good food that she feeds her son. Babies get a great option: a "complimentary" (and beautiful) plate of freshly pureed vegetables (pictured at the top of the post). Here, that means carrots and rutabaga, apple and pears! Toddlers have a wonderful range of dishes. Raphael enjoyed freshly roasted turkey, alongside a homemade cranberry sauce. (Confession, I loved it. It was so tart that Raphael made a face!)

There are homemade chicken tenders, pizza, noodles and mac and cheese among other things. But here sides include cider glazed carrots and sweet potato fries. And each good sized serving (which comes with a side dish and one dessert) is $7.00.

For parents, the seasonal menu currently consists of a prix fixe for $30.00 (the average price of an entree on the regular menu). You may choose from 2 appetizers, 3 main dishes and 2 desserts. My husband and I both loved our first courses. I had a luscious soup.

It was creamy, with perfectly cooked and smoked shrimp, the bite of greens and a subtle saltiness of little cubes of chewy Chinese sausage. My husband had a perfectly dressed plate of arugula with thinly sliced pears and nicely roasted beets. (Photo at the top of the post) He would rather eat ice cream that salad, but he ate the whole plate!

Of our two main courses, my husband's really shone. His chicken was perfectly browned and crisp, while still retaining the moistness of the meat. The skin was fantastic-flavorful, with just enough salt.

The cider reduction provided a subtle but delicious sweetness alongside his greens and fingerling potatoes.

I had the pork. I typically eat roast pork at Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants, so I won't pledge to be an expert here, but it was definitely the weakest part of the meal as it was dry (perhaps victim to trying to time the meals before kids had total meltdowns!).

However, the rest of the dish was fantastic. The mashed potatoes were the creamy, rich type. They went perfectly with a side of kale that was not only delicious but the bite was perfectly balanced with the sweet roasted grapes. They were so good that they could convince anyone to eat more leafy greens!

The desserts were both good, though they were more pedestrian than the other dishes: the ubiquitous creme brulee and a light rice pudding with a raisin pate of sorts. And I still ate all the caramelized sugar off the top of my brulee!

When the meal ended, we had to convince our children that, yes, they did have to leave the restaurant and go home. As we left, Raphael said, "Mommy, that restaurant was fun. I liked my toys and my friends and my ice cream." One week later, he is still asking to go back.

Aura isn't the easiest restaurant to find if you don't know the Seaport area, but it is just walking distance from the ICA and a few blocks from the Children's Museum. The reality is that not all parents can afford $74.00 for a night out. However, add in the cost of a babysitter and it is easy for an evenings out to easily top $100.00, even at a chain restaurant. This is a unique and different experience. For us it meant a truly fun evening out with the children while we enjoyed outstanding food. So visit the ICA or the Children's Museum and then stop over here.

For more information, you can check out the main Aura website, the schedule of Mommy and Me classes and the special events at Aura, including the Family Friendly nights.

Aura at the Seaport Hotel, 1 Seaport Lane, 617-385-4300
Tamo Bar at the Seaport Hotel, 1 Seaport Lane, 617-385-4315

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