"So what do you do?"

It's probably the top ice-breaker question that I get asked at dinners and parties. When I respond, "I'm a food writer," there's usually a pause followed by a deluge of questions. "Do you eat out a lot?" "Do you go to restaurants in disguise?" "What's the grossest thing you've ever eaten?"

The answers, in descending order, are: Yes, compared to a lot of people, but I also like to cook, so my time is pretty evenly split between restaurants and my own kitchen; No, I don't consider myself a critic, and this is Fairfield County, not New York or Paris; and scorpion, although I did pass on the tarantula. Sometimes this job isn't all wine and chocolate.

And then come the questions I love, because they always spur interesting conversation and I often learn something new. Here, then, are the Top 5 questions I get asked.

5. What restaurants are good for kids?

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THE SCOOP
Kid-friendly, parent-approved restaurants
Rizzuto's: 540 Riverside Ave., Westport; 203-221-1002
Shake Shack: 1849 Post Road East, Westport; 203-682-6570
Bobby Q's: 42 Main St., Westport; 203-454-7800
Bear and Grill: 2000 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield; 203-333-1522
Chip's: 525 Tunxis Hill Cut Off, Fairfield; 203-332-3370

Al fresco dining
Flipside: 1125 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-292-8233
Artisan: 275 Old Post Road, Southport; 203-307-4222
Rive: 299 Riverside Ave., Westport; 203-557-8049
Arezzo: 5 Riverside Ave., Westport; 203-557-9375

Quiet conversation
Positano's: 233 Hillspoint Road, Westport; 203-454-4922
Brasserie: 52 Sanford St., Fairfield; 203-254-8094
Cafe Lola: 57 Unquowa Road, Fairfield; 203-292-8014
Safita: 2217 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-319-0000

My faves
Barcelona: 4180 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield; 203-255-0800
Tavern on Main, 150 Main St., Westport; 203-221-7222
Martel: 2316 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-292-6916
Rive, 299 Riverside Ave., Westport; 203-557 8049
Coromandel: 17 Pease Ave., Fairfield; 203-259-1213
Firehouse Deli: 22 Reef Road, Fairfield; 203-255-5527
Mike's Pizza, 1560 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-255-2292
The Pantry: 1580 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-259-0400
Coffee An', 343 Main St., Westport; 203-227-3808

I think most people who ask this really want to know, "Where's a place that the kids will be welcome and the adults will actually tolerate?" We're pretty fortunate because there are quite a few places in the area that fit the bill.

Rizzuto's in Westport offers a children's menu with selections like fried mozzarella, pizza, salmon and spaghetti and meatballs, while the regular menu has a good range of pizzas, pastas and entrees. Kids get juice, soda or milk with their dinners and adults have the opportunity to order from a full bar. Because, let's face it, sometimes an adult beverage is what's really at the top of the priority list.

With that in mind, Shake Shack is also a great compromise restaurant for families. It's casual, a step up from fast food, and it offers beer and wine. Everyone wins.

Some other kid-friendly places with good food are Bobby Q's in Westport, and Bear and Grill in Fairfield. And, of course, Chip's in Fairfield, because who doesn't love pancakes for dinner?

4. Where can I go to eat outside?

Zoning restrictions on dining al fresco have tended to loosen up over the years, allowing more restaurants to offer outdoor dining.

The obvious choices in Fairfield are the downtown hotspots: Centro, Old Post Tavern, The Chelsea, Molto, Osianna, Quattro Pazzi and Wild Rice. But move beyond the central area and you'll find some true gems. If you've got the kids with you, check out the outdoor patio at Flipside. If you're out for a night on the town, Artisan is the place to go at the Delamar Hotel in the Southport section of Fairfield.

Along the Saugatuck River in Westport, there's a big, beautiful patio at Rive, and a stunning view at Arezzo.

And, of course, don't forget the cheapest option with the best view in either Fairfield or Westport: pack a picnic and head to one of the beaches for dinner with a sunset.

