The jig was pretty much up the moment I opened my mouth.
"Which one will fill me up the most?" I asked.
Not that Will the barman even raised an eyebrow. He probably just figured: OK. Here's our loss leader for the evening.
See, this is at, whoa...Laurel. One of those high-falutin' joints for folks ready to drop a couple of hundred clams for din-dins. It's in this classy, glassy, curvy, blue-green-gray building at Fifth and Laurel, and I'd been hankering to get up here for the longest time because -- what else? -- I'd heard they had a happy hour to cry for. Like really good food for about seven bucks.
I'd left Carla down at the Embarcadero. She was doing a birthday cruise with her girlfriends, and I thought I'd walk up Laurel to Laurel. What could be easier?
Ha! Banker's Hill? Think North Face of the Eiger. By the time I reach the summit -- Laurel and Fifth -- I stagger into the place, gasping like a goldfish.
Everybody looks up as you come down the black-and-white marble steps into this half-underground palace. Is he a player, a somebody in this town? Sorry, folks. You walk around two giant glass water urns that magnify bunches of red roses inside them. Talk about goldfish. Drowning, not waving. And money? Black-clad waiters whisk bottles of champagne around like grande coffees at Starbucks.
I head for the long curved L-shaped bar where the after-work crowd, and people waiting for dates to turn up, and lone wolves like me hang out.
I flop into a tall green-and-white seat. Will comes up.
"Still happy hour?" I croak.
"Till seven o'clock. You have 45 minutes. Are we interested in something to drink, something to eat, maybe?" He points to a long red card labeled "Seven Before 7."
Oh yes. This was what I'd heard about.
There are "Bites" and "Drink." Seven items in each.
The food choice starts with lamby joes (mini-burgers made of ground lamb), today's soup (squash), a bowl of mussels, shrimp falafel balls with a tzatziki sauce to dip 'em in, a seafood salad, short-rib spring rolls, and braised duck and stonefruit flatbread.
Half the drinks are cocktails like dragon's blood sangria (a combination of Bordeaux wine, port, fruit, and Calvados brandy). The other half are wines.
Will looks at me. "Are we ready?"
He needs an answer. I notice other customers stem-spinning their cocktail glasses.
"Uh, got beer?" I ask. "On the program?"
"Oh, no problem. A light one?"
"No. Heavy. More like a stout."
"Perfect. I'm sure you'll like this."
He brings out a bottle of Road Dog stout, from the Flying Dog Brewery in Colorado. He pours it into a long narrow glass. Nice chocolatey color. I take a sip. Oh, yes. Dark, but sweeter and lighter than, say, a Guinness. And, Will says -- guy's got my number already -- only five bucks. And -- free bonus! -- he brings around bowls of edamame for everybody at the bar -- peppery-salty soybeans that you pull out from their skins with your teeth, something to go with the beer. You could fill up on them alone.
So this is where I ask my question. "Will, man," I say. "Don't have a great deal of dinero weighing me down. Which of these bargains is gonna fill me most?"
"Lamby joes," says Will. "No question. You get two. They're so tasty. Shall we go for that?"
What the heck? We shall. Five minutes later, an unter waiter brings out this long white square plate, real elegant, loaded with two mini-burgers. I grab the first and chomp in. Oh. Oh. Oh, yes. Sweetness that the menu says comes from -- what? caramelized fennel? -- and spiciness coming from garam masala aioli (a northern Indian spice mix, seems), plus ground lamb meat instead of beef. It all makes for an addictive, yummy combo.
And, as Will said, two really is filling. Except, now, ten minutes before the happy hour bell, I've got the bit between my teeth. Let's say the fork between my mitts. I order up the other item I've been craving. Mediterranean mussels. Also comes in an elegant white Japanese-looking bowl, with another big one for the shells. But what really comes first is the whiff of the broth. I could swear it's white wine and onion and garlic. But Will points to the menu. "Old Monk super beer broth." Beer it is, along with the onion and garlic, probably. It's worth the seven bucks just for sniffing rights. But it's also worth chomping in, because beyond the moules, down in the soup, little chunks of "Merquez" (Moroccan-style) sausage give it a salty, herby tang. Slices of baguette are great for dipping, but I need a spoon to slurp up every last luscious drip.
I sit back, hoping to catch the buzz around me. Spanish-speaking couple on the right has ordered a hundred-dollar -- is that Clicquot on the label? -- champagne to have with their $7 braised duck and stonefruit flatbread. Damn. Maybe should have had that. It's like a mini-pizza. Duck, blue cheese, arugula, fig purée. Sigh.
But, gotta go meet Carla. Check's $20.47. She'll kill me. Till I tell her there's a lamby joe with her name on it, next time we're on the block and in the black.
"Come again," says Will.
Appreciate the invite. I walk back up the stairs and out into the real world. At least now, I just have to roll down that hill.
The Place: Laurel Restaurant happy hour, 505 Laurel Street, Banker's Hill, 619-239-2222
Type of Food: Mediterranean-American
Prices: Happy-hour choices include lamby joes (mini-burgers made of ground lamb); soup of the day; Mediterranean mussels; shrimp falafel balls with tzatziki sauce; seafood salad (shrimp, squid, mussels, scallop, sauce); short-rib spring rolls with feta, yogurt, onion; braised duck and stonefruit flatbread, each $7.00
Happy Hour Hours: 5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m. daily
Buses: 3, 120
Nearest Bus Stops: Fifth and Laurel (northbound); Fourth and Laurel (southbound)