For parents with young children, it's the standard by which all evenings out together are judged: Was it worth the price of a sitter?

For parents with young children, it's the standard by which all evenings out together are judged: Was it worth the price of a sitter?

Beginning this month, the Dutton couple of Geoff and Melissa launch their search for romantic, personal and parental rejuvenation that is worthy of hiring a babysitter.

Picking the spot
Melissa: With Valentine's Day just around the corner, we aimed for a romantic and elegant dinner.

Geoff: Our impulsive and carefree hearts longed to splurge, but our Christmas-battered budget served as a reality check. Or so I thought. Melissa made dinner reservations at the Refectory Restaurant & Bistro, a French restaurant widely considered to be among Columbus' finest. Translation: Expensive.

Melissa: Searching ads and the internet, I was amazed at the number of special deals offered by even the swankiest restaurants. A tough economy seems to have prompted an array of special limited menus, wine tastings with appetizers, and other promotions at high-end restaurants. The deals provide an opportunity to sample fare you may not otherwise be able to afford.

Geoff: There weren't many minivans with Cheerio-littered baby seats in the parking lot. This special deal was called "First Friday," the monthly promotion offering a multi-course meal for $50 per person. It was still expensive enough that we should have known better, but it was priced just plausibly enough that we couldn't resist.

The food
Geoff: Foie gras. Dover sole au gratin. Roasted duck. Saint-honore. I recognized some of the menu, but wouldn't know what some of this was until the waiter delivered it to the table. The waiter was an unflappable pro, never appearing irritated by questions like, "Are we supposed to eat this yellow part?"

Melissa: I felt like a guest judge on "Top Chef." Often two waiters were serving us amazing food artfully arranged on the plate. There was time between courses to enjoy one another's company and the bottle of wine we ordered. The timing between the courses seemed just right - unlike a previous visit to the bistro (on the bar side of the restaurant) where it seemed too long between dishes.

The ambiance
Geoff: It actually felt slow to me (don't they realize babysitters charge by the hour!) until I took a deep breath and mentally downshifted from the busy day. For once dinner wasn't just a chaotic prelude to the hectic bedtime routine. Tonight, the boys would be asleep when we got home.

Melissa: The softly lit room with low music in the background was a perfect setting to relax and reconnect. There wasn't a kid or a chicken nugget in sight.

Geoff: I have a pretty low tolerance for snooty. So I was pleasantly surprised by the relaxed atmosphere - elegant, but not stuffy. I knew they had me when I started browsing the full menu, wondering about the $38 filet mignon with cardamom sauce, and the $10 salads. Next time.