3. Why are restaurants so loud?

For some reason, I've been asked this a lot lately. I saw the Rev. John Baran, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fairfield, at the annual church picnic a couple of weeks ago. (Side note: If you like pierogies and stuffed cabbage, put this event on your calendar next July.) I love talking food with him, and he asked, "Where can you eat and actually have a conversation?" I had to really think about that one. It seems like the majority of restaurants -- from casual to fancy -- all tend to be way too loud. For example, I love Colony Pizza (and that's saying a lot, since I'm not a huge pizza fan), but that place just gets way too deafening. After my last visit, when I nearly lost my voice from shouting, I vowed I'd only to do take-out there from now on.

Rev. John said his go-to places for good conversation are Positano's in Westport and the Brasserie in Fairfield. To that, I'd also add Cafe Lola (intimate, classic French) and Safita (fresh, delicious Middle Eastern).

2. Do you remember ...?

I love when people start to reminisce about their favorite restaurants that are long gone.

The blend of nostalgia and food talk is enough to coax even the shyest person into a conversation.

All you have to do at your next party is mention one of the following Fairfield or Westport classics, and you'll get the ball rolling: Leong's Palace, Sidetracks, Howard Johnson's, The Arrow, The Clambox, Porky Manero's, Golden House, Fuddrucker's, Ship's, Onion Alley, Big Top, Pie Plate, Le Chambord, Gregory's, and -- my favorite -- Breakaway.

1. What is your favorite restaurant?

This most frequently asked question is like asking a librarian who her favorite writer is, or an accountant what his favorite Excel function is.

There is no perfect answer, so I usually offer up a few. I think Barcelona at the Hi-Ho Motel in Fairfield offers a great combination of fun ambience, food that is delicious and creative, and service that is attentive.

For French bistro food, I really like Martel on the Post Road in Fairfield (especially the fig and goat cheese salad), and for Indian, I go to Coromandel in Fairfield.

And then there are certain individual things that I have to add to my list of favorites, like the Thanksgiving Special at the Firehouse Deli (turkey, stuffing, cranberry and mayo on a hard roll), the chicken turnover from Mike's Pizza in downtown Fairfield, and anything from the bakery at The Pantry, a few doors away from Mike's.

Westport has its fair share of top-notch restaurants like The Whelk and The Dressing Room, but Tavern on Main remains one of my go-to favorites for traditional American fare in a cozy setting.

Then there are the small things. For a transcendental doughnut experience, check out the giant pastries at Coffee An,' and for the best lunch around, visit the Westport Farmers Market on Thursdays where you can find all sorts of delicious treats.

Finally ...

And, oh, there's one last question I always get asked: "How do I get a job like that?"

Sorry. I'll never tell.

Patti Woods is a freelance writer. Contact her at eatdrinkshopcook@gmail.com.

THE SCOOP

Kid-friendly, parent-approved restaurants

Rizzuto's: 540 Riverside Ave., Westport; 203-221-1002

Shake Shack: 1849 Post Road East, Westport; 203-682-6570

Bobby Q's: 42 Main St., Westport; 203-454-7800

Bear and Grill: 2000 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield; 203-333-1522

Chip's: 525 Tunxis Hill Cut Off, Fairfield; 203-332-3370

Al fresco dining

Flipside: 1125 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-292-8233

Artisan: 275 Old Post Road, Southport; 203-307-4222

Rive: 299 Riverside Ave., Westport; 203-557-8049

Arezzo: 5 Riverside Ave., Westport; 203-557-9375

Quiet conversation

Positano's: 233 Hillspoint Road, Westport; 203-454-4922

Brasserie: 52 Sanford St., Fairfield; 203-254-8094

Cafe Lola: 57 Unquowa Road, Fairfield; 203-292-8014

Safita: 2217 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-319-0000

My faves

Barcelona: 4180 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield; 203-255-0800

Tavern on Main, 150 Main St., Westport; 203-221-7222

Martel: 2316 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-292-6916

Rive, 299 Riverside Ave., Westport; 203-557 8049

Coromandel: 17 Pease Ave., Fairfield; 203-259-1213

Firehouse Deli: 22 Reef Road, Fairfield; 203-255-5527

Mike's Pizza, 1560 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-255-2292

The Pantry: 1580 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-259-0400

Coffee An', 343 Main St., Westport; 203-227-3808