After sitting through an interminable meeting, listening to the boss go on about reports and budgets, most people are hungry and in need of a good snack and a stiff drink.
A co-worker might suggest the happy hour at the bar down the street, but Buffalo wings and Bud just won’t cut it. Luckily, the best happy hours in Silicon Valley provide much more in the way of sustenance and ambiance.
When researching restaurants, bars and wine shops for this piece, I kept in mind a few things. The first was, how much am I willing to spend at a happy hour? I went to places where I could spend $25 and only get one appetizer and one cocktail, but that didn’t seem like much of a bargain. I wanted to top out at about $20 for some high-quality food and inspired libations. The second thing was, how many people could be fed with those $20? If I’m going to happy hour with a guest, then receiving enough food and drink for both of us for around $20 is perfect.
At Village California Bistro and Wine Bar on Santana Row, I started small. I ordered the Dungeness crab cake and Brazilian sangria. The crab cake was crunchy and flavorful and served with a Moroccan spiced carrot salad. The salad came with a heavy dose of celery salt that gave it an unexpected kick. Other options were the BLT flatbread and the calamari.
The sangria tasted more like spicy Kool-Aid than a drink made with red wine; even though it was very sweet, it complemented the heat from the crab cake and provided the happy-hour buzz I was looking for. I spent $16 and walked away happy.
Next was LB Steak, also on Santana Row, which serves a happy-hour menu Monday through Friday from 2 to 6pm. Looking at the menu, I thought the price was perfect. For $15, I tried spinach dip and fried mac ’n’ cheese and a smoked-salmon pizzette. I also had a beer for myself and ordered another for my friend, which added another $6.
The spinach dip was very fresh and held together with a flavorful, creamy sauce. It was served with thin slices of toasted baguette. When I saw fried mac ’n’ cheese on the menu, I was skeptical: Who really needs to fry something already so good? But when the little fried pieces of mac ’n’ cheese came out, I immediately dug in. They were served with a delicious Mornay sauce topped with bacon.
For so much delicious food, two beers and the lovely atmosphere, $21 was a solid deal. There are other good values on the menu, such as the $5 specialty cocktails and $2.50 oysters.
Hotel de Anza in downtown San Jose has beautiful architecture, a marvelous restaurant at La Pastaia and what turns out to be an equally good happy hour. Two items on the menu stood out: the pesto calamari, with deep-fried lemon slices and lemon aioli, and the spiedini alla romana, a roasted baguette with anchovy, garlic, olive oil and fresh mozzarella.
The $3 beers, including Bass, Sierra Nevada, Anderson Valley Boont Amber, Hoegaarden, Stella Artois, Amstel Light and Corona, constituted the finest happy-hour beer selection I had come across. I ordered a few Stellas, and the total came to $17. The Hedley Club offers its happy-hour menu from 4 to 7pm even on
San Jose Sharks game nights.
Probably the best value of food, drinks, ambience and service for happy hour is at Cin-Cin Wine Bar in Los Gatos, offered from 4 to 6pm Monday through Saturday—yes, Saturday, too. I sat at a long booth across from the bar and ordered Spanish tuna melt crostini, Cin-Cin flatbread and Carolina pulled-pork sliders, plus a Karate Kick, a drink made with sake, yuzu-ginger syrup, fresh lime and ginger beer.
The cocktails are all very creative twists on classic drinks. The Sparkling Mojito is made with the usual rum, lime, muddled sugar and mint, but Cin-Cin also adds a bit of Prosecco. The house sangria is made with red wine, brandy and fresh fruit. It was pungent, aromatic and very refreshing on a blistering afternoon.
The first dish to come out was the flatbread. Cheddar cheese fondue, caramelized onions, dried apricots, hazelnuts and arugula made the perfect mix on crispy, toasted flatbread. The portion was large, and since all of the flavors, while delicious, got a little cloying after a few slices, I would be glad to share. The tuna crostini was very flavorful and covered with the perfect amount of cheese, dill, capers, garlic and chives. Tuna was piled high on top of pieces of crostini, and if I hadn’t been waiting for my pulled-pork sliders, I would have finished all three pieces.
Each pulled-pork sandwich was moist, perfectly seasoned and embellished with two thin slices of cinnamon apples. The apples added sweetness and extra flavor from the cinnamon but were a little dry. The two sliders were so large I couldn’t finish them, but they made a great snack later. Cin-Cin is slightly hidden from the main streets of Los Gatos, but definitely a treasure with the best happy hour.