Happy hours don’t usually make me happy. They just make me want to crawl into bed and fall asleep to reruns of the Golden Girls. But when a new friend insisted, I proposed a compromise: We’d go to restaurant bars, where she could concentrate on cheap drinks and I could scarf up something more substantial than peanuts and stale popcorn.
Just getting to Blue Sushi Sake Grill (3131 W. 7th St.) is a feat, what with the construction in the area and the threat of getting towed. I finally parked my South Korean hot rod somewhere near Saginaw and hiked over to meet my new compadre in the place’s swanky yet comfortable lounge area. The food menu is reasonably priced, and the happy hour goes until 7 p.m.
I had to pace myself, so I suggested we start with a couple of light appetizers to complement our sakatinis ($6). The shishito peppers ($4.50) were drenched in a garlic, soy, and butter sauce that left them limp and soggy. The salt of the soy drowned out the flavor the peppers. The mango crab Rangoon ($6), was served with a fire-roasted red pepper dipping sauce and sat atop two purees, one of mango and the other a combo of some berry and mirin, a sweet rice wine. The fried pastry pockets were golden brown and stuffed with a healthy amount of creamy crab filling. My only complaint was the presence of the puree, which made some bites unnecessarily sweet.
Good company was whetting my appetite, so we ordered a couple more starters. The snow white roll ($4.50) with crispy sea bass, avocado, burdock root, Bibb lettuce, and soy paper with a peppery cream sauce was bursting with flavor. Unfortunately it was also bursting at the seams. Even unraveled, it was totally worth it. The star of the show was the ceviche ($6.50), a beautifully composed plate of snapper, rock shrimp, Japanese cucumber, cherry tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, and a sweet onion jalapeño salsa, with chile oil drizzled on top, and wonton crisps for scooping. It was a fresh and spicy treat that more than made up for the soggy peppers and long-distance trek.
A week later, my new friend invited me to join her work buddies for happy hour at the Brownstone Kitchen+Bar (840 Currie St.). Brownstone’s happy hour menu, like Blue’s, is a cheaper, shorter version of its regular appetizer menu. I hadn’t eaten at “the ’Stone” since celebra-chef Casey Thompson called it quits, so I was eager to try it.
We started with the beautifully crispy calamari ($5.50), served with an acrid chile sauce. Once we switched that sauce for a garlic aioli, the dish was stellar. Less heavenly was the classic flatbread ($4.50) with tomato, mozzarella, and basil. If you’re going to prominently feature tomato slices, you’d better use good tomatoes –– as opposed to the bland, flavorless ones used by the kitchen that evening. It was like eating bread that had been moistened with water. But the kitchen rebounded with the delicious panko-crusted crab cakes ($7), served with creole mustard and a citrus vinaigrette. The little cakes hemorrhaged chunks of crab, and the tang of the mustard and citrus of the dressing complemented one another quite well.
So much for hating happy hours. Louie, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
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