Who says you can't take your kids to a bar? That's the point of the Point, a new bar and restaurant that pretty much encourages you to do so. From Tuesday to Friday, between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., each of your rugrats can eat free with every purchase of an adult meal. It's typical kid stuff—chicken fingers, mini burgers, and a soupy mac and cheese that the restaurant describes as "better than the blue box"—but the best part of all may be that you don't even have to sit with them. In a closet-sized room near the corner is a so-called "Kid's Cave," with a blackboard wall, a low-slung activity table covered in butcher paper and all the chalk the kids will need to stay out of trouble and out of the way while you're presumably doing shots at the bar. What parent hasn't secretly wished the McDonald's Playland poured a pint of lager to take the edge off?
Inside this cave, the restaurant has installed a television that loops G-rated movies—just one more element to ensure hypnotized obedience. For the parents, there are no fewer than six flat-screens surrounding the one-roomed adult space, resembling NASA mission control. Wherever you sit, you can watch at least four TVs. There's even one on the outside patio so no one in the immediate vicinity will ever miss a touchdown, home run or slam dunk. Aside from the fact your kids are with you, you will always be keenly aware you are at a sports bar.
The menu is, of course, going to have the required sports-bar fodder of Buffalo wings and jalapeño poppers, here bizarrely called "armadillo eggs." But the kitchen—headed by Ronald Canaveral, formerly of Salt Creek Grille—also offers a remarkably good, if typical, bowl of steamers, the clams in a broth balanced between the sweetness of butter and the sting of wine, thick enough to be soup, and topped with two buttered rounds of garlic toast to soak up the leavings.
The Point, 34085 Pacific Coast Hwy., Dana Point, (949) 464-5700; thepointrestaurantandbar.com. Open Tues.-Sun., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Dinner for two, $25-$40, food only. Kids eat free Tues.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., each with purchase of an adult meal. Full bar.
Pizzas are probably the thing to order, and they are well-made, crust puffed up to airiness and the middle a little wet and soggy because of all the piled-on cheese. Should you actually want your family to sit together and share a meal, there's a plain ol' pepperoni the kids might like. Or you could try everything from a barbecue chicken sprinkled with cilantro to a Thai chicken with crunchy peanuts, bean sprouts, chopped scallions and a hardly perceptible sweet peanut sauce that attempts to tie it all together. Just know that you're not looking for authenticity of flavor when you ask for it or the Chinese chicken salad, which you order here for the same reason you order it anywhere else: for the fried egg noodles and the mandarin orange segments. The Point not only has you covered on both fronts, but it also adds crispy rice noodles to increase the crunch quotient on a salad that's perhaps too light on the dressing.
As expected, when you see pizza and salad on a menu, there are going to be pastas and burgers, too. Such is the rule for all American restaurants that operate on the same frequency as Coco's and the Cheesecake Factory. The Point only colors outside these lines when it wants to. Jambalaya pasta—one of the Cheesecake Factory's most popular dishes—appears here, but with assertive cuts of andouille sausage, chicken and clams tangled in slightly overcooked fettuccine. When you eat it, you also detect crispy shards of almonds, which you didn't expect but appreciate.
If you're going to have a burger, have it with the pleasantly garlicky shoestring fries instead of the greasy onion rings.
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There are also proper plated meals, including a steak and a decent but basic chicken-fried chicken that consists of two boneless, battered breast pieces half-smothered in gravy, with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli covered in a substance I'm pretty sure was Cheez-Wiz.
Even if you are childless, you will still need to come to bear witness to the oddity that is the Point's fry-bread pastrami sandwich. It is not hyperbolic to describe it as a giant chalupa fit for the Hulk. Made by folding a soft, deep-fried dough disk the size of a large pizza over a filling of salty pastrami, mustard, pickles, pepperoncinis and Swiss cheese, you'll need to put down the beer and call the kids over to get their help in finishing it. Let it be a lesson in teamwork or something.
This review appeared in print as "Get to the Point: The Dana Point bar says your kids are welcome."