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Fast, upscale dining that's kid-friendly

"Dear Janice: My wife and I are planning a family dinner in mid-May at a restaurant more upscale than Friendly's. (I mention Friendly's because our grandsons, who are 8 1/2 and 7, are most comfortable there.) The food is one thing that concerns us, but the time it can take for luxurious dining is another factor.

"Is there an upscale restaurant that you can recommend where the food is good and the service is not as drawn out as in some restaurants? We are considering a Japanese restaurant where the 'show' at the table would keep our grandsons' interest. I would appreciate any other suggestions. Thank you."

-- N.J., Clarence

Time can indeed be of the essence when dining with children. Most kids get antsy in restaurants if they have to sit too long and, thank goodness, you appreciate that fact. Some parents and/or grandparents address the problem by bringing along stuff like coloring books and crayons, but even that diversion has its limits.

Your idea of a Japanese restaurant where the food is cooked in front of the customers is right on the money. Half show biz/half culinary, this style of cooking is sometimes called teppanyaki and often includes a really dramatic presentation -- loud chefs, clanging cleavers, leaping flames, et al. The food, simple and grilled, is usually good, but the show's the thing.

Teppanyaki restaurants are all over Western New York. You can take a whole table and all the family members can sit together to watch the fun. (You know your kids. Just be sure those leaping flames won't frighten the youngsters -- they do rise dramatically. I speak from experience here.)

Here are some (certainly not all) restaurants that have teppanyaki service:

Shogun Ichi, 7590 Transit Road, Amherst, is a biggie and has been around for a long time. There also is Tokyo II, 2236 Delaware Ave., and Tao, 3200 Orchard Park Road, Orchard Park.

Take a look before you reserve if you are concerned about privacy. Some of the teppan grill tables are right in the middle of the restaurant.

Or maybe the kids would like to cook their own. The Melting Pot at Walden Galleria will let them do it. It's a chain, but the surroundings are luxurious (if mazelike and darkly lighted). Appetizers, main dishes, desserts all come out of a pot that sits on a burner in the center of the table; the cooking medium might be broth, oil, cheese or -- chocolate.

Appropriate dippers -- small pieces of chicken, beef, bread chunks, vegetables, cake -- come on a tray. The diner impales them with a fork and cooks them in the bubbling stuff. The server will show you how. Cheese fondue is classic, but the kids will certainly enjoy the chocolate fondue for dessert.

Speaking of entertainment, aquariums are always fun. The Grapevine, 2545 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst, contains aquariums in spades! It offers a standard menu, comfortably done surroundings, a children's menu and plenty of diversion by way of those seven fish tanks.

The kids can even get up and wander (with supervision) to look at all those fascinating swimmers. Possible bonus: Aquariums are said to be soothing and calming.

More water and boats are fun to look at, too. I wouldn't call Dug's Dive, 1111 Fuhrmann Blvd., luxurious exactly -- it's kind of a glorified hot dog stand -- but I would call the food surprisingly varied and tasty. They serve seafood, steak, ice cream, and the view is great. (Be advised that there is a bar in the center of the restaurant, and things can get raucous.)

Much more upscale is Templeton Landing at Erie Basin Marina. You can dine inside or on the patio. The menu is casual to fancy; the bar is separate. The food is pretty good; the view is terrific. Everything from a burger to a steak here.

Janice Okun, former food editor for The News, has been out and about in the regional restaurant scene for 40 years. Send your dining questions and comments to her at