Unless, of course, it involved me eating cake.
In a new dress from Anthropologie.
It was a marked change from previous years when I would think about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go and what I was going to wear for months before my birthday. Growing up I always loved my birthday – would be so excited about it that I wouldn’t be able to sleep the night before. My mom used to shake her head and say, “I don’t know anyone who loves their birthday more than you.”
It always seemed strange to me when adults groaned about “another birthday.” I didn’t understand how anyone could hate parties and presents and cake and ice cream and extra attention. Even in recent years, I’ve been excited about getting older, wiser and less of a post-graduate barely swimming in the “real world.”
“I’m an old soul,” I tell people. “I wasn’t really born in the year that’s on my birth certificate.”
Aging suited me and my old soul just fine.
Or at least it did until this year.
“You’re so young,” people said when I told them I was turning 27. “You’ve got so much time.”
I’d nod, but secretly felt sick inside. It doesn’t feel like I have time. It feels like the world that seemed so open and bursting with opportunity when I graduated from college is running away from me. Even with my long legs, still muscular from years of competitive cross-country, I can’t seem to catch up.
My birthday last week was a reminder of this. A reminder of everything I haven’t accomplished in the five years that have transpired since I left the North Shore of Chicago with wide eyes and big dreams. The only way I could conceive of “celebrating” the milestone was with a low-key dinner at Bastide with three of my best girl friends.
And lots of wine.
I felt some what conflicted as I zipped up my dress and strapped on one of my only pairs of heels last Wednesday evening. I was excited to spend time with my friends, but wished the birthday part could be pushed under the rug (or tucked away in one of the Campbell’s soup cans that hangs from the ceiling in Bastide’s garden room. But my dear friends – and the attentive and gracious staff at the restaurant – were loathe to let that happen.
Armed with a glass of Prosecco, I sat back and let them let me celebrate my birthday. And once the alcohol began to take affect, I actually began to enjoy it.
My friends and I stampeded through Bastide’s impeccable basket of assorted homemade rolls with freshly churned butter and rock salt with quick hands and fast tongues. It was even better than I remembered from my previous visit to the charming Melrose Place restaurant this past August. So I used my birthday as justification to eat three rolls – coated in an absurd amount of Paula Deen’s favorite seasoning.
Overindulgence would be a reoccurring theme in the night. Yes, I would order my own starter – a lush corn soup with crispy pork nuggets and swirl of curry oil ($11) and sigh with each comforting bite. Yes, I would gladly also accept a cup of mussel soup from the chef that each of us at the table would subsequently consume with audible appreciation for the well-balanced flavors and surprising textures. And yes, I would partake in the chef’s other gift – a beef tartare with pickles, capers, arugula and pecorino accompanied by addictingly salty potato chips – even though I typically hate raw beef and find everything about it unappealing and repulsive.
But I’m older. Wiser. Not the same girl who used to turn her nose up at sweetbreads and foie gras and cheeseburgers.
A tiny “taste” turned into four chips full of the surprisingly very appealing dish. The texture was more akin to that of tuna tartare, and the bold accents of capers and pickles further camouflaged the beef as such. If I’d been eating it with a blind fold, I wouldn’t have had any idea I was eating raw meat. Chef Joseph Mahon got the tail on the donkey with this one.
After the heavy starters and excessive amounts of bread and butter, my entrée –the olive-oil poached salmon with beluga lentils, snap peas, and a subtly sweet port wine sauce ($28) – was hard to bite my way through. Even with the “It’s my birthday” justification, I wasn’t able to clean my entire plate. I did, however, once again appreciate the fine quality and fresh oceanic flavor of the wild Alaskan salmon contrasted with the earthy lentils and sweet snap peas. It’s a beautiful dish, but is significantly richer than the other fish entrée -- the black cod with shiitake mushrooms, fava beans, arugula, and coconut mussel broth ($31).
I felt decidedly better about my so-called “expiring youth” as I looked around the table at the three people who wouldn’t let me cry myself a river on my birthday. The world still seemed like it was running away from me, but in that moment, it stood perfectly still. I had my dear friends by my side. I had a Sweet Lady Jane triple berry cake with rum vanilla ice cream in front of me. And I was wearing a new Anthropologie dress.
It was exactly what I wanted.
8475 Melrose Place
Los Angeles, CA 90069-5311