Three is the magic number, except when it's four, but you still have to beat the clock from 5 to 6. No, I haven't lost it; but you can gain a great meal (and buzz if you want it) if you play the numbers game that is Vino Vino's happy hour. And believe me, the odds are in your favor.
Vino Vino is a stylish but very unstuffy small-plate-and-wine-oriented place physically joined to Figlio in Grandview. During regular service, a smart crowd gathers in Vino's gilt-and-burgundy interior to happily knock back lively but substantial sips and nibbles.
There's also a spillover mini-patio equipped with a few little tables, window boxes and the visual riches afforded by people-watching on Grandview Avenue. Prices are more than fair, but as with most tapas-y operations, the dollar count can creep up on you rapidly.
But not during their happy hour. Because then, Vino's practically giving away their food and drinks, albeit in increments. Generously, their tremendous happy hour is offered every day they're open (Vino's closed on Sundays), but there is a catch: it lasts from only 5 to 6 p.m.
Yet during that brief, golden time span, all happy hour specials are a scant $3 (with a few $4 exceptions). See, now my first number-dropping sentence doesn't seem so nutso, does it?
I recommend starting off with the best $3 martini in town. It's also the cutest. The cocktail comes in a junior-sized glass, but is made with big daddy flavors - Bombay gin, vermouth and a king-sized green olive that looks funny bulging in its dollhouse-like martini glass. You can also get pours of red and white wine, a pomegranate martini and a cosmo for $3.
A tiny trio of President Georges will also purchase the following upscale, if downsized, treats:
• Crab and Corn Chowder - blessedly not wholly tyrannized by cream. Chunky with corn, crabmeat plus chopped-up shrimp and potatoes, it was charmingly served in a ramekin and was enticingly spicy and red peppery.
• Parmesan Peppercorn Salad - a hits-its-mark, landlocked Midwestern version of the Caesar salad, it was sprinkled with corn and minus anchovy.
• Baby Bibb Salad with Blue Cheese - like the above salad, it was small but not tiny, came with a big, crispy housemade breadstick and was delicious. This bibb is an upgraded take on the recently repopularized iceberg wedge; it's constructed with wispy slivers of red onion, pungent blue cheese and bacon sweetened with a honey glaze.
• Blackened Tuna with Sesame Pizza - one of my HH faves here. A thin, crackly crust got built up with a terrific - and healthy sided (rare at any happy hour) - mix of veggies, smattering of cheese, warm wasabi sauce and a pretty piece of seared rare tuna on every single slice. Order two of these. Or three.
Worth the (laughable) extra dollar splurge.
Here's what $4 can buy:
• Lettuce Wrap - an excellent full-sized fish taco that's colorful, crunchy and low-carby as it subs out the flour tortilla for a crisp bibb lettuce wrap. A big clump of tilapia got decked out with red cabbage, a mango and jalapeno salsa, cilantro sauce and a yogurt/mayo dressing.
• Crab Cake - this one is small, but mighty. Made mostly out of actual crabmeat, it's seasoned with Old Bay, and served with sticky rice plus a nice, even sort of light, red-pepper-heavy remoulade.
• Portobello Sirloin Mini Burger - a soft, toasted midget ciabatta bun supported a juicy little burger patty with big beefy flavor aided and abetted by mushrooms. Came with kettle chips, a winning mixed-veggie slaw and ketchup and mustard spread across delicate baby endive leaves.