For a parent of a truculent two year old, there's nothing more relieving than a restaurant that babysits and cooks for you. Of course, unless you count fast food chains where grown dudes dress up in furry character suits and entertain, or scare, your kids for a few minutes between bites of factory farmed cattle patties, there's no such thing.
At least I thought so, but then I hit Café Sengal, a new French inflected West African eatery in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood.
I'll admit that since my child can't yet read, dining out with him is really the only thing I fear these days (outside of Sandra Lee). You never know when he's gonna up and scream like Jennifer Love Hewitt in a horror movie, go all David Copperfield and try to pull the tablecloth from under the place settings, or sneak his way into a fiery kitchen (he's done this twice). So when he started pulling sugar packets out of the carousel at Café Senegal, I was sure he'd be coated in the sweet stuff in seconds flat. I grabbed it away from him, but one of the women working in the otherwise empty dining room told us it was okay.
As she insisted, she also scooped him up and started dancing with him and insisting he call her grandma. While it sounds a little weird, rest assured, it was pretty cool, as she really felt like our long lost Senegalese grandmother.
While she was dancing, we were peppered with Debbe, beautiful, tender, smoky lamb chops smothered in a vinegary olive salad, as well as beef patties or pastry half moons filled with fiery pepper tinged beef that were basically like empanadas—maybe the best I've had in a long time.
Though my son, for some odd reason, loves and hoovers up anything truffle-scented like an Umbrian pig, he is, like most other toddlers, as finicky an eater as they come. With no interest in what was an incredible meal (and not because of the free babysitting), he continued to dance and hang with "grandma," thus giving us an opportunity to check out what is truly one of Chicago's better new African restaurants.
2131 W. Howard Street, Chicago, IL 60645 (map) 773-465-5643