Dear Glutton: Best Place for a Birthday Dinner?

How to celebrate a birthday without all the hassle

Eden East
Eden East (Photo by John Anderson)

Dear Glutton,

What's the best place in town for a birthday dinner? Here's the situation: I'm a mid-20s lady, looking to class up my usual birthday tradition of getting sloshed in a dive bar with my nearest and dearest. Looking for somewhere good for special occasions, but not too pricey.

– Birthday Gal

We've all been there. You're at a group dinner for a friend, stuck at a table with about 20 people you don't know, listening to some vaguely sexist dude your pal knows from his singles ultimate Frisbee league talk about his dedication to improv, trying to stare down your friend across the table in the hopes that they'll let you schmooze your way into a more interesting conversation, your legs pushed into the wall by the mountain of purses under the table, everyone laughing at a joke you didn't hear. Still, everything's fairly copacetic, until the bill comes.

Suddenly, everyone has a place to be. "My Fasten's here," a girl says, throwing down some money on the table, "Here's 10 dollars, I didn't eat much, love you guys, happy birthday babes!" People are disclaiming alcohol with the passionate fervor of Carry Nation. "I don't really drink," they say, pushing wine glasses to the side, "Just had a sip, to try it. I'll throw in a dollar, OK?" The Frisbee guy gives you the side eye. "She ate my nachos," he says. "Actually, she ate most of my nachos, so I think she should pay for them. Also I don't drink, you guys know I don't drink, right?" The whole thing turns into a pissing contest, your former friends now sworn enemies, competing to see who can get away with throwing down the least money for the most food. It's a brutal sport, survival of the stingiest. And at the end of negotiations, somehow, you always end up paying over a hundred dollars for a glass of tap water and a salad.

At this point, you may be feeling a bit skeptical. "But my friends aren't like that," you protest. "We're civilized adults! Nobody I know is petty enough to behave so badly over a birthday dinner." To this I say: Sweetheart, we're all like that. Say what you will about the indomitability of the human spirit; if you stuck Mother Teresa in the back booth of the pope's birthday dinner by the Trevi Fountain, crammed in between two cardinals who wouldn't fess up to ordering appetizers, she too would probably flip a table. It's a jungle out there, kid. So let's be realistic in our location scouting.

Eden East sounds like it would be a perfect choice for you. On Friday and Saturday nights, they offer a prix fixe menu, taking the mystery out of who ordered what. At $70, it might be a little more than you're interested in spending, but it'll keep your guest list friendly and slim, limiting it to people who are genuinely interested in both delicious snacks and your well-being. And they have an extremely strict reservations policy, taking the guesswork out of who is committed to coming along and eliminating the problems caused by that one friend who feels bad about not including people and ends up showing up with her weird roommates, assorted co-workers, the aforementioned singles Frisbee teammates, or possibly a random Tinder date or two. It doesn't hurt that the setting is gorgeous, the food is thoughtful and delicious, and it's BYOB, eliminating the last-minute prohibition shuffle.

You can sit in the garden with your good friends, knock back a chilled glass of Chablis you know no one's going to get possessive about, and enjoy a languorous meal. There aren't many better ways to celebrate adulthood than that. And maybe you can even hit up a dive bar or two afterward.

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