.Flavor and Ambience Shine at Bittersweet Bistro Happy Hour

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ome happy hours are better than others. That’s just a scientific fact. Take the happy hour hosted by Bittersweet Bistro. On a chilly evening, the lively lounge with its dark wood bar offers aid and comfort to a wide range of thirsty and hungry Aptos neighbors. When I met Melinda last week, LeBron was just finishing up his 39-point game on one of several strategically placed screens. While bar seating gets you up close and personal with the NBA action, Mel and I chose a corner booth under the windows. Adults of all ages, many of them old enough to know all of the lyrics to Beatles tunes, were in full swing as we took advantage of the appealing Happy Hour prices to order a classic Manhattan ($6) and a Bittersweet 75 ($8). Well-made cocktails. Great start to our happy hour.

The house that Tom and Elizabeth Vinolus have built and tended for three decades is going strong. The straight-ahead and generous comfort food on this menu is a huge part of the Bittersweet appeal. So is the Mediterranean patio in warm weather. So is the huge, yet somehow cozy dining room. But we like the California pub ambience of the bar. The “quesadilla of the moment” ($8) happened to be carne asada. We said “yes” to that, plus Angus beef carpaccio ($10). We were comparing notes about hotels in Manhattan for an upcoming trip when our quesadillas arrived, a platter with four large gleaming wedges of flour tortilla packed with beef and cheese. On the side came a trio of salsas, and I immediately fell for the fiery sour cream version. Let me be clear about these happy hour portions: They are not tiny. This is serious food, so serious that we had two of the four large quesadillas packed for home. As an abundant plate of carpaccio arrived we were sipping away, Melinda on her Manhattan (I’m not a fan of drinks containing cherries) and I on my cocktail of Hendrick’s gin, lemon juice and a float of bubbly. I asked for my drink to be made without a sugar rim and very little simple syrup. The bartender obliged and the cocktail was refreshingly un-sweet so that the gin could peek out and make itself known. Thank you! On the carpaccio front, paper-thin beef was draped across a large round plate, ringed with rosettes of Dijon mustard. In the center sat a jungle of baby arugula embellished with shaves of Parmigiano-Reggiano (I would have liked a bit more cheese), lavish quantities of capers, and a micro-dice of purple onion. This was a life-sustaining appetizer by any stretch, and for $10 it was the deal of the decade. Not sure why but the bite of gin and lemon made flavor romance with the sweet earthiness of the beef. Classic appetizers are treated with respect and gusto here at the Bittersweet happy hour—and worth the challenging rush hour drive from the Westside. The NBA, a proper cocktail, and affordable apps. Lots to like.

Bittersweet Bistro happy hour is 3:30-6 p.m. on Wednesday-Friday, and Sunday.


Windy Oaks at Soif

If you’re swift you might be able to score one of the last remaining places at tonight’s Winemaker Dinner at Soif ($125/person). Join one of the golden couples of the Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir scene, Jim and Judy Schultze, as they pour top Windy Oaks Estate wines—including a horizontal of Library pinots—in tune to some excitingly matched courses by Soif chef Marshall Bishop. Quick! RSVP to Soif, 423-2020.

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