Happy Hour was a wonderful invention. What a great idea for a way to unwind after a long, stressful day at work; meeting friends, nibbling on some food and washing it all down with the liquid libation of choice. In most cases the idea was better than the execution. Sometimes the location was just too darned noisy to enjoy the friends that turned up, the food was mediocre at best (think soggy Poppers) and the liquid libation watered down. But when Happy Hour does come together and everything works, you get the very, very civilized version offered at Roppongi in La Jolla.
This past Wednesday, Sabra, Phee, her husband Jim and I all got together at Roppongi for some fun conversation, very good Happy Hour food and a few drinks. I've been told that the interior decor of Roppongi is quite imaginative and dramatic, but I still don't know if that's true or not. We never made it past the front door, electing to sit outside on the patio, which is located a little below street level so that it's sheltered from the elements. Comfortably ensconed we began looking over the menu that is essentially Asian-fusion.
To help the cocktails and wine go down we ordered the Crispy Buttermilk Onion Rings with Garlic Wasabi Aioli while we decided on ther rest of our order. The rings were piled high in a linen lined, wire bread basket and were, indeed, crispy and the garlic wasabi aioli was a delightful new dipping sauce that worked well with the onions.
We followed the onion rings with the Spicy Calamari Steak with Hazelnuts. The plate arrived with 4 (or was it 6) thick squares of, again, lightly breaded calamari in a spicy brown sauce that included some large squares of onion and red bell pepper that had been flash stir-fried so that they retained their crunch, but none of the raw bite. Toasted hazelnuts served as the garnish, butI'm not sure they added enough to the dish to warrant being included in the name of it. The calamari steaks were fairly thick and each of us commented about the tenderness, these really were tender little calamari pillows and they were set off by the spicy sauce that came with them.
Fried Tofu with Soy Ginger Scallion Dipping Sauce followed the calamari. Not by design, we were on our 3rd fried item and it was very apparent that the kitchen is quite skilled with this cooking method. The onion rings, calamari and now the tofu had all been virtually greaseless, with the batters or coatings nice and crispy. Tofu is tofu, what can you say. This dish came out as large, 2-bite oblong cubes of tofu which absorbed the sauce nicely.
Only a couple of minutes after the tofu arrived so did an order of the Pan Seared Foie Gras with Japnese Pear and Orange Tamarind Sauce. Either you like Foie Gras or you don't, and Sabra and I do; Phee and Jim were great sports about it and willinglt tasted. The outside of the foie gras was nicely seared while the inside remained soft and creamy. The grilled bread was a thoughful accompaniment, however, the Japanese pear seemed to bet lost or overpowered by both the rest of the sauce and the foie gras.
Undaunted and still working our way through the menu, Jim placed an order for Seared Ahi Tuna & Crab Napolean with Spicy Wasabi Mustard & 7 Spices Sauce. Large squares of ahi had been sandwiched with crab meat and cut into triangles. It was alledgedly seared, tho it didn't look or taste like it had been, and it really didn't matter, the tuna was so soft and buttery. The spicy wasabi sauce with 7 spices was probably the winner in the sauce catagory. All I can say is "wow", it would probably taste great on almost anything.
We rounded out our tasting with Chinese Pot Stickers w/Shrimp & Scallops with Tobiko Caviar Sauce, and, Indonesian Tiger Shrimp Skewers with Tomato Horseradish Sauce and Mango Salsa. Both of these were as good as everything else we'd had so far, although the caviar sauce was a bit bland. The pot stickers were big and fat with readily identifable pieces of shrimp and scallop.
Every dish we tried was asolutely well done, there were no duds in the lot, not even the tofu. But if I had to choose, I'd say that the ahi and calamari were the 2 best appetizers that we had. And we just focused on the appetizer menu.
Thoroughly stuffed with great food we asked for the check. Now, here's the really good part. Between the 4 of us we had 2 cocktails, 6 glasses of wine and 7 full size appetizers. Before tip the tab was $125, not bad for 4 people, and a remarkable value for the quality. Here's the deal, between 4-6 PM everything - apps, entrees, dessert - is half-price. Life is too short to drink bad wine or eat bad food. It's offers such as Roppongi's half-price Happy Hour that make it easy to eat good food. I wish more up-scale restaurants would take this approach too.
Roppongi is located at 875 Prospect on the south end of town.