Esca: A Happy Hour Of Finer Fare

Wouldn't it be great to have a $100 dining experience every night? While that would be fantastic, sadly it's not possible for the 99 percent. Enter Esca's happy hour.

The vibe: The lights in Esca are low, the ceilings high. Stacks of wine racks flow down stone support pillars, and a honeycomb of bottles overlooks the bar.

The food: The food at Esca is beautiful and tastes great. When the $25 entrees (however worth it they are) can't fit your daily budget, happy hour is the time to get a taste of the wine bar's fantastic menu.

A paltry $4 nets one of nine small plates. Thirsty? Pick from four red wines, four whites or a cocktail for $5. Martinis go for $7, and draft beers are $2.

Calamari is fried in a light, not oily, batter and served with a roasted red pepper sauce that could knock the socks off the average marinara. Bruschetta had just the right bread texture (soft but easily tearable), and a devouring bite of the crispy buffalo shrimp has this diner turning to his companion and simply saying "more."

If there's one problem with these bar bites, it's that you'll want more. They are portioned for two people to share, but after sucking pork osso buco clean off the bone, you wish for something else to mop up its spicy-sweet pineapple chipotle sauce.

Esca's happy hour menu is served in the bar area from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. weekdays, and the special is extended until 10 p.m. Thursday nights. Mondays also offer half priced bottles of wine.

The Bill: Four plates and a drink each left these two diners happy, temporarily satiated, for $26.