Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Restaurant Review: Giggles N' Hugs

A new restaurant opened in West LA!

Why is this Island Boy news?? Because this particular restaurant has a unique twist...it was designed to be a family restaurant complete with family-friendly menu and large play area. We'd heard some good things about it and couldn't wait to check it out, so we scheduled a play date there for lunch.

The decor is adorable and the food actually quite good. The menu offers a variety of healthy salads, paninis and entrees for adults and a handful of the usual suspects for children (PB&J, Mac & Cheese...). The place was bustling at high noon, but not packed, offering plenty of available tables and lots of toys to go around in the play area.

Any of the salads, pizzas or pastas can be ordered in adult or kid's size. I ordered the beet salad for myself and the mac-n-cheese for Island Boy. I had been hoping to order something I could share with Island Boy, but the intersection between what Mommy wanted and what she thought Island Boy would (or could) eat was slim. Island Boy did enjoy the beets from my salad and I enjoyed a few bites of his mac-n-cheese, but we probably could have gotten by with one or the other (if I had actually wanted to eat a bowl of mac-n-cheese instead of salad for lunch since Island Boy doesn't have enough teeth to be a very effective salad-eater at this point).

The beet salad was pretty tasty and (I presume) healthy although a little too sweet for my liking and just a little over-dressed. Next time I'll get the dressing on the side. The greens included in the salad were super fresh, crisp and beautiful which made me very happy. The mac-n-cheese was very good. However, it was a bit pricey at $8 for "the kid's size" serving (which was also rather large). Maybe if they also offered a "baby's size" serving for $4, I would have felt better about it.

My friend ordered one of the paninis. It looked great and she reported it was quite good. It was offered with a small pile of pretty mixed greens.

I was surprised that the menu didn't offer a section for teeth-challenged eaters. I had heard that anything on the menu could be pureed, but that wasn't obvious to me and reading through the menu offerings with a squirming baby in my arms (you order at the counter as you enter before selecting a table) didn't leave me with much mental energy to get creative with my order. I would have loved it if I could have ordered several small dishes for Island Boy to try - call it a tasting menu of sorts so that our little boy could have a healthy variety of things to eat (as we usually try to do at home) rather than just a big bowl of one thing. I did notice some sides on the menu like broccoli and peas which I plan to inquire about if we return, but it wasn't obvious to me as I stood there at the counter that those were reasonable options for babies as a meal.

The area where you pick up your silverware, dispense your own drinks and gather napkins and such held some brightly colored plastic utensils for children including some melamine plates and even straws (although not the flexible kind). I was pleased to see that in addition to the plastic utensils (already showing a bit of wear after only a couple of weeks), there were child-sized stainless steel spoons. I noticed many of the mothers struggling, as I did, with multiple trips to this area either with their babies in their arms or rushing back and forth to the table so that their children weren't left alone for long.

I was surprised there were no child-sized bowls - at least not baby-sized. Other than the melamine plates, I didn't see any bowls, so I asked and was given a bowl that looked like it had been sent under the faucet quickly (still dripping), so I wasn't keen to use it. It wasn't all that baby-sized anyway, so that was fine.

Although the counter service was a little on the slow side (not sure if this was due to indecisive moms (we didn't see any dads), squirmy kids or the staff), the bus service was extremely attentive - ever vigilant for the dropped straw, plate or utensil and always concerned about whether we were doing ok. All of the staff we encountered (and there seemed to be a lot of them, including an owner-looking type) were nicer than nice.

The tables were packed pretty close together (a necessity in West LA, I'm sure), but this meant that strollers didn't fit between the tables and that meant that people actually had to get up from their meals to let strollers through. We had heard that there were child-sized tables and chairs. There are, but not in the dining area - standard highchairs only for that.

My friend evaluated the changing area and rated it "pretty good". While the standard diaper dock is offered, they also had step stools and apparently, free wipes (which is good because my friend had left hers in her valet-parked car)!!

The play area is expansive and filled with interesting toys. The price of admission is advertised at $9(!), even if you're eating there(!). However, they don't seem to be enforcing the policy - at least they weren't while we were there (we did have a coupon for free admission to the play area just in case). It even has a play-dough station, although we didn't have time to check that out on this visit.

One peeve is that the only parking option is valet (although it is a very reasonable $2.50 which is practically unheard of in West LA where valet rates are approaching $10(!) - yes, I know! I know!). For moms, valet isn't always the preferred option for a play date or a lunch date. Although it's nice to have someone park your car and go get it again, it's even nicer to be able to sit in your car with your sleepy baby if you get there a few minutes early (as my friend did) or to be able to run out to your car to grab something you forgot to bring in (extra change of clothes anyone?) and that sort of thing. Still, I can live with valet parking.

There was one unforgivable problem. Barney was playing on a large screen TV (actually TWO) that is visible from every table in the dining area. I tried to strategically position Island Boy's chair with his back to it, but being the curious little tyke that he is, he eventually spotted it and was mesmerized by it and feeding him became more challenging than it otherwise might have been. Like many parents, we have a no television policy so it would be nice if we had the option to dine in a corner of the dining room that was TV free.

The prices do seem just a bit steep - especially for counter service. However, it is no small feat on LA's West side to devote any amount of real estate to anything that doesn't generate revenue - and a lot of it, so I think the prices are probably where they need to be if this business is to survive. I won't mind paying a little bit more and even tolerating the valet parking if I can truly take my baby there and feel like he can get in some play and social interaction along with a good, healthy meal without being distracted by Barney (or any other programing for that matter).

Overall, we're happy Giggles n' Hugs is open. It's a great place for parents of young children to meet and play and we expect it will get better and better. As the first of its kind, it's done a great job thus far.


Michelle said...

Thanks for writing this up, I've been curious about this restaurant since I first drove by it. I think we'll have to give it a try.

mommalou said...

My goodness Island Boy's mom - you seem to be a difficult person to please, or maybe high maintenance is the word I am looking for - or just perhaps a little inexperienced! You should eat at Mickey D's or stay at home until you have a a little more experience in dealing w/small children!

Anonymous said...

Um bitch above me go fuck urself apparently u've never read a review.....(past the retards) I ate there with my family and I was the only family there at sunday at 9:00. The food was cold, they got our orders mixed up...took around 30 minutes to get our food. Also the play area that looks very nice happens to have a $10 admission. The prices I agree were a little steep. I hope I never have to go back again.

R... said...

Mommalou, I guess I missed the sign that said "Experienced Moms Only", but I do appreciate your feedback.

Anonymous, other that the language (this is a G-rated blog, after all), I appreciate your views as well.