Happy Talk


Parisians have l’heure bleue, when café sitters watch as twilight paints the city a silver-tinged cobalt. Provençals savor l’heure verte, when inveterate imbibers sit transfixed, dripping water into pastis and regretting the demise of absinthe. Madrileños leave work to flock to the Puerta del Sol and savor the best tapas the tasca of the moment can offer. Italians won’t miss their daily dose of postwork Campari and soda. Even the British park their briefcases, furl their brollies, and hoist a few pints. We on this side of the Atlantic divide have chosen to baptize our preprandial libations as the happy hour and celebrate hunched over a bar or crouched in a corner in a frenzy of overindulging in two-for-one drinks and gobbling down inedible steam-table hors d’oeuvres. I was skeptical, therefore, when the waitress at Lotus, a midscale Brooklyn Heights Asian, presented me with the happy-hour sushi menu. After all, it was Saturday luncheon and Lotus is a restaurant, not a bar. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Lotus, on the residential end of Montague Street, is the kind of neighborhood spot where mothers and daughters nibble after browsing, dowagers dressed to the nines head for their weekly moo goo gai pan, and blue-jeaned writers who’ve been banging away since Underwoods were in flower are greeted by name. It seems the kind of place where dining solo isn’t a sin and the food is good rather than extraordinary. I was therefore surprised when, on my first solo visit, the barbecued spare ribs were yummy: truly meaty, slightly charred, and satisfyingly sweet but not cloying ($5.75 for a small order). They were a fitting prelude to a thrilling steamed sea bass with ginger and scallion (market priced but frequently a special at around $13.95). No soy-doused gaper with a parsimonious sprinkling of rhizome and root, this plump whole fish was sauced with a light, almost lemony soy and topped with enough shards of tender ginger and strips of scallion to add bite to each mouthful.

I only discovered happy-hour sushi on my second visit. When the special menu was first proffered, I demurred, assuming some mistake, but the waitress assured me that the $1 sushi special was always in effect. I pigged out, indulging in the cooling slip of hamachi (yellowtail), the dense meatiness of maguro (tuna), the subtle graininess of tobiko (flying fish roe), and the gelid sweetness of kobashira (scallop). I even checked out the half-priced hand-roll list and added a salmon skin roll ($3.75) where the chewy spice of the skin and the clinging bits of sweet cooked fish worked in perfect harmony. Intrigued by the Asian family of 15 celebrating, my friend ordered General Tso’s chicken ($8.50), a lightly breaded and freshly prepared variation on what is so often a substandard dish, its veggies in a garlicky hot-and-sour sauce razzed with a hint of lemon and a serious hit of chile. Determined to check out the Chinese side of the menu myself, I settled on broccoli with a spicy garlic sauce ($6.50) that retained its crunch at home later. The leftover sushi was surprisingly refreshing as well, allowing me to savor this new take on the happy hour well into the evening.

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