By Lisa Bayer
I am one-half of a professional couple working full-time while raising two young children. My resolution for 2010 is simple: the successful execution of a regular date night with my partner.
The well-meaning advice from parenting experts on the importance of couple time fell by the wayside a long time ago. We were always too tired, too broke, or too baffled to secure a decent sitter. Thus, the idea of adult alone-time has been laughable for over six years. But with the youngest now climbing onto whoever walks in the door and shoots him a smile, 2010 might be the year to remember why I looked twice at his father in the first place. All I’m seeking is some grown-up laughs, a meal without frozen peas, and a reason to polish my toes. Also: wine from a source other than the BodaBox in my kitchen.
With over half of our extended family stricken with flu mere hours after we’d gathered to celebrate the season, my expectations for the inaugural date night were low, but still hopeful. Too, scoring a babysitter on NYE is no small feat. Thankfully, my stepdaughter the teenager is always keen to support her Delia’s habit, as well as recently certified through the Urbana Park District’s babysitting course. I figure we have two more years before she realizes that she should be waving farewell to us as she heads out for big fun rather than the other way around.
Destination: the French bistro Carmon’s in downtown Champaign. I adore the twinkly white lights, the mismatched bar stools, the attentive hosts, the inset booth perfect for after-work gabfests — and the lovely ladies’ room. (More on that in a bit.) Carmon’s reminds us of the cozy neighborhood cafes we loved to visit when we lived in Minneapolis and St. Paul and had time to linger over dinner. They never fail to make you feel welcome.
We shared our evening with good friends whom we don’t see very often, at least not without our broods in tow. While a group outing might disqualify the evening as a true date night, the uninterrupted adult conversation felt indulgent and, frankly, surreal. Convo topics included the Carle merger; the state budget mess; family holiday dramas; and workout goals for 2010. At one point we managed to brilliantly connect Farrah Fawcett and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
The prix fixe menu was a splurge, but justified given the shaky start to our holiday break. (Another lesson of life after children: small splurges can feel like big ones.) All four courses were decadently delicious. The pate and stinky cheese plate was nothing my 6-year-old would have come near, so I loved it all the more. Carmon’s does not disappoint in the adult beverage department, though we skipped their famous absinthe. The dessert wine that came with our special menu was also offered as a kir royal, a gorgeous blend with a raspberry liqueur.
As we bade our hosts a good evening, I *might* have spoken up a bit too enthusiastically about their charming loo — its pink-toile-patterned sink, matching tile, framed vintage cocktail ads, the pop-art four-panel bulldog-in-tiara high on the wall. Mike immediately offered a tour of the men’s room. I can now attest that it matches the ladies’ decor point for point, right down to the provocative title on the Eiffel Tower poster, which I won’t give away. You’ll need to visit Carmon’s and ask Mike for your own tour.
We were asleep before midnight but still paid a little the next day for our generous wine pairings. And in response to the same question I’ve asked after every night out for the past 11 years, John said, “Of course you were fine. You were just really, really happy.”
Maybe some things don’t change, after all.
Lisa Bayer is a southern Illinois native who comes to Chambana by way of the (other) Twin Cities. She is the marketing director at the University of Illinois Press. She and her husband, a librarian, have three children and live in the Yankee Ridge neighborhood of Urbana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.