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Cool Mom Q&A: Karine Bakhoum

Dining-with-kids advice from a real foodie

Karine Bakhoum owns KB Network News, known for repping heavy-hitting New York restaurants like 21 Club. She’s also a judge on Iron Chef America. So yeah, she knows a thing or two about food. We almost fell off our chairs when we heard that Karine’s two kids, Isabelle and Jean-Baptiste, count bone marrow and Dover sole among their favorites dishes. We asked the foodie mom for her thoughts on the best family restaurants in town, how to broaden kids’ palates, and what to do when there’s a meltdown at the table.
StrollerTraffic:  What are your favorite restaurants in the city for family meals?
Karine Bakhoum: My daughter has tried wonderful dishes at Mediterraneo that I would never have thought she’d like, including the Fettuccine ai Porcini and Pappardelle with duck ragu. At Dos Caminos, my daughter will eat quesadillas and guacamole; my son orders chili or chicken fajitas as he loves to get the sizzling plate. Both kids adore Peking duck and fried pork dumplings, and we like to go to Chinatown Brasserie for that. My son loves Miso soup and tofu but always takes the seaweed out at Ko Sushi on the Upper East Side. For terrific French food, expertly cooked, we take them to La Mangeoire for magnificent roasted country chicken with rich gravy.

ST: Why those places? What makes a restaurant truly family friendly in your mind?
KB: It’s best to go where you know the service is speedy and will not drag. We like restaurants where families get friendly, congenial service—where the kids are recognized and welcomed back by the staff. You know it’s a good fit if the kids get paper and crayons as soon as you sit down.
ST: Yes, crayons are always good. But how do you encourage your children to try new dishes without food being, you know, hurled across the table or spat out in public?
KB: You have to make it fun—a discovery. We always order what we know they like and is “safe,” then order a couple of interesting dishes for ourselves and have them taste it. It’s best never to force them. Recently we ordered Dover sole at La Petite Maison, and asked the kids to try it. At first they hemmed and hawed because it was fish (they’re not big on seafood), but I told them it was the filet mignon of all fish and Mommy’s favorite. Then we told them there were great desserts if they would take just one bite. After one bite they both went bonkers and said it was too good and they had to have more. Then they tasted the macaroni with black truffles and that was also the end of that dish.
ST: Are there any restaurants to which you would not bring your kids?
KB: I won’t bring them any place where I’d feel I have to make excuses if they were loud or unsettled. I also don’t like to take them to very loud restaurants or theme restaurants like Chuck E. Cheese, as I feel it encourages behavior that is not acceptable at more formal establishments.
ST: Good point. If they do get unsettled, how do you feel about relying on toys and iThings to keep them seated?
KB: I don’t love the idea of such items in a restaurant. It’s very anti-social and takes away from the quality time and family interaction. That said, I have been known to hand over my iPhone if the service is slow and they need a distraction other than making noise with their cutlery.
ST: What’s the best strategy for dealing with a total meltdown?
KB: Just pick them up and leave; one of you takes the kids, the other stays behind to pay the check. When my son was 2 years old, he had a melt down in a restaurant in France. He wouldn’t stop screaming and wouldn’t stay in his stroller and there was no calming him down. We had to just leave. That was years ago and I am still not over it!

ST: Ugh. We’ve been there. Before we let you go, any new restaurants in town that families should check out?
KB: Tina deVaron, who is well-known in the parenting circuit for her years’ performing at the Carlyle, has moved her show over to the Bar on Fifth at the newish Setai Fifth Avenue Hotel. She does a superb 10am brunch show on weekends called “Tunes with Tina”—the kids run right up to the piano and sing along to everything from Broadway tunes to pop hits. It’s the best!