Bruschetta, etc. Free at happy hour
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"Hair today, gone tomorrow!” I say.

I wait for the girls to respond. Like, cue roll-on-the-floor guffaws, please? This is at the hair salon. Carla’s tied up in shiny bows, and Sherry’s painting peroxide highlights on her hair.

They ignore me.

Carla’s right. This was a mistake, coming. Best just to see the “after” result.

’Course, Carla still insists on having her hair done here on the Emerald Isle at her buddy Diane’s salon. Even though Diane’s gone off to Oregon. She bequeathed Carla to Sherry.

Carla looks at me through the mirror.

“Arrogant Bastard,” she says.

Sherry looks shocked. But I know what Carla means. Long and short: an hour later, I’m back, feeling pretty danged good. Been hanging out at the Tavern, which stocks AB.

“Hey,” I say, “I’m taking you to a birthday dinner, Ms. Carla. The two of us. Okay?”

“What about Christmas? New Year’s?” she says.

Explanation: Carla’s birthday comes five days after Christmas, a day before New Year’s, just when people, me included, are exhausted. Birthday gets lost in the mix.

“Birthday only,” I say. “No confusion this time.”

“Means a lot,” Carla says.

So now we’re standing outside this expensive Italian joint.

“Happy hour, okay?” I say.

“I’m happy,” she says.

We head upstairs and into — whoa! Noisy, cozy bar-space packed with people having a drinky good time. Oh, yeah. Fine, except, to get the happy-hour deal you have to eat in this cramped bar. Bummer.

“No way I’m going to ruin my hair squeezing onto a high stool,” says Carla.

Vigilucci's Ristorante Coronado

1300 Orange Avenue, Coronado

(No longer in business.)

I look at a maître d’ type. He nods. We keep walking. End up in this opulent-feeling room that looks out over Orange Avenue. Gal named Elisabetta says yes, we can do happy hour here. So we sit down at one of the cloth-covered tables.

Turns out this happy hour has a lot going for it. Not the cheapest, but way below main-menu prices. They have a plate of oysters for $10.50, an oyster shooter for $3.50, fried calamari in a marinara sauce for $7, a bruschetta pomodoro (“golden apple,” classy word for tomato) $6, crab cake, $6.50, a house salad with gorgonzola cheese for $5.25, and “patatine al Tartufo,” which turns out to be truffle fries, $6.

But the most interesting stuff is further down. Couple of polpette (meatballs) dishes look like real contenders. Di granchio is crabmeat ($6.50), di carne is beef ($8). Spiedini alla griglia, skewers of grilled chicken or beef with Thai chili sauce and truffle fries costs $10.50 but looks worth it.

And then you’ve got sliders. Nine bucks. You get three, and what starts my juices is the promise of gorgonzola on top and blackberry compote inside.

So, first things first: Carla gets an Arnold Palmer ($3.25) and I choose a draft Racer 5 IPA. Bear Republic. They’re from Sonoma County. Beer from wine country. Not bad. Costs $3.50. Deal for a place like this.

The pasta in vodka sauce

The pasta in vodka sauce

“Okay,” says Carla. “I’ll take the pasta in vodka sauce, the spiedini, and can I get a Caesar salad on happy hour?”

“Uh, no. Just the house salad.”

Carla turns to me.

“This is for my birthday?”

“Just your birthday, my little corazon.”

“Well in that case, I don’t need to totally stick to the happy-hour menu, right?”

I feel my heart go bump in the night.

“Give me the Caesar salad from the regular menu, then. What are you having, Bedford?”

Ulp. Tongue freezes up. Elisabetta waits. No time to add up the damages.

“Sliders, I guess.”

The pasta comes first. Truth is, I didn’t even notice it on the HH menu. It was at the bottom. “Our home-made fettucine, tossed in your choice of marinara, vodka, pesto, Bolognese, Alfredo.”

“We’ve got a lot to get through,” I say as the dishes start arriving.

“Not you,” Carla says firmly. “You’ve just got the sliders.”

“Right. Great.”

I leave it at that. Remember the key phrase from my Male Survival Manual: Never argue with a hungry woman.

My one relief? The regular menu’s Caesar salad is only $10.75.

Then: a nice surprise. Elisabetta brings us each a bruschetta loaded with, like, pico de gallo, and surrounded by chunks of different cheeses, slices of salami, and (pitted!) black olives.

“On the house,” she says. “It’s part of our happy-hour deal.”

That’s definitely a bonus.

Soon the rest of what we ordered arrives. “Come on,” says Carla. “Gonna need your help.” Heh-heh. Thought the dam would break. Soon, we’re roving over everything like Kalahari vultures.

Vigilucci's caesar salad

Vigilucci's caesar salad

The verdict: salad’s good. Fresh leaves, crisp croutons, two wide slices of a hard cheese on top, and plenty of Caesar sauce.

And the sliders? Great. Luscious combo of strong gorgonzola, sweet blackberry and garlicky steak meat. Same with the spiedini. Carla fork-slides the beef chunks off the skewers, then dips chunks into that sweet-hot Thai dipping sauce. Best of all, they’re sitting on a generous bed of cheesy truffle french fries. Just between them and the sliders is one heckuva meal for two already.

“Let’s stop right here,” says Carla suddenly. “Take it all home, chop up the sliders and the spiedini chunks and mix them into the pasta. Then fry it all up for breakfast tomorrow. Yes?”

So that’s what we do. Next morning, I play chef, and it is skerrrumptious. Pasta, like all pasta, is better for aging, the slider meat and infused buns add rich garlic umami and sweetness.

“A triumph of degustation,” says Carla.

I nod in agreement.

“Disgustingly good,” I say.

It all helps swallow the fact that we paid out almost 60 bucks last night ($45 plus tax and tip). Result: We’ll be entering the New Year poor as church mice.

“Poor as church mice,” says Carla, “happy as clams.”

That’s my girl.

Happy New Year, all!

Vigilucci's Ristorante Coronado

1300 Orange Avenue, Coronado

(No longer in business.)

The Place: Vigilucci’s Ristorante Coronado, 1300 Orange Avenue, Coronado, 619-522-0946

Happy Hour Prices: Plate of fresh oysters, $10.50; oyster shooter, $3.50; fried calamari, $7; bruschetta with cheeses, olives, salami, $6; crab cake, $6.50; house salad with gorgonzola, $5.25; truffle fries, $6; crab cakes, $6.50; beef meatballs, $8; skewers of chicken or beef with Thai chili sauce, truffle fries, $10.50; sliders with gorgonzola, blackberry compote, $9

Happy hour: 3–7 p.m., Monday to Friday; 11 a.m.–5 p.m., Saturday, Sunday

Regular hours: 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. daily (till 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday)

Buses: 901, 904

Nearest bus stops: Right outside on Orange Avenue (southbound); at Orange and Adella (northbound)

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