June 10, 2014

An Impromptu Birthday Dinner at Plum

It must be remnants of annoyance from all of those birthdays I had when I was younger – those ones where two of the girls I invited were fighting and they turned the party into a game of 'who's side are you on' –, but I am always wary of throwing a big birthday bash for myself. For others? Oh sure, let's party away! But, for myself, I love the low key birthdays.

I hadn't thought to plan anything at all this year since I'll be going on vacation soon after my birthday (and that feels like celebration enough), but my mom always wants to make the day special. She called me on Thursday and said that she and my dad wanted to take me out to dinner to celebrate. I wasn't sure I wanted to do anything since we are planning to have a very belated birthday cookout for J and I later in June – you know how summers are. It's so hard to find a time when everyone can make it – , but I decided that it would be really fun to do.

I opened my gift from J before we left for the restaurant. I lifted off the box's lid, saw the Vaute Couture tissue paper, and paused. We tend to get each other small but thoughtful gifts for special occasions, and this could only be something huge. I could barely contain my excitement though it may not have looked that way since I'm pretty sure my face was blank with disbelief. I unfolded the tissue paper, and there it was. My coveted Marais dress. I had been eyeing this dress since the spring line debuted, dreaming of the day when that dress could be mine. (Ok, I admit, my daydreams were not of this dress alone, but of a closet full of Vaute Couture!) You know when you see something, and it's like it's there just for you? That's how I felt when I first saw this dress. If J had to pick a moment to go big with gift-giving, this one was absolute perfection. Of course I put it on right away, slicked my hair back into a bun, put on some cute vintage earrings, and we were out the door to dinner.

We went to Plum, a pan-asian restaurant I'd never been to before. They're participating in VeganPittsburgh's restaurant campaign, and I was excited to see that they clearly label vegan items on the menu and even compiled their vegan options onto an entire separate menu that can be viewed online.

When I called for reservations, they told me that they were pretty booked up, though strangely during our meal, the place remained more than ½ empty. The ambiance was very classy and soothing with plenty of natural light. My mom really loved it; she's used to me taking them out to either extremely loud trendy spots or authentic ethnic restaurants with outrageously good food and that characteristic grit. This is a very mom-friendly place!

I'm not a big drinker, but I've always been interested in trying sake. I got the coconut lemongrass (how could you go wrong with that combination?) sake, and it was spectacular.

We got 2 starters for the table to share: roti canai and tofu satay. The roti was pretty greasy, but I loved it all the same. The tofu satay was bursting with flavor; the depth of the peanut sauce, the sourness of the pickled veggies, the watery crunch of the bean sprouts, and the crispy tofu made the perfect bite. My only complaint, and I didn't realize this until J and dad said they didn't get any, is that there should've been a few more pieces of pickled vegetables on the plate. The starters were really enjoyable!

For our main dishes, we got 3 different things so that we'd get to try more variety. I got the mango thai style, my dad got the bok choy, and J got Kung Pao tofu. And really, if you know us well, you'll realize how perfect each of these dishes were for us individually.

My meal was so different than any asian dish I'd ever gotten. The sweet tomato sauce went so beautifully with the mango and red bell peppers (I've used this combination in many a raw soup!). When J tasted it, he said something about it reminded him of being little and eating his mom's ham barbecue. After he said that, I couldn't shake my memories of ham barbecue either (in a completely good way, not a yucky eating meat way). I thought this evocation was so wonderful. So many times, people go vegan and try really hard veganize a food that they miss, failing because they are trying such literal interpretations. Little do they know that a thai dish at an asian restaurant could remind them of their long forgotten love for their mother's ham barbecue! Here's your friendly reminder to think outside the box, folks!

J's dish was dark and salty, slightly spicy, and everything that he loves in a dish. It was a little too salty for me both because I like to go easy on the salt and I like to balance salt out with other flavors more, but I would still give this one a thumbs up.

If anyone embodies the idea of eating gently, it's my dad. He likes flavor, but nothing too over the top. He enjoys eating grounding foods and doesn't like to feel stuffed. The bok choy in a light garlic sauce was right up his alley. I loved it, too. It's the kind of thing I'd crave if I wanted something with an earthy simplicity.

My mom is the only one who didn't get a vegan meal and thus didn't share with the table. She got walnut shrimp (she's not an adventurous eater but knows what she likes. This is her mainstay at Asian restaurants), and said it was the best she's had.

Once I was done getting my tofu quota for the year (but seriously, we ate so. much. tofu.), we stopped over at Whole Foods, which is just on the other side of the parking garage, to pick up a “cake” for me. If I had more time to prepare, I may have made a birthday cake for myself – even though I'm not the best baker, everyone looks to me to make cakes for events –, but an impromptu birthday dinner calls for an impromptu dessert.

We went for ultra decadence, getting Luna and Larry's salted caramel and chocolate ice cream and chopping vegan cappuccino brownies into tiny squares as the ice cream topping. Ultra decadence it was.

We set up chairs and ate our dessert in the backyard under the moon, just as dusk was setting in and right before we were able to see Mars above the waxing crescent. What perfect way to end a marvellous day!

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