1 Star Dining with a 2 year old, aka “The Meal That Did Not Turn Out as Planned”

I’m going to do a quick flashback to our August vacation in Italy. As I mentioned, we dined out a lot and cooked very little. In Italy, you can have a great meal at an everyday pizzeria or trattoria, so I didn’t do much research in advance on where to eat or reserve a table. But I did have my eye on one spot that I dreamed of dining at: La Pineta.

La Pineta is a renowned fish restaurant housed in a typical Italian beach club. Think Flamingo Kid on a smaller scale. It’s directly on the beach in the village of Marina di Bibbona, along a strip of sandy beach adjacent to a pine forest. It is attached to a bar/cafe and and a row of small cabanas, overlooking 3 rows of beach chairs and umbrellas available for rent by the same establishment.

You would never in a million years think this was the site of a 1 star Michelin restaurant. But wait. You enter the restaurant and the tables are covered in fine linen and beautiful stemware. There is an air of elegance in the dining room, but not stiffness. Your eyes drift to the blue-green Meditteranean sea just beyond the white sandy beaches, umbrellas and sunbathers. It is a beautiful setting, in the simplest terms. I like this review on a travel blog called Mapitout-Tuscany, too.

I was quite pleased to have secured a table with only a few days notice at peak season. With much anticipation, I discussed the meal with Hubs and baby Sam. The morning of our scheduled lunch, Hubs awoke feeling ill. He thought it was something he ate the previous night, but  the symptoms evolved into something flu-like. Ever the trooper, Hubs rallied around 11 AM and we hopped in the car to head to the beach club/knock-your-socks-off restaurant. We got to the beach, squeezed into a parking spot with assistance from an employee (who later turned out to be one of the head waiters) and hit the beach. Hubs was not feeling it, so he hung out in the shade while Sam and I frolicked in the surf. Lunchtime rolled around and Hubs had taken a turn for the worse. He begged off lunch, but insisted that I go ahead without him, but please take Sam because he couldn’t manage. Yup, me and my 2 year old dining companion.

I was torn – husband turning green, whiny toddler, stomach grumbling, reservation waiting – so I plowed on. Sam and I cleaned up for lunch and presented ourselves to the maitre d/head waiter/parking attendant. I apologized profusely for the shrunken dining party. He shrugged it off as he seated us at a corner table. I sensed my dining companion getting antsy, and knowing I couldn’t study the menu forever (though I wanted to), asked for advice on what to order. Everything, and I mean everything sounded awesome. I settled on a plate of raw seafood to start (crudo) and then a whole fish sauteed in a delicate tomato sauce with rosemary as my secondo. Only 2 courses for me – didn’t want to keep the little one waiting too long. For Sam, I ordered 1/2 portion of fresh pasta with a light tomato-based sauce speckled with mullet. No kids menu here. And a glass of vermentino for me, of course.

Sam’s lunch: straccetti di pasta fresca con le triglie. Fresh pasta with red mullet

Another head waiter popped by and asked if Sam would eat “alici”, or anchovies (there were 3 head waiters who worked the room as a team). I said let’s give it a try, and lo and behold, the munchkin had a few bites of fresh anchovies with juicy cherry tomatoes. Within a few minutes, our table was covered in treats. A basket of freshly baked breads and focaccia and another plate with carta da musica (crisp, thin flat bread). I thought we were set, but Sam got curious and started exploring the cabinets near our table which stored the restaurant’s extensive wine collection. Despite this chaos, no one batted an eye. The dining room staff could not have been more gracious.

Sam at La Pineta

Sam’s pasta arrived and my plate of crudo. I was in heaven. Raw langostines, delicate deep red shrimp, and several types of fish drizzled lightly with olive oil and sea salt. Oh, and a separate plate with an oyster, because not everyone likes oysters. Sam had a bite or two of pasta, but was preoccupied. We managed to get through the first course and then it got a little dicey. I broke down and agreed to let him play with iPhone, but where was iPhone. Uh-oh. We went out for a walk to find it and also check on Hubs.

Hubs was slumped in a chair in the cafe. He asked how much longer. Again, not the way I planned this meal. Sam and I hurried back to the table and my whole fish was ready. The Head Waiter expertly deboned it table side and presented it with a flourish. He also topped off my wine glass. I hurriedly ate the delicate white fish, all the while feeding Sam his pasta and nervously scanning the now full dining room hoping we were not disturbing anyone. I was cursing myself for having even ordered a second course, but had felt obliged to do so and then couldn’t leave the dish untouched, right? Oh, the obligations of fine dining! I made my way through 3/4 of the fish and felt full and satisfied that no one would be offended. The waiter asked if I’d like dessert (and he wasn’t joking). I declined and asked for the check. He passed by with the wine bottle and offered another splash – I am sure I looked like I needed it.

Hubs joined us as I paid the bill. The kind waiter dropped off a small plate of mini-lemon tartlets and asked if Hubs felt better. They didn’t even charge us a service fee for Sam. I was touched by how respectfully the staff treated us. And after paying the bill, I was stopped mid-stride while exiting the restaurant so that the chef and owner could say hello (center in photo below).

When does that happen?? It was an amazing meal, as much for the service as the ambiance as the food itself. And not to mention the company.

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