There was no paid conversation to kick off the birthday festivities this year or coiffed men lighting my cigarettes with gold Cartier lighters; instead I opted for something a little more low key in a forgotten corner of Kagurazaka. There were a few things to navigate before being able to relax with my champagne, namely an old student I ran into while trying to navigate the cobblestones in 4-inch heels and not a lot of shoe. Why is Tokyo so frustratingly tiny sometimes? I used to do private lessons with said student to pay the bills when I was in school here and had just screened his calls a month or so back, thinking he was going to ask me out drinking. So I did the only acceptable thing, which was to turn on a mega-watt smile and gush about how great it is so see you, how are things, did I change my number? no, that's strange, maybe it was disconnected when I switched phone companies, anyhow, technology these days, do keep in touch!! Then there was the bar we went to with the impertinent slash creepy slash condescending man who decided to ask if I had just oh my god spoken English to the bartender, and then proceeded to strain his little neck to listen in on my English and Japanese conversations. He was definitely one of those looking-for-free-English-"conversation"- lessons types. After these minor hiccups though, I was free to enjoy the rest of my evening of conversation and bubbly (thanks friend!).
Apologies in advance to you herbivores, but I have to talk about the sukiyaki I had for my birthday dinner. The beau took me to Daruma in Azabu-juban, it was the second time we had been there in three years. Part of it's the money, but it's mostly the fact that you just can't eat meat that good on a regular basis or it will spoil you for life. I may have said it before, but it's worth saying again: I used to think that chocolate was the only thing that should melt in one's mouth but that was before I discovered thinly cut wagyu. I don't even consider myself much of a carnivore, eating meat maybe once or twice a week but damn. was. this. sukiyaki. dreamy. It goes without saying that the veggies and tofu were also delish.
Daruma is a bit of a deceptive restaurant and there seem to be a lot of them in Tokyo. It's neither overly Japanese or Western looking, simple and clean, but at first glance you would definitely not think "expensive" or even "melty meat." Then you open the menu and see the sukiyaki courses starting at 8000 yen per person (which frankly isn't that bad when you factor in other restaurants and the meltiness) and ebi tempura for 1800 yen. Or you could not even read the menu and just turn your attention to all the white space. A sparse-looking menu with lots of empty space surrounding a few artfully painted Japanese characters also spells "pricey," just not with a P R I C E or Y. The waitresses in kimono might have tipped you off too, although I've been to some pretty cheap-and-nasty soba places with waitresses in kimono so it's not always a reliable clue. Alternatively, if you know something about expensive ceramics you would know to be very careful when navigating your ass around the large decorative plate perched on a low wooden shelf. I was even a bit mesmerized watching our waitress cook the sukiyaki for us at our table, nothing beats a woman skilled and graceful in the art of serving with chopsticks. The chef/owner also runs Anbai in the same neighbourhood, the himono (dried fish) restaurant I've mentioned before, and he popped by our table to say hello, in kimono no less, which he apparently wears every day. The beau, bless him, is no longer in his twenties but it reminded me of a line in an old Sex & the City episode: "Twenty-something guys always know the really important "B" people. Busboys, bouncers. Plus, they have cute butts." The beau does have a cute butt, and he does know all the important people - bartenders, chefs and designers. It certainly ensures good food and drink when we go out and is one of the (I would sometimes say few) perks of him working in the mizu shobai. But I digress as usual. "Understated elegance" I guess you could call it, and the service is truly seamless.
I suppose some would feel cheated out of their money dropping cash at a place like Daruma, where there is no feeling of glamour or views of Tokyo Tower, just quiet and understated good quality, but it was nice for a change to feel tucked away from it all. The razzle dazzle came a few hours later at the Maduro lounge bar at the Hyatt in Roppongi Hills. I believe the description on their website says it all: a luxuriously appointed bar, dramatically accessed over a bridge spanning a pond. Oooh, appointed. They have a live jazz band every night and a very charismatic singer on Sundays, I couldn't take my eyes off her! If you are looking for a dark and sexy rendezvous, one of the corners of this spacious lounge would be a good place to start. We considered going to the NY Bar in the Shinjuku Park Hyatt (aka bar from Lost in Translation), which is aaallll class and has a Tower view if I recall, but opted for somewhere we hadn't been yet.
It was really the birthday date of dates but I would be remiss in neglecting to mention that I tried out for the role of "Japanese princess" earlier that day while shopping in Ginza. Living close by I often walk around Ginza but rarely go inside the stores, I don't see much of a point in lusting after stuff I can't afford, but that day I found myself trying to wipe the smug look off my face when exiting the boutique of a European designer with a large white paper shopper swinging from my shoulder. So this is what it feels like, I thought, savour the moment because you likely won't have one like it for at least another year. I half-expected a mob to come down the street throwing stones and shouting Label Whore!! Consumerist Pig!! but it was just as peaceful on the street as it was when I walked in twenty minutes earlier, a luxury bag neophyte. I even resisted the urge to squeal and clap my hands together like a small child when the white-gloved shop assistance handed me the bag. Not bad, not bad at all.