Monday, March 10, 2014

Restaurant Review: Forest on First (Downtown Los Altos)

Yippee! Another "play cafe" has come to the South Bay, giving families a place to eat out that is, by definition and design, kid-friendly. Today, Toddler X and his pal decided to try the brand new Forest on First -- the sister restaurant to perennial favorite Bumble, and actually located two doors down from it -- and here's what we found:
The Treehouse extends from the left-hand wall over the door
(via the green tunnel), and down the right-hand wall.

Walking into Forest on First is sure to elicit "oohs" from parents and kids alike. The design is just so cool. The whole interior of the restaurant is decorated with a natural, woodsy theme, and three walls are dominated by the Treehouse -- an awesome wood and rope climbing contraption for kids ages 2 and up, which stretches from floor to (very high) ceiling. (Kids under two can use it too, subject to the parent's discretion, but 2+ is the recommended age, and for safety's sake, I'd agree.) There are ladders, bridges, rope walls, steps, and a fun tunnel/slide thing.

Tucked below the Treehouse is even more fun -- nooks and crannies with woodsy beanbag chairs and pillows, books (lots of Eric Carle, Richard Scarry and the like), wooden blocks, lincoln logs (see the wood theme?) and Magna-tiles, along with a magnetized wall for Magna-tile fun.

Even the high chairs are in theme -- they're unlike any I've ever seen before, round wooden chairs that can be positioned in any direction. Very cute. (But note that they don't have straps, so if you have a wiggly eater, stay alert.)

The restaurant features both cafe and bar height tables (a long, communal one), as well as some wooden log-esque tables for coffee and tea. There is not a ton of seating, and I can see this place getting very crowded as it gains popularity -- especially as kids will want to play on the treehouse structure for long periods of time, and there's really nowhere for parents to sit other than the tables. The tables are all grouped on one side of the room, and are pretty close together. Be careful not to trip on the legs of a high chair or bang your shin into one of the log tables -- ouch!

You order at the counter, and your food is delivered to your table. Breakfast is served until 11 am, and lunch from that point until 5 pm. The menu is creative and, like Bumble, offers lots of locally-sourced foods, with a list of local farms that supplied produce and meat hanging next to the menu. The kids' menu is extensive, with a lot of variety (and note that the kids' items on the lunch menu are available all day). My friend had a "Green Eggs and Ham" frittata (pancetta was the ham, and asparagus made it green) and really enjoyed it, while I stuck to a smoothie made of almond milk, almond butter, honey, banana, greek yogurt and cinnamon, which was DELICIOUS. Toddler X enjoyed the kids' scrambled eggs and toast, with the toast cut into a very cute heart shape, and Toddler A had a "pigs in a blanket" meal, with scrambled egg wrapped around a very herb-y sausage. The kids also split a bowl of yogurt, fruit and granola that was exceptionally good. The prices seemed reasonable for the location (downtown Los Altos is not a spot for inexpensive meals) and the quality of the food.

In addition to entrees and smoothies, Forest on First offers a full coffee bar, fresh fruit and vegetable juices, and delicious-looking baked goods (I resisted, for once). They also offer full meals for families to pick up for dinner, a nice concept.

The primary kid-friendly touch at Forest on First is, of course, the treehouse, as well as the toys and books underneath. A "day pass" to the treehouse costs $5 and you pay for it and get a wristband at the counter. I would say the treehouse is best suited for kids 2-6, though younger two year-olds might have trouble with some of it, and there is one rope ladder area where there is a pretty high drop. Your child can choose whether or not to wear shoes, but we found that our kids had a tough time navigating the inclined tunnel and one of the bridges without shoes on, so I'd recommend keeping them. The areas under the structure would be fine for any toddler, but see my caveat below about the ages of the other kids playing.

The one big "drop"
We were there from 11-12:30 on a Monday, so the kids playing were all in the 2-5 range (pre-elementary), mostly trending younger. I felt very comfortable letting Toddler X climb and roam by himself, and he and his pal were happy to do so. If we were there in the afternoon or on a weekend and there were more older kids running around, I might be a bit more hesitant to send him into the treehouse on his own. Likewise, if I had a younger toddler -- one who was less able to protect his/her own space, and more liable to be knocked down -- I might not even let him play alone in the lower space when older, more active kids are there. It's just too close of quarters for a wide variety of ages.

Aside from the treehouse and toys, other kid-friendly touches include the extensive kids' menu, the delicious smoothies (what toddler doesn't love a smoothie?), the high chairs and the cute mason jars with lids and straw holes (though the lids have decorative cut-outs that, while cute, sort of defeat the purpose of keeping liquid inside, and the only straws that fit through the holes are paper straws -- again, cute, but both toddlers immediately chewed theirs into a non-functional shape, and then got upset when they couldn't get the smoothie out). So, come to think of it, the mason jars aren't the most toddler-friendly touch, and I actually prefer the mason jars next door at Bumble, which have solid lids and bendy straws -- less cute, but far more functional.

