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Cheap Eats

Kid (and parent) friendly

(Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
By Kathleen Burge
Globe Correspondent / August 19, 2009

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There’s a reason many restaurants would rather see a pack of howler monkeys swing through their doors than a bevy of young children. Kids take up as much chair space as adults but they never order $14 pomegranate martinis. They annoy other diners, the people drinking those martinis, who may be slipping their baby sitter $15 an hour for the pleasure of a meal without sippy cups. Kids whine.

And yet, once parenthood descends, there’s nothing more gratifying than a non-chain restaurant that welcomes your offspring and serves interesting food. We parents are easy prey: Add a wine list and we’ll be there every week. What Full Moon has done for Cambridge, Via Lago Cafe is now doing for Lexington, minus the play area. Via Lago, by day a casual place that serves sandwiches and salads, transforms itself at night, dimming the lights, stocking the bar, and hauling out white tablecloths and candles. There’s a kids’ menu with the usual suspects - mac and cheese, chicken fingers, pasta - but the adult menu, which changes weekly, is creative and well-executed.

Pan-seared sea scallops in an appetizer ($9) are smoky but still juicy inside. On our first visit, they are served with impossibly creamy mashed potatoes. Fresh mozzarella and tomatoes three ways ($10) are a summer treat, but the ways are remarkably singular. Gnocchi ($18) sit lightly in a rich cream sauce. Roast tenderloin sandwich ($12) is indeed tender but dry, though delicate fried onion strings help mask that imperfection.

On another visit, it seems as if someone might have swiped the salt from the kitchen. Even the shrimp risotto ($16; below) needs a sprinkle. Herb-crusted sole ($16) is delicate and buttery - and perfect after a nod from the salt shaker. Via Lago also offers seasonal specials, and we taste an astonishingly good crab salad in crab three ways ($12), though the crab cake is soggy. Our 4-year-old grows dizzy with excitement over cracking open the large crab claw.

Our young male waiter is an expert at making kids happy, enticing them with the idea of chocolate milk, though it turns out his supply is gone. Instead he brings lemonade. If you’re worried your offspring might annoy others at Via Lago, the large booth in the back of the restaurant is where to sit. The table and long benches are built into the wall, creating a sound chamber that shields your fellow diners from renditions of selected “Dora The Explorer’’ episodes your child finds so amusing. You, however, are on your own.

VIA LAGO CAFE 1845 Massachusetts Ave., Lexington, 781-861-6174, www.vialagocatering.com. All major credit cards. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Dinner appetizers $4-$10, entrees $9-22.

Hours Dinner Mon-Wed 5-9 p.m., Thurs-Sat 5-9:30 p.m. (Cafe open Mon-Wed 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Thurs-Sat 7 a.m.-9:30 p.m.)

Liquor Full bar.

May we suggest Pan-seared sea scallops, mozzarella and tomatoes three ways, shrimp risotto, gnocchi.

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