Episode 22: Return to Cafe Vinny’s! Celebrating my birthday, and then some!

After Cafe Vinny’s reopened around December, I visited the restaurant several times to see how things there have become. It’s nice to be back in an old hangout, with the old crew, and the old sights and sounds still intact.

Let me brief you on what Café Vinny’s has become right after it reopened. The bar’s still a nice, quiet place to dine and hang out as it was before, but it’s still pretty much empty. There were a few changes, though.

First, they installed a karaoke machine. Sure, it’s just a Magic Sing set, but theirs had a good collection. This is why for the past weeks people have been dropping by the restaurant, partly to drink and chill, but most especially to break an Aerosmith or two.

Second, there were additional items that they have but did not include in the menu. Chef Toffee said but their ingredients in stock are enough to make new stuff such as Insalata Caprese, Pizzetes and other pizza varieties, and pasta marinara. Toffee says he had other stuff he can cook but did not have the opportunity to do so at the moment.
Third, the fine dining part of Café Vinny’s has been toned down, but this doesn’t mean visitors can’t enjoy a fine dining experience. Which is what happened that on my birthday. I thought, how about I celebrate my birthday there. I mean, maybe a three or four-course meal, some music, a bottle of red wine or two, and the God knows what else, with my family and a few close friends or guests.
Lyn the bartender (she’s also the manager now), Chef Toffee, and Angel the waitress were outside to greet me that afternoon. The call time was 5:30pm, but I expected my guests to come by dinnertime, which is around seven in the evening. That means we had a lot of time to set the table, see what’s cooking and what’s to be served. I had a few goblets of red wine and finished my book while waiting.

A few hours later, my dad, MC, and Sam (a family friend) arrived at Café Vinny’s. Only the closest in my family came for dinner, which is fine and all (too bad my sister was in Baguio and couldn’t come to Manila).

First up was bruschetta, grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, basil, tomatoes, and onions. The bruschetta was fresh and filling on its own, but just enough to whet our appetite.

Pumpkin soup came up next. The soup was thick, sweet and savory, and warm to the belly. One can think it tastes just like liquefied pumpkin because the vegetable’s taste is there. (Sam, on the other hand, had asparagus soup.) Now that I think about it, Café Vinny’s had a few soups in their menu, but since they have yet to get more customers, that’s fine.

Then came the main course. Mine was a Rogan Josh Lamb, prime diced lamb in Rogan Josh curry sauce, lined with tomato, onion, garlic, and special Indian herbs (or so the menu says). Chef Toffee warned me that the lamb would be spicy, which was all right with me, and he was right. The lamb was soft and juicy, savory, strong and spicy and fragrant.

My dad chose for himself a pesce lemone, fish fillet in lemon sauce…

while MC ordered a pollo alla valdostana, which looked like a chicken roll. 

 Sam had a chicken madras, an Indian chicken dish. Strangely, it looked like my Rogan Josh.

For dessert, we had tiramisu… Actually, tiramisu was the only dessert they had. The batch we had was freshly made, chocolatey, soft and smooth to the palate. They even placed a candle on top of the whole platter as my birthday cake. How nice.

Weeks after Café Vinny’s reopened, Vince and I talked about his bar’s future. He’s worried that customers still don’t come by, or that sometimes, the bar doesn’t get any customers at all. By now, though, he had acknowledged that he can’t attract a lot of patrons especially that Malate’s crowd consists of drunk, rowdy partygoers. “I want my bar to be a place where everyone can relax, drink quietly, listen to music, and chill out,” he kept telling me.
I simply told him, “Only a few people can appreciate a quiet, laid back bar such as yours. If such an audience comes by frequently, it’s all right.”

Today Café Vinny’s has a small following, most of which are from the adult crowd. Vince’s friends would come by for a meal and drink or two, and then sing. Small groups of youngsters or yuppies try out the menu, and then sing. Some Koreans come by too, probably to enjoy the night away from Malate’s noise… and then they start singing. (Watching those Koreans belt out something from Celine Dion is fun.)

Café Vinny’s became the hang-out place that they hoped to be from the start. Now people won’t feel turned off by its classy interior and quiet façade; they can actually come in, drink, and unwind. (Must be the karaoke.)

I’m 29 years old already. Until recently I never worried so much about getting old. All I needed were some changes in my lifestyle, a few check-ups, and then I’m all set for my next birthday, or something like that. Those changes include having to forego long nights at the bar, drinking less beer and eating more lean meat. Also, relaxing.
Thinking about my age left me troubled these past few weeks. Remembering the past, plus the drama I’ve been experiencing in my life lately, must’ve been why I’ve been depressed. It didn’t help that I just finished writing my project on Baguio, and trying to remember all that is heart-wrenching!
This is why I grew fond of visiting coffee shops, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and bars, and other places that are quieter than the usual spots. In such places I spend more time in deep thought and meditation, figuring out things both mundane and otherworldly, and swimming my way out of the chaos in my head. In these places I could think, and set aside time for myself in peace.
We all had a great time celebrating my birthday. We spent the rest of the night just drinking, singing, eating leftover tiramisu and gambas, and having a good time. It was definitely a great way to welcome my 29th birthday.
The next morning, I found myself on my bed, the only memories in my head include falling head first, being dragged somewhere, and throwing up red stuff. To put it in a song from The Police, “Woke up in my clothes again this morning, don’t know exactly where I am, I should heed my doctor’s warning…”
Oh well, happy birthday to me.

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