All around LA, restaurants are seducing early-bird diners with ethereal drinks and chic little bites.
What do ladies’ social clubs, the US Navy, and Prohibition all have in common? Happy hour. The phrase first came into popular usage late in the 19th century to describe gatherings for so-called “ladylike” pursuits such as book clubs and afternoon tea. After World War I, American sailors co-opted it to encompass regularly scheduled periods of entertainment, including boxing matches and musical performances, to relieve the tedium of day after day on the high seas.
The term then became associated with a preprandial tipple during the teetotaling temperance of Prohibition, when fancy folks would slip into a speakeasy for a drink before sitting down to a dinner sans alcohol. And today, happy hour is back big-time at some of LA’s best restaurants, where it means specialty drinks and bites—usually at a fraction of the cost of the normal menu.
New executive chef (and French Laundry alum) Kevin Kathman has helped revive The Larchmont (5750 Melrose Ave., LA, 323-464-4277), thanks in part to his penchant for foraging. According to Kathman, “You can expect to see modern, whimsical plays on some happy-hour classics, such as rabbit ‘nuggets’ with sauce verte and wild salmon tartare with wasabi emulsion and wakame seaweed salad.” Among the ingredients he is currently plucking from the wild are morels, ramps, fiddlehead ferns, and watercress.
The Larchmont mixologist Chris Kramer has gotten in on the foraging as well with new summer cocktails to pair with Kathman’s plates. “The Walk in the Woods incorporates my own trademark triple threat of gin,” says Kramer, “a snappy, dry Citadelle copper-kettle gin, a purple-sage gin by Ventura Spirits, and Uncle Val’s lavender botanical gin.” He created it to complement a smoked sturgeon dish with cold potatoes, fennel shavings, and caviar. The drink is served in a chilled coupe with foraged dill, fennel, and chives, which are also incorporated into the dish.
Over at the Four Seasons, Culina(300 S. Doheny Dr., LA, 310-860-4000) has introduced an innovative new predinner treat called Crudo Hour, available weekdays from 6 to 8 pm. The selections include carefully chosen carafes of Italian wine as well as signature cocktails and whistle-wetting spritzers like Il Carosello, a heady mix of Prosecco, gin, Aperol, and absinthe, and the Che Figata with tequila, jalapeno simple syrup, and fresh strawberry.
Among the summer crudo options are salmon with a refreshing spring-pea vinaigrette, mint and savory pancetta dust, and halibut with strawberries, pickled shallots, chili, and frisée. Chef Mette Williams says, “The lightness and delicateness of the crudo make them ideal for hot weather. The subtle flavors complement many summer cocktails without tiring out your palate for the meal ahead.”
We say happy hour, but in Italy, they call it aperitivi. Hence Cecconi’s Aperitivo Hour from 4 to 7 pm Tuesday through Saturday (8764 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, 310-432-2000). “In my native Italy,” says executive chef Andrea Cavaliere, “cicchetti, or Venetian tapas, are meant to be enjoyed while drinking aperitifs prior to dinner, and it is a ritual we wanted to recreate at Cecconi’s for our guests.”
Among Cavaliere’s creations are fried olives stuffed with mortadella and Parmigiano; fava bean and burrata bruschetta; and pizzette, including one with porchetta, artichoke, mushroom, and fontina. Diners can wash it all down with specialty sips, including barrel-aged Negronis, Aperol spritzes, and even a sparkling specialty of on-tap Prosecco.
Just across the street, Gracias Madre’s Hora Feliz happy hour takes place from 3 to 6 pm Monday through Friday, when everything is priced at $5 (8905 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, 323-978-2170). Chef Chandra Gilbert serves up signature items from her Mexican-inspired, all-vegan menu, including the potatomasa gorditas with warm salsa verde, avocado, and cashew crema, along with taco options like the one with flash-fried cauliflower and cilantro pesto. Over at the bar, beverage director Jason Eisner mixes up an array of agave-driven cocktails such as the bracingly smoky Mezcal Mule with lime, ginger beer, and chile de arbol, and the Purista Margarita with light tequila blanco, lime, orange bitters, and a tantalizingly salty-sweet combo of agave nectar with a flor de sal rim.
And because no predinner snack is complete without oysters, Blue Plate Oysterette(8048 W. Third St., LA, 323-656-5474) stocks one of the widest selections of briny bivalves in the city, and you can down them for just $1 apiece during the restaurant’s Oyster Hour from 4 to 6 pm Monday through Friday. Along with draft beers, sangria, and house wines by the glass, guests can slurp signature Blue Plate-branded oysters—think Surfriders from Washington and Royales from Maryland— served with house cocktail sauce, shaved horseradish, fresh lemon slices, and a tangy pickled-shallot mignonette. Who can resist settling in over a plate of those for a happy hour? Make that two.