Getting the most out of Birthday Season.

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 4/7/10.] April made its Rutland debut right on schedule last week. Thursday seemed almost too good to be true – almost contrived in its meteorological munificence. I couldn’t help but wonder if nature was playing some kind of cruel April Fools’ joke on us.

Personally, April also marks the beginning of “Birthday Season.” For some reason, the universe has conspired to wedge almost a dozen of my family and friends’ birthdays (including my own) between now and June. Every week (and, occasionally, every night) is cause for celebration. It’s like a cross between Chanukah, New Year’s Eve and some third thing that ends up costing me a lot of money.

For my part, I’m not a big birthday guy – the less fuss, the better. This perennial birthday run can prove daunting – all those gifts, meals, hangovers – it’ll wear you down. Luckily, the hedonistic fetes of my early 20s are a distant memory. These days, my friends and I find ourselves acting a bit more subdued, using our birthdays as an excuse to get together, share some laughs and celebrate our friendship.

That being said, the question remains: Exactly what do you do around here for your birthday? Naturally, there are two choices: Go out or stay in. Let’s explore your options for going out first.

In the immediate Downtown Rutland area, you’ve got a lot to choose from. If you’re like me, you’re a fan of the extended pre-meal cocktail portion of the evening. I like locations that encourage the leisurely cocktail hour. Have a drink, wait for people to arrive, have another drink, order some appetizers, etc. …

While we have no shortage of these venues in DTR, my top picks are Table 24 and The Palms. So maybe I’m a little biased on the latter one, but both spots have spacious, comfortable bar areas that are conducive to socializing. This is also a nice alternative to the crowded and occasionally obnoxious bar scene on Center Street. (Save that for later in the evening.)

Inevitably, if you’re downtown, you’ll be stopping by at least one of our local bars, so don’t fight it. Remember, on your birthday, you shouldn’t have to pay for a drink so get your money’s worth. And besides, during this time of year, not having a post-dinner Switchback on the deck at Two Shea’s is punishable by law. (Check it out; it’s in the City Charter.)

But let’s say you’re itching to get out of Dodge for a few hours. The downtown scene is fun, but it can get familiar after a while. A birthday is a great excuse to go for a new dining experience.

Amanda, a fellow April birthday reveler, lands firmly in the “try something new” camp.

“I like going somewhere fun that I don’t normally go to,” she said, adding that the end of the ski season is a good time to take advantage of Killington’s restaurants before they close for the summer. For example, last year Amanda brought our gang to Sushi Yoshi. The teppanyaki-style restaurant (also known as “hibachi” in America) was a welcome change from DTR where the only tableside entertainment is watching an inexperienced server attempt to open a bottle of wine.

Another choice that is definitely worth the drive on a sunny day is the pub at the Long Trail Brewery in Bridgewater. This short trip has been a birthday tradition for one of my friends and myself since we were in college. The pub has a huge deck that overlooks the river, and the food is great. (The beer’s not too bad, either.)

But maybe going out’s not your bag. The expense, the crowds, the awkwardness of splitting a check evenly when one person only had salad – sometimes it’s just easier to stay in. A dinner party at someone’s house can often be better than hitting the town. (It’s certainly more affordable.) This might take a little more planning, but in the end, it can be a lot more fun. Since I’m usually the dinner party host/cook (even on my birthday), allow me to show you how I’d do it.

First, I head down to the Farmers’ Market to scope out the goods. (For the sake of the article, let’s assume you’ll be doing this on a Saturday.) Find some good cheese, some fresh veggies (greens are already starting to reappear) and maybe some meat – grilling weather is finally here.

I usually plan my menu on the fly, but if you’re not good at winging it or are in need of some inspiration, ask around. Local food maven Sharon Nimtz will always share tasty recipe, and Boardman Hill’s Greg Cox is never short on ideas either.

Now, I’m not much of a baker so I typically don’t bother with dessert. I prefer to outsource it to someone who possesses a bit more talent and patience for the art. Though, in a pinch, I can improvise: How about cider doughnuts from Brown’s with vanilla ice cream and maple syrup?

Next, you’ll need your wine. Terrill Street Discount Beverages gets my vote, hands down. They have a huge selection and great weekly deals. Even my fussy friends from New York are consistently impressed by both the variety and the value when they shop here. Plus, these guys are always helpful. Bob or Mike Coloutti know their wines, and never let people linger too long before asking if they need a hand.

Back at home, I like to leave some of the food prep for my guests. Growing up in a family of chefs, I’ve found that cooking together never lacks in excitement and comedy. Plus, most dinner parties end up in the kitchen anyway so why not put them to work?

Preparing and sharing a meal with friends is always a simple and enjoyable way to get together. Adding a few birthdays into the mix makes it all the better.

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