Drunk After Work: Cucina Alessa
The Place: Cucina Alessa, 520 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 969-2148; www.cucinaalessa.com.
The Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 3-6 p.m. & 9-10 p.m.; Fri., 3-6 p.m. & 9-11 p.m.; Sat., 9-11 p.m.; Sun., 9-10 p.m.
The Deal: $4 antipasti. $6 pizza marghertia or beef carpaccio. $3 draft (Birra Moretti, Bud Light, Widmer Hefeweisen). $4 signature cocktails (Italian Margarita, Limoncello Drop Martini). $4 select wines. $4 well drinks. $3.50 wines (Sycamore Lane Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot).
The Scene: The first-floor bar area is pretty tight, and I don't mean the slang meaning of the term, I mean it's so cramped you can barely accomodate a half dozen bodies. The majority of the Antipasti Hour patrons climb up the stairs to the second level bar, where it's larger by a few seats, there's two flat-screens, and a few lounge chairs are set up in a high traffic area where no one's foolish enough to sit.
If you come for the late night Happy Hour, you will be outnumbered by actual diners who come to have a full Italian meal at one of the better restaurants in the county.
The Sauce: The list of draft brews has Birra Moretti, Bud Light, Widmer Hefeweisen on special for the Happy Hour price. You can request a few select wines or opt to go $1.50 cheaper for Sycamore Lane Cabernet, Chardonnay, or Merlot. The rest of alcohol featured are speciality drinks. Some have an Italian accent like the Italian Mai Tai (Bacardi Silver Rum, amaretto, grenadine, orange and pineapple juice with a float of Myers dark rum), others are locally inspired, like the HB Iced Tea (vodka, gin, rum, triple sec, apple pucker, sweet & sour, and Red Bull).
The Italian Margarita is what everyone seems to gravitate to, a concoction in a tall curvy glass made with Sauza tequila, triple sec, amaretto, lime juice, sweet & sour and a splash orange juice. It's strong and there's plenty of it in that tall glass.
The Food: Aside from that margarita, you come for the food. The butternut-squash-stuffed ravioli swims in a lick-your-plate-clean brown-butter sauce and is sprinkled with crispy fried sage leaves. The caprese smacks of garden freshness and has puffy, light-as-helium cheesy breadsticks with which you wipe the plate clean. And the carpaccio of cured filet mignon--thin tissue-like sheets of prime beef, drizzled with olive oil and spritz of acid--would normally cost five times as much at Italian joints of this caliber. The pizza is worthy and so is the crispy calamari, which is as greaseless as they come. I dare you not to drink up like soup its side of marinara, which tastes like it came from tomatoes freshly crushed.
The Verdict: Wonderful food unbecoming of a Happy Hour (maybe that's why they call it "Antipasti Hour") and strong cheap drinks: this is one of my favorite Happy Hours.
The Grade: A+.