I got invited to not one, but two birthday dinner celebrations tonight. I ended up going to not two, but one celebration and enjoying the hell out of it.
Since it was to be a surprise, we were told to report to Julep by 7:15, with the birthday girl to arrive at 7:30. The party was being held at Julep's bar, with master mixologist Bobby providing our every need.
What turned out to be great entertainment was when a customer would come in and approach the bar to order a drink and be informed that the bar was a private party only tonight. People don't like being told they can't hang out at the bar, I noticed.
The birthday girl and her party-planning beau arrived and when she entered the room, she immediately saw me at the center of the bar.
The funny part was that my presence raised no suspicion in her mind. Oh, Karen's here, the boyfriend must have invited her to join us, she later told me she assumed.
It took her a minute to look around and spot all the other people whom she had not expected to see and at that point her face took on a look of complete surprise.
She muttered something to her man (which, considering he had told us all that she might kill him for doing this, we presumed to be his estimated time of death) and then the party began.
For our eating pleasure, there was fried calamari and remoulade, lamb chop lollipops, shrimp and grits and pasta Bolognese. Everyone stood around awkwardly, eager to dive in but not willing to be the first.
With no such compunction, I got things rolling by helping myself to a couple of lamb chops as well as everything else.
I took my plate to a seat at the bar between the handsome baker (who thanked me for referring to him that way in an earlier blog post) and the reserved couple who had hired a babysitter for a rare night out.
Not wanting to appear like the biggest eater in the room, I waited until they went back for a second plate (small plates, that is) to refill mine.
However, I did not wait for them to go back a third time before doing my own plate Part Trois. The lamb chops were out of this world and I sucked many a bone (okay, five) in my enjoyment of them.
The party guests included as many non-American born people as native born, making for multiple accents, perspectives and life experiences.
When my host offered me a taste of his cocktail, I took a sip and then offered it to another guest, a charming man with a smile that could win awards. Handing it to him, I jokingly asked if he was worried about cooties since he would be the third person to put his mouth on it.
"I'm from a third world country," he said. "I'm immune to cooties." Handsome and clever; too bad he was married.
His wife, who was originally from Ohio, and I had a most interesting discussion about how when you move to the south, if you're smart, it also requires learning about the south. Or it does if you want to better understand your new home.
Much the way I go to lectures and make field trips to historic sites, she and her husband make a point to get out and about in the Commonwealth, taking driving tours to battlefields and visiting historic locations, to better understand its history and legacy. I think that makes them good come-heres.
The birthday cake was courtesy of the handsome baker's shop, India Pastry House. This was my third time having baked goodies from his place and it's hard to even describe how wonderfully different they are than typical American baked goods.
Tonight's butterscotch cake had the lightest crumb with a delicate and not overly sweet frosting that was so light and exquisitely flavored that, upon finishing mine, I asked for a second slice.
One guest even had a third. The birthday girl had a slice, then had a plate of pasta and then another slice of cake. Clearly this cake was not easy to walk away from.
Bobby was an integral part of the party, telling stories and ribbing guests ("Way to bring down a party," he told me sarcastically after I shared a death story).
He told his roommate that he was going to give her his cats for Christmas. Apparently she already does a fair amount of their upkeep, so she asked, "How will that change anything?"
"I won't have to love them anymore," Bobby quipped. "Come to think of it, that happened a long time ago." Cat lovers at the party were not amused. I was.
My host insisted I tell the group the gall bladder story, here, which I hadn't realized was a favorite of his. Its charm seems to be in hearing about someone so oblivious so late in life.
And speaking of oblivious, absinthe seems to be on everyone's lips lately. I heard a great absinthe story at lunch Wednesday and it came up last night with my new friend at Secco. Tonight, several people were drinking absinthe cocktails (69%!), so I got to taste a few.
Mixed properly and exactly, as Bobby's drinks were, the seductive taste of absinthe conjured up stories of absinthe bars in Paris, hallucinogenic nights lost to it and the risks of overdoing it.
I shared the story I'd heard the other day, which ends with an absinthe-drunk woman bleeding, laughing and needing four stitches.
It wasn't that I didn't want to make it to the second party. I was just having too much fun to notice that it was time to go.