Not to be self-centered-sounding, but this week is all about me.
With my birthday falling sooner rather than later, I corralled a girlfriend to help me kick off the week's festivities.
We'd no sooner made our meet-up arrangements when another friend e-mailed with the directive, "If you are not doing anything this evening/afternoon (now, I guess), come meet up with me at Bistro 27 tonight."
Since the message arrived an hour and a half before I was due to pick up my girlfriend and celebrate myself, I was more than happy to go over to 27 and meet up with a friend.
It was early, it was Monday night and I was one of the few occupants of the restaurant beside my friend.
Vinho Verde in hand. I listened as he told me about his stressful day/week/month while I made empathetic noises.
You want to hear about stress? Don't get me started.
Mid-conversation, a guy at the end of the bar interrupted, already aware of my plans because he was a co-worker of the friend I was soon to meet.
He knew my name, where I was headed and who I was meeting.
He was fortifying himself with cocktails before setting off for a four-hour session to have his massive back tattoo worked on.
Somebody's gotta keep us as the #3 most-tattooed city in the country and it's certainly not going to be me, so I appreciate die-hards like him.
By the time I finish my wine, it is time to go collect my friend.
Because she is so awesome, she will not allow herself to be collected until we kick off my birthday celebration chez her.
She is pouring Cristalino, a smoky and pungent Cava that went down easily, and she'd even laid out the most sublime take on one of childhood's most distinctive treats.
Growing up, a party standard was peanuts and M & Ms, that most accessible of all sweet/salty combinations, if a bit tired after decades of service.
Friend took this classic combo to another level by substituting exquisite Marcona almonds with sea salt for the standard goobers.
As we sat there sipping Spanish bubbles, she handed me a present, already taking the entire evening far beyond what I'd imagined (i.e., lots of wine and some good food).
It was a book, making for the best possible way to kick off a birthday week celebration.
Written by Roberto Bolano, a writer who's been described as the most controversial and commanding figure to have emerged since Gabriel Garcia Marquez (a personal favorite of the highest magnitude), "Between Parentheses," a collection of essays, articles and speeches 1998-2003, according to her, "just screamed Karen."
Now there is a compliment of the highest order.
After indulging in bubbles and literary talk, we set out for Italian pastures, namely Dinamo.
It was my second time and her first and we took bar stools rather than a table, the better to whisper in each other's ears about birthdays, being stood up and adjusting to silence.
After Vinho Verde and Cava, there was nowhere to go except red, so I chose Masciarelli Montepulciano, a dry but intensely perfumed Italian that perfectly suited my birthday needs.
We began with tortellini in brodo, a soup of gigantic noodles and the most flavorful broth, while discussing rising rent costs in the city.
Looking at the menu, she raised her eyebrows at me, "You're getting the tongue, aren't you?"
For my next course, I chose veal tongue with parsley sauce, which was more like a pesto, and offered a rich component to the tongue.
My girlfriend, less adventuresome about what she puts in her mouth, took the tiniest bite of tongue and sauce, but only so I wouldn't give her a hard time.
She'd ordered flat bread with hearts of palm and chickpeas, a huge serving of antipasto that, at least from my bites, was a beautiful marriage of flavors.
Sipping our Montepulciano, we admired the sheer size of the espresso machine (sometimes size does matter) and Friend informed our server that I'd had the audacity to spend two weeks in Italy and not once taste coffee of any kind.
Her horror was evident.
I tried to compensate by ordering chocolate espresso torte, a rich-tasting dessert that came with an option for whipped cream and berries.
My friend made an excellent point.
"I've had an elegant sufficiency," she stated for the record, using a phrase her beloved uncle apparently did, meaning nothing more than chocolate (and an espresso) was required at that point.
Luckily for me, the non-coffee drinker, I still had wine to accompany my chocolate as the discussion looked at what's ahead.
Honestly, I have no idea.
Friend was kind enough to say that, "You've an elegant sufficiency of culture, culinary morsels and conversations most hours."
This night or any, much less during my birthday weekend, what more could I hope for?