Lamb meatballs with tzatziki sauce, at $6.99, tops the happy-hour value menu.
  • Lamb meatballs with tzatziki sauce, at $6.99, tops the happy-hour value menu.
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McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant

Omni Hotel, 675 L Street, Downtown San Diego

She looks like Renée Zellweger. Wait. Maybe she is René Zellwegger. Maybe the real Renée got sick of the movie life and paid another chica to come out to the cameras after the “facelift,” pretending that she was Renée, thus freeing the real Renée to pursue her dream of becoming a barkeep right here at the Gaslamp’s McCormick and Schmick.

Whatever, you can bet this gal has endless customers coming up and saying, “Say, anyone tell you that you look like Renée Zellweger?”

Confession: I did too. She handled it well.

But I’m here because of, well, USA Today. The banner outside advertises “#1 Happy Hour in America –USA Today.” I googled, and it’s true. USA Today decided these guys do the best happy hour in the nation, at least among the upscale chains.

So, hey, have to see why.

And now that I think about it, I do vaguely remember coming in and having a cheeseburger and fries that cost, well, nothing like Gaslamp prices, and filled a feller pretty good.

Tonight, Friday, I sneak in around 6:15, 15 minutes before the end of happy hour, dive into the laugh-loud crowd. You can tell: we’re talking business people who’ve just been let out of another hell week in the cubicles.

I find a spare seat at the black marble U-shaped bar. And can’t help picking up the talk all around.

“Moscow Mule, man! The drink that brought vodka to America! Everybody’s drinking it. I mean it’s just vodka and ginger beer and lime, but hey, we’re all having it. Should be served in a copper mug.”

“It is our most popular cocktail, sir.”

“Oh, come on,” says this other guy, “You call that an offer? Let him twist a while.”

“No, I ain’t going to start no tab!” It’s the guy elbowing in next to me. “See that guy over there with the two women? He’s paying.”

Me, I’m looking quickly through the happy hour menu. First things first: that burger: Aah. Yes. It’s there all right, $3.99 with cheese and with fries.

Quebec’s gastro-gift to the world, poutine, means “messy,” is messy. And tasty!

Quebec’s gastro-gift to the world, poutine, means “messy,” is messy. And tasty!

This is when Renée comes up. “Trying to get something in happy hour?” she says.

I nod, and zip through the drink deals side first. See Moscow Mules go for $5, on Mondays, anyway. Beerwise, a local pint of the bartender’s choice is $4.99. Then Renée mentions they have a Green Flash Double IPA. Ooh. Love that drink. But it’s $8. No time to dither. I go for a $5 Bud and head back into the nation’s best happy hour menu. For $2.99 we’re talking edamame (if you like popping soy beans like pills), hummus, or poutine. “French fries tossed in squeaky cheese and smothered in sausage gravy.” It’s rural Quebec’s gastro-gift to the world. I go for it straight off, because I know it’s going to fill me. Just hope “squeaky cheese” means cheese curds.

Five minutes to go. Bud’s arrived, but dang it, bottle, not draft pint. Whatever, got to have something else from the food side, and there’s a rush of other folks leaning over the bar trying to get orders in under the wire, too. So lessee, for $3.99 it’s the cheeseburger or the prosciutto ham–wrapped dates. For $5.99 it’s a choice of “artisan grilled cheese,” whatever that is, grilled chicken wings, or lobster and shrimp sliders.

Hmm. Sliders sound good, but Renée says they’re basically two smallish fish cakes in buns.

So now we’re up to twice the burger’s price, $6.99. There’s a flatbread with cheese, tomato, arugula, pesto — not a turn-on — or octopus a la plancha, basically three or four little wriggler baby octopusses in a lemony sauce, according to Renée. I’m thinking it’d turn out more feast for the eyes than the taste buds. Plus, the $6.99 section also includes lamb meatballs served with tzatziki. At least I know they’d be filling. And, hey, lamb with that Greek taste.

Decision time: D’aagh, lessee. With all those cheese-curdy French-Canadian fries coming, I decide to forget the burger, even though that looks like the big filler deal of the happy hour. And the lamb meatballs sound filling, so I go for that with one HH minute to spare. Oh, and have to order the Green Flash Double IPA to go with them, even though it’s eight buckeroos.

Actually, the poutine is pretty dang filling and messy. Word means “mess” in Quebec French patois. And tasty. The gravy has chips of what taste like bacon, but I guess it’s sausage. There’s plenty of it to soak down those French (Canadian) fries.

But the lamb meatballs are great. Five of them on a long plate, good and refreshing with the tzaziki sauce. A deal for $7. And goes well with the Green Flash.

And the good thing is they don’t stint on their presentation at happy hour: you still get the heavy silver flatware, the big black linen napkins, the bar staff treating you like you’re somebody who counts.

Even if you do come out and ask the Renée Zellweger question.

So a deal? At HH in a swank eatery like this, it’s swings’n roundabouts: you save on the food and they get you on the drink. I end up spending $24.82, for two beers and two dishes.

I leave as a second wave of business people drifts in. These look more suave, soigné, talk in lower voices. They don’t need to worry about making no happy hour. “We’re moving into construction in Vietnam,” says this gent to his buddy. “They’ve just put $150 million in. You wouldn’t recognize it.”

Outside, a homeless guy comes up to the deck seats. He sits down, lights a cigarette, takes a long drag, looks at us like animals in the zoo.

He smiles.

  • Happy Hour Prices: Edamame, $2.99; hummus, $2.99; poutine, $2.99; cheeseburger and fries, $3.99; prosciutto–wrapped dates, $3.99; grilled chicken wings, $5.99; lobster and shrimp sliders, $5.99; octopus a la plancha, $6.99
  • Happy Hours: 4:00–6:30 p.m., Monday to Friday
  • Buses: 4, 11, 901, 929
  • Nearest bus stop: 12th and Imperial
  • Trolley: Green Line
  • Nearest Trolley stop: Gaslamp (Blue and Orange Lines also available at 12th and Imperial)
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Javajoe25 Dec. 24, 2014 @ 7:22 p.m.

$24.82 for 2 beers, messy fries and sheep balls, Ed? You must be on the company's credit card. And incidentally, Poutine, where I come from, is the Franglacized version of poontain, which out of consideration for the ladies who might be raising their heads up to see what the boyfriend is reading on his laptop, we are not going to talk about. Messy fries. Hmmpf!


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