Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Cha Cha Cha-Ching!: Cheapo Happy Hour Tapas & Sangria

I really wish LA was a public transportation type of city, I’m discovering so many great happy hour specials that I could put to much better use if I knew I could hop on a speedy subway to get there and then just stay sober enough to stumble into another one to get home.

Instead, the we have to deal with several L.A.-centric Happy Hour Obstacles just for the chance to enjoy that $2 pitcher special:
a) first, being so spread out, just finding a central location between your group of Happy Hour’ing peeps is hard enough
b) ‘rushing’ at 3mph through rush hour traffic in an attempt to arrive in time for happy hour
c) finding parking during the same peak hour traffic
and d) even when finally enjoying happy hour, resisting that third dollar-off drink with your name on it so you can still safely drive home.

LA Happy Hour: sometimes not-so-happy.

With my current freelance gig way in the Valley and Zach working late’ish at his new law office in West Hollywood (his own newly opened Schorr law firm!...I'm so proud), we both made it to WeHo’s Cha Cha Cha at 6:48pm with 12 precious happy hour minutes to spare.

Inside, the colorful, Caribbean-flavored décor—tiki-hut looking bar, warm colored walls, sea-shell lights, cigar box murals—creates a festive backdrop for an inviting happy hour pit-stop probably more appropriate for sipping cerveza’s than for a serious sitdown meal.

While the adjoining restaurant was sprinkled with diners here and there, the bar side of the spot filled up quickly with fellow early imbibers.
Cha Cha Cha is already easy enough on the wallet after the 7pm happy hour cut off time, but the Caribbean restaurant & bar probably boasts one of the better happy hour deals in its area.

We ordered up $2 sangrias and pro-active Zach also got a $2 house cabernet for girlfriend Tara who was arriving post-happy hour. Feeling snacky, we perused the ‘happy tapas’ menu and to our delight, discovered we could order one of every item on the menu for less than $20 total!

Drunk with (purchasing) power—the sangria’s hadn’t hit yet—we were tempted to spend all of our pocket change just so we could say ‘one of everything on the menu’ but refrained with just the jerk chicken pizza ($5), calamari ($3) and chips and salsa ($1).

The pizza was good with thick strips of white meat chicken and unsoggy crust doused in spicy jerk sauce and the calamari was ungreasy and not barfood’ish at all.
We stayed until 9:30pm with another round or two between the three of us. By the time we got up to leave, we'd only spent $22 total (and three happy hours) at Cha Cha Cha.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha House

There is nothing budgety about this entry (does the tip to park in the covered parking just north of the restaurant instead of valeting to save you a couple bucks count?) but our night at Geisha House was just so damn good that I just wanted to write about it.

When B was in town last time in February, Les and I gave him our deluxe-on-a-dime LA experience; In & Out outings, a by donation yoga class at Brian Kest’s Power Yoga, lots of Manhattan & Venice beach time and the previously blogged Bodega de Cordova wine bar. Although no amount of good time was sacrificed by our thrifty hosting skills, I felt I owed him at least one outing to a hyped-up Hollywood hotspot during his stay this time around.

I’ve been Geisha House several times before and reckon it’s one of the handful of ballyhoo’ed Hollywood spots whose food & scene live up to all the ballyhoo’ing.

Inside, the luscious Tokyo-pop décor—a curved photo-mural of the Tokyo skyline, padded kimono-print walls, a red, triple-decker center tower of stacked fireplaces warming up the dining area—made for a fun and visually stimulating backdrop for our sushi-eating.

With a menu made for sharing, our party of four ordered a bunch of hot and cold plates and sushi to split. We started off our dinner clinking our uni-shooter glasses, toasting to “yummy dinners”; the slippery-smooth texture and briny taste of the sea urchin mixed well with the sweet and peppery vinegar concoction. The double order of spicy tuna-topped crispy rice cakes satiated my current obsession them (the best—and original—are from The Valley’s Sushi Katsu-ya restaurant). We also filled up with spicy-fried calamari, crispy wontons with tuna sashimi, fuji apple and unagi sauce, Chesakpeake Bay soft-shell roll, ‘911’ jalapeno-topped spicy tuna roll and albacore garlic roll with tobiko. The Mongolian lamb chops weren’t as good as I recalled—a tad overcooked—but the filet mignon steak with seasame dipping sauce was way tastier and tender than I remembered so we evened out.

Although stuffed, it wasn’t really an option not to get dessert. The soufflé-like molten chocolate cake was rich without being too sweet and although Jess picked the velvety-smooth coconut crème brulee, I think I ate most of it.

