Tomorrow is my 33rd birthday. Please--hold the applause. As we all know, birthdays become progressively more low-key the longer we stick around to walk the earth. In my 20s I'd call up every friend in town (this pre-dated Facebook, of course) and gather at a loud bar in the village so we could scream over loud music and press ourselves against sweaty strangers. Once I hit my 30s, however, birthdays became more civilized, more subdued. Hence, the dinner reservation.
First off, this place was on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Manhattan. The hotel is both hip and elegant while adhering to an Asian theme without looking like a schlocky outtake from "Big Trouble in Little China", which is pretty impressive. The restaurant is sleek and glossy with windows stretching from floor to ceiling for a complete panoramic view of Central Park. At some point, each of the restaurant's patrons called the maitre 'd to try and finagle a move to one of the six tables parked right in front of the windows.
"Yes, sir...I understand, but zee, that lovely couple just got engaged 5 minutes ago, and they must seet by ze windows."
"Ah, madam...I would to love to accommodate you, but that man over there is a very special customer. He is here every week."
"It pains me that I cannot move you closer, but that gentleman down in front just slipped me $75 and a big bag of ze finest quality cocaine."
And then there was the middle-aged sport coat and his gorgeous transsexual date who were more than happy to sit quietly in the back.
Anyway, the boyfriend made the night very special for me and we each ordered the 7-course tasting menu which included copious amounts of fish eggs, imported mushrooms and unique palate cleansers (one was a peach gelee egg that literally exploded in my mouth). First course was 5 spoons filled with various raw fish and zippy sauces which we threw back in tandem as if they were tequila shooters. The other courses offered a lot of high-end seafood floating in broth or drizzled with some sort of reduction. It was the most high-falutin' dinner experience I've ever had. A waiter folded my dinner napkin after I excused myself to the ladies' and I drank my first $19 cocktail (somewhere in Texas my grandmother just passed out).
As innovative as the food was, it was the overall experience (which lasted 4 hours, mind you) that really blew my socks off. This, after all, was the view of New York I had fallen for in the movies. The jagged silhouette of modern glass skyscrapers and old brick towers that throw shadows on giddy tourists and industrious locals. The bright, blurry contour of taxi lights on gray concrete and Central Park laid out in the middle like a plush green blanket.
At 22, I moved to New York City with 3 duffel bags of clothing and no friends. And tonight I am here in one of the finest places I have ever seen, 33, a handsome man who loves me at my side and a view of all this in front of me. This will be a good year.