It is a Saturday night in Manhattan. After a few hours spent getting ready, my roommate, Kennedy, rushes me downstairs and out to the curb where she frantically pulls me into a cab to avoid missing our 8:30 reservation. As soon as we slide into the back seat, she alerts the cab driver “Take the fastest route! We’re in a hurry.” Confused by her persistence on being on time to our reservation, despite the 15-minute grace period that almost all restaurants give, I have an inkling of what she might be up to. The cab driver pulls in front of a building decorated in wood panels on 9th avenue and 16th street. Lit up in bold, red letters, reads the name of the restaurant – Tao. My roommate and I hop out of the cab.
We hurry down a short flight of stairs which leads to the restaurant entrance. We are greeted by a restaurant attendant who opens the heavy wooden doors for us, leading to an intimate wood and brick-paneled corridor decorated with Chinese calligraphy murals. The corridor is accented with candles, keeping the space dimly lit. Soothing spa-like music plays and incents are wafting in the air. At the end of the long hallway is a reception desk in which two modelesque-looking women in all black are standing.
“Hello, what name is the reservation under?”
“It should be under Kennedy. We’re running about 5 minutes late. So sorry!
“Right this way!”
There the restaurant opens from a narrow hallway to a massive rectangular open room which is packed full of people. My eye immediately catches sight of the colossal visual of the goddess, Quan Yin, at the opposite end of the restaurant. Her twenty-four arms are outstretched as she sits above a koi pond. A grand 40-foot staircase, leading onto the main floor, is separated into three tiers, creating offshoots comprised of tables and lounge areas, giving the restaurant a somewhat intimate ambience. We are escorted by the hostess down onto the main floor, guiding us to a table which sits ten of my closest friends.
“Surprise!” they shout, while being muddled by the loud club-like music and crowds of bougie restaurant-goers.
Am I actually surprised? I can’t really say I am. My birthday had been two days prior and Kennedy’s persistence on being prompt for the “reservation” seemed out of character (considering she is habitually late to everything). But, I am extremely appreciative that she took the time to organize the whole event at one of the trendiest restaurants in Manhattan.
I proceed to sit at the chair positioned at the the head of the table, in which two gold “2” balloons are tied. The waiter comes over to our table to hand out the menus. After scanning the cocktail menu, Ruby Red Dragon catches my eye – a cocktail comprised of Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka, yuzu citrus, and a hint of pomegranate. The light pink cocktail served in a martini glass, is brought to me shortly. Scanning over the dinner menu, I find an array of dishes that peak my interest.
“Hmm guys what do you think we should order? Everything sounds so good on the menu.”
We agree to order a variety of dishes from the menu and share them family-style. My eye, again catches sight of Quan Yin and the individuals conducting a “photoshoot” for their Instagram – one woman in particular in her mid 20’s, wearing a black bandage dress and Louboutin pumps, martini glass in hand, poses in her chair. Flash after flash after flash.
“Ew, I look so gross in this one! Can you take it again?”
Three waiters hustle over to our table from the kitchen carrying an array of dishes with heavy steam hovering above. Plates of wagyu ribeye, udon noodles, chicken satay, fried rice, and spring rolls fill the table. We each pass the shiny silver platters around and sample all of the dishes – a variety of sweet, spicy, crispy, and savory. The servers are buzzing around the table in constant motion, refilling water classes, taking additional cocktail orders, and making sure our needs are being met.
After the plates have been removed and the table clean, flashes of light catch my eye and voices singing happy birthday follow. Our waiter carries a chocolate cake, decked out in sparklers, creating specs of gold that frame the cake.
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday, dear Victoria
Happy birthday to you!
An unforgettable way to usher in 22.