Here's something I learned early on in my career: If you really want to get people riled up, write about kids in restaurants. It doesn't matter if you write a pro-kid story or an anti-kid story. Hell, you could probably just write something that said “kids in restaurants!” over and over again, and it would be the most viewed/commented-on story of the week. People have strong opinions about kids in restaurants.
Outside of (maybe) airplanes, there is no place children are more actively resented than in nice restaurants. Airplanes make less sense, because people presumably have to travel with their offspring, whereas restaurants are a luxury. “Get a baby sitter or go to McDonald's!!” the internet commenters scream, electronically. As a parent, you can see those screams working silently behind the eyes of waiters and fellow patrons whenever you enter a decent restaurant with child in tow.
Actress Jessica Biel, along with some investors, has set out to soothe some of this fractious discourse by opening a restaurant specifically for parents and children. In fact, Au Fudge is more than a restaurant, it is practically a full-fledged nursery school, albeit one that you can only use for a couple of hours at a time. For $15, children older than 2 can hang out in Au Fudge's “creative space” for two hours, where au pairs will supervise them while parents eat. For kids younger than 2, dedicated au pairs are available for hourly hire. There's also a full schedule of classes for kids, some meant to be taken along with parents and some designed so that parents can drink cocktails in the adjacent restaurant while kids sing karaoke, decorate cookies or learn etiquette so you can maybe one day take them to a regular restaurant. There's also a shop with all manner of adorable merchandise, such as a $100 Au Fudge lunch box set, or a $45 trucker hat emblazoned with the slogan: GET FUDGED UP.
Au Fudge bills itself as a kids restaurant, but really it is a parents restaurant, which is smart, seeing as the parents are the ones with the money. (And let's be clear: This is an establishment for people with money.) More specifically, it's designed for moms. I get the feeling they've even hired servers with moms in mind — they all seem to be stupidly handsome, out-of-work actors. It's a place where you can nibble salads or avocado toast and drink low-cal cocktails with names like “MILF” (description: “This yummy mummy needs her juice!”), while little Astrid stomps her patent-leather baby Doc Martens as she participates in a drum circle in the room next door. Even the food is mainly geared toward parents — there's a small kids menu, which is organic and features the usual suspects of chicken nuggets and pepperoni pizza — but the bulk of the food offerings is meant for mom. And the space is decorated like the most chic kid's room ever. It's a sunny fantasy of what fashionable parenthood looks like.
The food isn't bad, nor is it particularly great. It does feature some spectacularly overpriced fripperies, such as a $9 single piece of grilled corn, cut up in rounds and sprinkled with parmesan and put on skewers and called “corn lollipops.” The skewers reminded me of that photo that went viral a few months back, of supermarket bananas that had been peeled and then wrapped in Saran Wrap. That is to say: There's no way you can improve on a round of corn's natural handle, and these things are impossible to eat without removing the skewer and eating them the old-fashioned way. But I suppose the novelty justifies the price. (JK; it doesn't.)
Haricots verts come in an adorable pink pig dish, slathered with a tasty red pepper spread. They were also ridiculously overcooked when I had them, floppy enough for a toothless baby to eat. Perhaps that's the point. A seared arctic char Niçoise, with asparagus, egg, tomato and olives, made for a perfectly lovely and vaguely unmemorable lunch. You can build your own insane sundae for dessert, or go for the “fudge flight.” If any part of the menu is really geared toward children, it's this part, but the kids I saw around me took a couple of bites before rushing back to play while their parents happily finished off the mounds of cookies and ice cream.
Au Fudge is an easy target for ridicule, for a zillion reasons. One of the things I actually love about Los Angeles is its ability to live up to its own clichés so very boldly, without apology, and Au Fudge could certainly be a parody of wealthy West Hollywood mommy celebrity culture, like Los Feliz Daycare crossed with the Kardashians. But I'm assuming it's also a smart business model. After all, the generation that grew up with food-as-pop-culture is just now beginning to procreate. Providing a place where parents can bring their kids for a special date, without the fear of disapproving looks or server resentment, and where those parents might actually enjoy the food rather than having to suffer through the indignities of Chuck E or his Cheese, is likely a stroke of marketing genius. Perhaps it will do well enough that the model trickles down, and one day provides relief to those parents who don't already have a nanny at home.