I was recently at a party where the conversation turned to the renovations at FIG. “I’d really like to go,” one of the partygoers said. “I’ll have to find a special occasion.” Over the course of the evening, other upscale restaurants were described as places to go when richer relatives are footing the bill, or when you have something momentous to celebrate.
But one of the advantages of living in a city blessed with so many great restaurants is you don’t have to wait for a birthday or anniversary to enjoy exceptional food and drink. In fact, it’s sometimes more enjoyable to visit a restaurant when you’re not overwhelmed by thoughts of your own mortality, or intent on every aspect of the experience conforming exactly to sky-high expectations.
Of course, it’s financially impossible for most people to just drop by a restaurant for a spur-of-the-moment $205 tasting menu, even if the logistics of scoring a table are relatively easy here. Fortunately, it’s perfectly OK to order one drink and one appetizer, a strategy that’s now slightly cheaper at McCrady’s.
McCrady’s recently restored its happy hour program, offering three $10 plates at the bar from 5 p.m.-6:30 p.m. The drinks list features a Coast kolsch for $4; a French chardonnay and French syrah, both sold for $9 a glass, and an $8 old fashioned.
Admittedly, that’s not the cheapest deal in town: We’re still talking about a $30 investment, which is considerably more than the $12 you’d spend (counting tax and tip) for pork rinds and sparkling wine down the block at Pearlz. But your money buys access to the same quality cooking, bartending and service that’s available to customers laying out 10 times that much cash. And it’s especially worthwhile if you order the escargot.
I’m probably not the right audience for the giant serving of shaved country ham, arrayed in overlapping slices that cover every centimeter of the white plate and squiggled with hefty lines of yellow-tinged mayonnaise that’s supposed to taste like popcorn: The back-and-forth rows somehow reminded me of dessert pizza. Sharp horseradish is grated over the ham and mayo, helping to relieve the richness of the fat. This is clearly the appetizer to order if you’re hungry: There’s enough excellent ham on the plate for two decent sandwiches.
Actually, when it comes to getting the most meat for your money, the pig ears aren’t too shabby either. When I think of pig ears and Neighborhood Dining Group, I think first of Husk’s signature lettuce wraps, each of which holds about half a dozen of the distinctive clef-shaped cartilage bits. Because the Sichuan-style pig ears at McCrady’s are billed as a snack, I imagined an order would be about the size of one Husk bundle. Yet the tangle of ears was probably closer in number to the entirety of the Husk appetizer (which, by the way, costs $12.) If you’re drinking the exceedingly well-made old fashioned, the vinegary pig ears -- punctuated by peppercorns and pickled red onions -- are quite nearly a must.
Head bartender Bethany Kocek wisely suggested a half glass of Champagne with the escargot, a happy hour departure merited as much by the dish’s refinement as its flavors. Here, the escargot are popped out of their shells; grilled and scattered with verdant chives. If you’ve only had escargot baked with garlic and butter, it’s very cool to encounter the same little critters functioning almost like pasta, touched with a white wine-based pickled ramp sauce, then speckled with bread crumbs and bits of melted Gruyere. This is the kind of snack that creates its own special occasion.
For more information, visit mccradysrestaurant.com.