The service was warm and friendly (when they didn't have decaf coffee to serve me, they ran next door to Bumble to get a cup -- very sweet), and our food came up quickly. Overall, we were very happy with the experience. There is also a nice patio out front with tables and astro-turf type grass, as well as full sunshine.

Any toddler cons? Yes, a few. One is that the front door to the restaurant (onto the patio), and the front gate of the patio (out into the street) both open with a simple push outwards -- meaning any toddler with any degree of strength can simply exit the restaurant, then the patio with two quick pushes. When you're sitting at a table sipping coffee and your toddler seems to be happily playing on the treehouse and with the toys, then suddenly makes a distinctly toddler-esque change of course and bolts for the door, you can find yourself leaping over the closely-spaced tables to try to prevent a dangerous run into the street. Apparently both the outward opening doors and the lack of a gate latch are ADA and/or fire code requirements, but that doesn't make it any easier to stop an impetuous toddler bent on escape.

A second con, at least compared to Bumble next door, is that there is no outdoor play space for kids. The patio seems like a delightful place to sit for coffee or lunch, but with nothing to amuse toddlers (and, again, a gate that opens outward), you might not be sitting for long.

So overall, Forest on First versus Bumble -- what's the better experience?

Honestly, it depends on what you're looking for. I find Bumble to be MUCH more relaxing because I can check Toddler X into the play area and know that he's supervised (by someone other than me), and that he has lots of toy options (including the kitchen play area, trains, trucks, sand, blocks, etc.). At Forest on First, I was constantly glancing around, standing up and sitting down, trying to make sure he was still there, was not stuck, etc. It was lots of fun, but I wouldn't describe it as relaxing.

Likewise, I really enjoy sitting outside at Bumble with a cup of coffee and watching Toddler X and his pals play in the well-stocked sand box. As I mentioned before, Forest on First doens't have a similar outdoor option.

Bumble's playroom is appropriate for kids as young as one, so basically any toddler would do fine there. Forest on First is definitely geared to a slightly older crowd.

However, Forest on First is much less expensive (than the Bumble play room, where prices are $10 for 1/2 hour unless you purchase a package) for a good deal of entertainment, and a child who doesn't like being "checked in" might be happy playing independently (and relatively close to mom) here. There is more physical play at Forest, obviously, than at Bumble. And, if your group includes an older child who might not be as fond of the play room at Bumble, this would be an option that could please a wide variety of ages. And finally, because you order from a counter, rather than having a waiter, this could be a much quicker experience, if that's what you're looking for.

Definitely give Forest on First a try if you have an older toddler who likes to explore on his or her own. But don't be surprised if, on your walk back to the car, your child spots the sandbox outside Bumble and begs to go in, as ours did today. While fantastical feats of indoor treehouse engineering might impress mom and dad, sometimes all it takes to make a toddler happy is a cool hard hat, a dump truck, and a whole bunch of sand.


  1. thanks so much for the great review!! We are still working out a few of these kinks... we do have plastic (non paper) straws for kids next to the cups (and can bring over some non hole-y tops for little ones too, good point!) The doors and gates MUST be just as they are for ADA accessability for wheelchairs so we have no choice but push out doors and gates and are not allowed to ever latch them - for wheelchairs and for fire code. And out front we designed as a more quiet space since we do have LOTS of adult only customers who enjoy our food - we left the inside fully kid friendly but the outside more focused on customers without kids! But thank you very much for pointing out the smoothie had yogurt! I will speak to the chef, we are usually very careful about allergies and listed ingredients!! We will make sure that doesn't happen again. Thanks for visiting and your great review!

    -Mary Heffernan

    1. Hi Mary,

      Thanks so much for the additional information/explanations, and of course for opening another awesome play-cafe for families in our area!

      That absolutely makes sense about ADA requirements and the fire code -- I think in toddler terms these days and forget that there are other considerations when building a restaurant!

      We saw the plastic straws, but couldn't manage to get them through the central holes -- this may be an exhausted mom issue, though, not a straw issue.

      And again, that makes sense about the outside. I just wanted to point out that if people are set on enjoying a drink or meal outdoors, they probably want to head toward Bumble instead.

      Again, thanks for your reply. We really enjoyed ourselves and will certainly be back.

    2. Hi Mary -- Just noticed that you updated your smoothie ingredients to include the Greek yogurt, so I changed the review accordingly. Thanks for your responsiveness! We look forward to visiting again soon.

  2. We were thinking of going back there today but found it was closed (for good it seems) based on Yelp and the missing Facebook page. Why??? Loved the place and the concept.


Hmm...what to do today?