Gut Instinct: Pass the Roach

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As the years stack like firewood, birthdays become unwelcome reminders of encroaching crow’s-feet and dwindling mortality. Hence, my downstairs neighbor Angie was hardly elated to extinguish her 31 candles.

“I don’t need—or want—to have a big party,” Angie moaned one morning. She nursed a whiskey-born brain jackhammer, an affliction easier to cure at 21, when there existed endless mornings to waste beneath bedcovers, waiting for aches to evaporate.

“But it’s your birthday,” I replied, perplexed. My birthday is an unofficial national holiday, celebrated on Coney Island’s sand with countless Nathan’s hot dogs and cans of cold Coors Light.

“Well…I guess I could do dinner,” she replied, rubbing her traitorous skull.

“That’s the ticket,” I said. “Now where would you like to go?” She groaned, going nonverbal. Angie works as a waitress and, like most servers, savors a post-shift drink.

But one 1 a.m. cocktail easily becomes two, destroying the ensuing morn. It’s a professional hazard, much like my granite liver and yellowed skin. I offered Angie the Islands. Prospect Heights’ tastiest Caribbean restaurant has a tree-house upstairs, BYOB and scorching shrimp. Nope. Instead, I suggested Park Slope’s Middle Eastern Olive Vine. “I’m not eating falafel on my birthday,” Ms. Picky said. Reaching into my memory, I removed Milon. “What’s Milon?” she asked, rousing from her liquor shroud.

Why, it’s Curry Row’s tackiest Indian restaurant. The birthday-party mecca is crammed with rickety tables, epileptically flashing chili-pepper and Christmas lights and revelers bamboozled on BYOB. “Perfect,” she said, slinking downstairs into the dark. “Let’s make it happen.”
I rubbed my papery palms and chortled, for I love planning parties—hard details lay the framework for liquor-fueled bedlam. Or so I thought, as everyone convened at Allen & Delancey (115 Allen St. at Delancey St., 212-253-5400). This L.E.S. restaurant is a looker, filled with candles, curios, distressed wood and complex cocktails, concocted by Death & Co.’s Alex Day.

His elixirs typically run $13, but Tuesday’s recession special lops prices in half.To ensure seating (cheapskates quickly consume the chairs), our celebrants arrived at 5:45, nabbing the front window’s prime semicircle booth. As eagerly as alcoholics at an open bar, we slurped the entire liquid menu, encompassing winners like an aromatic Jalisco Trail, made with aged tequila, bitters and green chartreuse, as well as Tinker’s Stand done two ways: the first featured warming bourbon spiked with honeyed ginger syrup, while the second starred smooth rye mixed with bitters and floral elderflower.

As celebrants drank themselves into effusive evening personalities, I departed to Whole Foods Bowery to procure dinnertime refreshments—a growler of Brooklyn Brewery’s massively hoppy Brooklyn Blast and bottles of Lagunitas Hop Stoopid, ale that smells overwhelmingly of cannabis.

These IPAs ably combat the fiery food at Milon (93 1st Ave. betw. E. 5th & E. 6th Sts., 212-228-4896), where there’s more spice than space. Milon is a claustrophobic corridor, with patrons squeezed together like a 1920s tenement family. Instead of panic attacks, though, these cramped confines foster revelry. “That’s because we’re drinking ourselves comfortable,” one diner said, shoehorning into our corner tables and taking a calming slug of my just-delivered suds. To hold intoxication at bay, we devoured an army of affordable (most dishes run less than $9) stomach insulation. The vegetarian madras constituted tender patties awash in pi quant curry. Lamb vindaloo was loaded with incendiary chunks of gamy goodness, while the saag paneer’s rich bhuna curry and springy homemade cheese was a triumph. Still, the standouts were buttery parathas stuffed with chicken tikka or spinach—crunchy, opulent pleasure.We were licking crumbs and cracking final beers when, in our dinner party’s distant corner, our friend Meghan yelped. “Oh, no,” she said, brushing a brown, many-legged critter from her curly locks.

“Was that a—?”

“Roach,” she completed my sentence. She pointed toward the ceiling. “It fell.”

Our party blanched at the heaven-sent gift, but the food was already anchoring our bellies. Truth is, cockroaches often skitter across my kitchen. I kill ’em, then continue to cook couscous or what have you. The happiest New Yorkers have made peace with the city’s endless vermin and pests—and the cagiest New Yorkers transform misfortune into opportunity.

“There was a roach,” Meghan informed the server.

“And it’s her birthday!” I added, angling for the trauma discount. In a blink, the server crossed out several courses from our bill.Then, like a misbehaving parent appeasing his forlorn kids, he brought everyone ice cream and pushed play on the stereo.

“Happy birthday, happy birthday to you,” we sang along to a song that never gets old, no matter if you are.

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