495 Laurel Street, Bankers Hill
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
All I want is a happy-hour snack, before the witching hour of seven.
This is Friday night. Fifth and Laurel. Time’s running out.
Choice? For starters, I’m right outside that trendy Italian joint Cucina Urbana. I kind of tentatively stick my nose in, go down some stairs. Man! Packed with beautiful people. Head for the hostess.
“Yes, we have happy hour. No food. Only drinks. Sorry.”
So, up and across Laurel to Gourmet on Fifth. HH? Nuh-uh. Only doing three-course meals. “But you go to Hexagone,” the guy says. “We are the same business as them. They have a very good happy hour.”
He says it with a rich French accent. “Eppy ow-eur.”
So, now I’m crossing Fifth and…Hexagone?
“With a name referring to the six-sided shape of France,” the menu begins, “Hexagone offers a culinary tour…”
Oh, man. No way. But I swing in anyway to a cool arty interior. I have only one question for myself: How to make it without being skinned alive?
The place is abuzz. One older guy with a sonorous voice is sitting at the curved marble bar, talking about the “Chao Phrya River in Thailand, the Mother of Waters.” Someone else is explaining an app for investing in China; a couple of elegant ladies at a high, round gold-flecked table are speaking en español between sips from flutes of champagne.
First thought: Flight! Skedaddle before you have to buy something. Second thought: Fight! Stay and duke it out. Brazen your way to the bargains. So, I find a spot at another tall table in the corner. From here you can see the restaurant stretching around the corner at Laurel and Fifth. Walls have posters from music-hall days in Paris. Toulouse Lautrec and his buddies. And the sound system has music. Piaf, Greco, Montand, all those sexy singers Carla has introduced me to. You’re also hearing French among waiters. You’re even catching customers saying “Merci, Patrick,” as they leave.
“Uh, do you have happy hour, like, food?” I ask the bartender.
“Of course,” he says and hands me the little happy-hour menu card.
’Course, no time to screw around. Happy hour ends in ten. The good news is every HH food item is $6, house wines go for $5, beers $3.50.
Big deal for me is the HH food list has 16 items.
Hmm... Tempted by the French onion soup, steamed clams, moules marinières (sailors’ mussels?), and frog legs “provençales.” There are some I don’t get. Like, I have to ask the bartender, David, what a “Rosette de Lyon” is.
“It’s a plate of cold-cut meats,” he says. “It has salami, a prosciutto — a thin-sliced, Parma ham — plus a pâté and a salad, and our sliced baguette from Bread and Cie. Good bread.”
Agree with him there. Also seeing items like a cheese plate, snails (“escargots Bourguignons”), a baked brie cheese–and-apple dish, and fried artichokes.
I go for the house white wine, then I can’t decide between the mussels and the steamed clams.
“How about 50/50?” says David.
What comes out is this plate of black-and-white shells in a brown lake of steamy liquid in a big white soup dish. I start picking the little guys out of their shells. They’re fine — although, actually, the clams ain’t really that interesting. The mussels, yes. They just seem to have more flavor. But, whatever, it’s grabbing the bread and soaking up the winey, briney sauce that’s the fun of this thing.
’Course, in the end I have to spoil everything by giving in and ordering the snails, too. The escargots. There’s another six buckeroos down the drain, and you only get four snails. And they’re out of their shell and hiding in little white individual pots with a green parsley-ish garlic-and-herb sauce. And they’re quite chewy. I mean, hey, I’m sure that’s what they’re supposed to be, but I’ve just been chewing these other shell creatures, so it’s a little same-same. My fault.
So, what happens is as soon as I am outta there, I start thinking of all the things on that list I didn’t try. By the time I’m in Uptown again a few days later, I just have to call in. (And the good news is these guys have happy hour every day from 3:30 to 7:00 p.m.)
This time it’s not so crowded. David’s still the guy here. I sit up to the bar, order a $3.50 beer, and ask for that baked brie–and-apple app, plus the “Rosette de Lyon.” Six bucks each. The rosette’s salami and prosciutto and pâté are all good, but the real pleasure comes from that warm, oozy, sexy brie, held in by a light batter, and nice with a thin slice of Granny Smith apple. Good little salad comes with it, too. And, as usual, the baguette of bread fills out all the nooks and crannies.
But here’s the kicker: Now I’ve gotta come back again… This lady comes in. Has just arrived from New York. Wants a bite, not the whole full-meal thing, but more than these HH apps will do, filling-up-wise.
“Well you know you can get half-size entrées for half off the normal price during happy hour,” says David. “Like, the steak frîtes would be $10 instead of $20. Or the sea bass in a Mediterranean sauce would be $13 instead of $26…”
Ayee! Wish I’d realized that. Coulda had that steak instead of two HH apps!
But coming back won’t be no problem. This intimate bar, the tulip-shape chandelier shades, the music, the conversation about anything in the world, languages flying around… The place grows on you. Even though it’s too easy to spend way more than you ever meant to.
Next time, keep it simple: steak and no mistake, heh-heh.
- The Place: Hexagone French Cuisine, 495 Laurel Street, corner Laurel and Fifth Avenue, 619-236-0467
- Happy Hour Prices: All items $6, including onion soup, steamed clams, moules marinières, frog legs provençales, Rosette de Lyon (cold-cuts plate); cheese plate, snails (“escargots Bourguignons”), baked brie and apple; fried artichokes; also, half-size, half-price items from main menu; e.g. coq au vin, $10 instead of $20; steak frîtes ($10/$20); sea bass in a Mediterranean sauce ($13/$26)
- Hours: 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m., daily
- Happy Hour: 3:30–7:00 p.m., daily
- Buses: 3, 120
- Nearest bus stops: Fifth Avenue at Laurel (northbound); Fourth Avenue at Laurel (southbound)