Drunk After Work: Agora

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The Place: Agora, 1830 Main St., Irvine, (949) 222-9910; www.agorachurrascaria.com.

The Hours: Daily 3-7 p.m.

The Deal: $10-$12 caipirinhas, martinis and mojitos. $6-$10 wines by the glass. Only in the bar area: $9 for one trip to the hot food sides and salad bar. $4 for 3 small bites of churrasco. $6 for 6 pieces of their churrasco sampler.

The Scene: Not to put too fine a point on it, but the bar is usually deserted since they don't discount booze. Most you'll find is a few out-of-town business people in suits chatting over a tall glass of beer and waiting for the rest of their party. Once their co-workers/friends arrive, it's lots of hand-shaking, idle chit-chat about the flight into John Wayne before they disappear into the restaurant.

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Edwin Goei

The Sauce: Most who drink will imbibe in whatever their favorite beer happens to be. Again, there's no real drink discounts here. There is a list of wines by the glass. The cheapest is a 2005 Beringer White Zin for $6 a glass. Shannon Ridge Sauvignon Blanc, Hawk Crest Chardonnay, Santa Julia Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Weingut Reuscher-Haart Reisling for $7 a glass. Lurton Pinot Gris, Dona Paula Merlot, and Ray's Station Cab are $8-$9 a glass.

But if you're going to spend the money getting plastered, it might as well be for the caipirinhas, which are delicious and dangerous. The original actually crunches with sugar, refreshing lime juice, and burns with cachaça--a limeade that will f-you up royal if you're not careful. It is inordinately easy to drink. They embellish it in versions with acai, which contain banana liqueur, Peach Pucker and Razzmatazz. They even have a kiwi-mint and a passion-fruit flavor. Their house martini, called Agora-tini contains a number of tropical libations, including Skyy Vodka, Captain Morgan Parrot Bay Rum, Peach Schnapps, Razzmatazz, pineapple, cranberry and OJ.

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Edwin Goei

The Food: The food is why you come to Agora for Happy Hour. In particular, come for their $9 single-trip hot foods and salad bar. Their churrasco is also available in three tiny bites for $4. Let's talk about the churrasco first. Of your three choices, the Brazilian sausage is the best, a ruddy link split lengthwise with the hearty constitution of a Hillshire Farm's smoked sausage and the snap of natural casing. The filet wrapped in bacon is often too dry and overcooked, but the chicken, usually a wing drumlet, is seeped through with a strong, perky marinade and a charring roast to make the skin blister and crisp--as good as BBQ chicken gets. If you need your protein, best to choose the $6 sampler, which includes 2 of each of the meats I mentioned.

But again, the churrasco is not the reason you should come eat your dinner at Happy Hour: it's the $9 single-trip to one of the most immaculately prepared salad and hot food bars in OC. You'll find clams in butter, tender mussels in a chunky tomato braise, and potatoes roasted in seasoned wedges or whipped to a buttery smoothness. There's salami, good crumbly aged cheese, smoked fish, shrimp cocktail, bloated marinated mushrooms bursting with umami, tender artichoke hearts, and fluffy rice to be doused in a white-meat chicken stew. And for those who need their serving of veggies, there's usually a braised kale dish that's bitter and addictingly good. And of course, the salad bar, which I mention because, well it's there.

To top off your dinner, included for free as soon as you sit down (even if you order nothing but drinks): a cinnamon-covered baked banana and a basket of their chewy-cheesy bread balls. They're not as good as they used to be, with more of that mochi-like chew than gold ol' cheese; but they're as large as golf-balls, still free, and filling. They'll refill it if you ask.

The Verdict: For those who like Agora's hot food bar and aren't keen on paying the normal price of $19 for lunch and $29 for dinner, $9 for a single trip is a very generous discount. Spend the money you save on a nice caipirinha...or two. Or three or four or five...

The Grade: A.


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