The place ended up being pretty busy for a rainy Monday night, but we decided to skip Geisha’s bar area and call it a night after dinner. Including a bottle of sake and a cocktail, our night set us back $70 each but our happy night of great food with new and old friends was totally worth it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Air Conditioned:Where Downing Happy Hour Wine Specials Is A Breeze

The other night, I grabbed a drink at Air Conditioned, the refreshingly unpretentious wine bar along the no-man’s-land strip of Pico just west of the 10 underpass. From the outside—with a windowless facade and dingy, neon 'Air Conditioned' sign lit next a 99 cent store—you could easily mistake the nightspot for an actual store selling air-cooling units.

Inside though, the interior’s 60’s mod touches done in gentleman's club dark leathers gave the bar an understated divey-yet-swanky look more often found in bars further east (The Bar, Daddy’s etc) . I dug the leather-padded walls, dark-wood, wine wall behind the bar and row of highbacked, red leather bar stools.

I got there five minutes early and with the help of the knowledgeable bartender, I was taste-testing glasses of spicy, Argentinian Malbec, Aussie Syrah and Sonoma Zinfandel from their international boutique wine list before my friend, C.K. even showed up.

Either by the glass (approx $9-15) or bottle ($20-$40's range), the wines are neither overpriced nor a bargain. However, with Air Conditioned's generous happy hour deals ($2 off each glass and a whopping 25% off bottles!) the clear option was to share a bottle. In addition to price-slashed wines, you can also order discounted beers and half-priced soju martinis. Happy hour starts at 5pm and considerately lasts for 3hrs until 8pm—giving you plenty of time to take advantage of the marked-down drinks several times over).

Not fussy about our choice, we opted to stick with the Sonoma Zinfandel that our bartender suggested...which also happened to be one of the more expensive picks...but far from wallet-busting at the $32 happy hour price. We stuck to the complimentary rice-cracker snacks, but a $12 cheese plate for two is also available for nibbling.

A couple other groups drifted in and out but C.K. & I outlasted everyone. At one point, we were the only two in the bar—granted, it was a Tuesday night but I'm not sure if it's because the spot's still relatively undiscovered or if it speaks more to us being midweek lushes. Although the bar is located along a block which gives no real reason to stop and explore (unless you're looking for 99 cent bargains or shopping at Trader Joe's across the road), I was still surprised at why more locals haven't laid claim to the stylish spot.

Chit-chatting with Cole (our bartender who became first-name basis with us due to lack of anyone else he could talk to), we were told the 7-month new bar gets crowded in the weekends and they're set to open a second, bigger location in Venice.

Air-Conditioned is a cool little spot with a highly recommended happy hour. We didn’t spy enough people to comment on the type of bar-goers frequenting the spot, but I could see this being added to the ‘Brig, Other Room, Beechwood, Arsenal’ night-life circuit by the Venice set as word gets out.

Air Conditioned
2819 Pico Blvd.,
Santa Monica, CA 90405
310. 829.3700

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Weekly Open Bar

it's been while--I've been spending my time and money on not-so-$$-conscious activities such as snowboarding in mammoth and tahoe and lavish dinners at the hollywood hideaway Cafe des Artistes(grab a table in the lush back garden, forget the fancy foie gras appetizer and go for the 5 cheese mac'n'cheese), Grace(check out Wednesday's Donut Shoppe Night featuring pastry chef Elizabeth Belkin's assortment of designer doughnut creations), and Sushi Katsu-ya (just like Koi...if Koi was in the valley, in a strip mall and half the price. the spicy tuna topped crispy rice cakes are worth enduring the 101 traffic).

However, I was compelled to take a break from my February spend-a-thon when I stumbled upon wonderful link for those with a high alcohol tolerance and low cash flow. As a fellow appreciator of cocktails--in particular, free cocktails--my friend Jessie enlightened me about this site which lists open bar events going on around town for the week.

This selfless site is your guide to cash-free, (possibly watered-down) vodka tonics and red wine. The benefits don't end there, since the free booze usually comes in conjunction with some art/store/bar/music opening, the site even supplies you with an artistic activity to attend. You have a good chance to discover a new artist or venue but even if they suck, the price of a free drink is merely looking at bad art while you sip it down. Not a bad deal.

Check out listings for LA this week at Open Bar and start your free booze- hopping with the 5hr open bar at the Thinkspace Gallery event this Friday.

Non LA'ers in the Big Apple can check out for NY listings.