We who work alone from home have two problems. We crave to be with other people, and we want an official end to the work day. Solution? Happy Hour. The deals are as welcome as the company.
Tinto Tapas Bar & Restaurant in Norwalk is the former Meigas, redesigned by owner Carlos Hernandez. The Wall Street front is now entirely glass, offering an inviting entry into the warm, orange, red and yellow-toned rooms. A new bar area seats 30. There, from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and all day Sunday drinks are $2 off. There are daily specials ("buy two tapas, get one free"). There's one tapa I have to have every time. Two grilled shrimp perched on a stack of avocado, beet, orange and kiwi, with mango vinaigrette ($7). It is so refreshing and colorful, it makes you forget it's winter. A recent special of piquillo peppers stuffed with braised lamb was warm and comforting.
My favorite drink at Tinto is the "Jalapenotini" a spicy tequila cocktail. If you go to Hernandez's other tapas place, Solun in Woodbridge, and Neil Fuentes is behind the bar, he'll make a show of it. Fuentes muddles jalapeno, cucumber, lime and sugar, then strains it. He rinses the martini glass with tequila, then dips the rim in sugar. Then he lights the glass on fire. "Oohs" rise from the bar as blue flames flicker from the glass. Besides creating drama, the fire caramelizes the sugar on the rim. Fuentes adds Patron silver tequila to the juice, shakes , and pours it into glasses. Applause! On a recent visit to Solun, I shared several tapas, a thick potato tortilla, fried ravioli filled with creamy mushrooms, and mini brochettes of moist, grilled cubes of tuna. My favorite was seared diver scallop with orange and avocado with ginger-soy vinaigrette.
Ibiza Tapas just opened a second location in Danbury. The vibrant decor by designers Ronnie Curry and Emma Marianetti evokes Spain by contrasting black, industrial-feeling floors and ceiling with bright orange, green and red colors and hints of cubism in big murals and abstract shapes. Their happy hour, from 4 to 6 p.m. daily, offers specials on drinks, like a light, slightly effervescent vino verde, with complimentary pintxos. These "little bites" include codfish croquettes with garlicky aioli, potato frittata, grilled bread topped with tomato puree, and sliced baguettes with thinly sliced beet and avocado.
In Stamford, Cotto Wine Bar & Pizzeria, (the former Tappo) is Italian, but "tapas" appear on the menu. The long blonde bar that dominates this contemporary, urban setting ends in a high-topped table a group can gather around. (There's a vast communal table in the back corner, which I recently found to be the opposite of convivial as my dining companions were set into far-off corners.) Cotto's happy hour runs from 4 to 6-ish Tuesday through Thursday. Drinks are regularly priced, but free food is served at the bar, bruschetta, pizza, olives, stuff you can pick up in your hands. I'm likely to supplement that by ordering a selection of the tissue-paper thin imported prosciutto di Parma, bresola della Valtellina and salame Genovese. The waitress's suggestion of a glass of prosecco with this was just right.
Rizzuto's has one of the best happy hours around. In Westport, on weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m., drinks are about half-price (most people order wine), and a discounted bar menu ranges in price from $5 to $8. I order a thin-crusted Neapolitan pizza, which is baked in a wood-burning oven. The bartenders are always friendly and the bar is crowded and convivial. You always end up chatting with someone seated near you. Even better, happy hour extends to weekends from noon to 3 p.m. Stamford's Rizutto's extends the weekday happy hours from 4 to 7 p.m., serving a half-price menu that features individual-sized pizzas for $5. Saturday and Sunday, happy hour runs from noon to 5 p.m.
In downtown Stamford, Bar Q, which has 26 craft beers on tap, offers a "two for one" deal on drafts Monday through Friday from 4 to 7. Their beer list includes one of my favorites, Lagunitas IPA (Petaluma, CA). No special bargains on food, but regular menu of tapas-sized dishes is a bargain everyday. Two of the most popular dishes at happy hour are spicy pork empanadas and chipotle meatball sliders.
In Westport Tavern on Main has the coziest, most New Englandy feel , with lots of small-paned windows, old wood floors and a glowing copper bar. The $3 Guinness are a big draw here during the weekday 4 to 6 p.m. happy hour. House-made potato chips are on the house, and wings cost fifty cents a piece.
A Few of the Happy Hours in Fairfield County
Tinto Tapas Bar, 10 Wall St., Norwalk, (203) 866-8800, tintobartapas.com
Solun, 245 Amity Rd., Woodbridge, (203) 298-9741, soluntapasbar.com
Cotto Winebar & Pizzeria, 51 Bank St., Stamford, (203) 914-1400
Rizzuto's, 540 Riverside Ave., Westport, (203) 221-1002, rizzutos.com
Rizzuto's, 1980 W. Main St., Stamford, (203) 324-5900, rizzutos.com
Tavern on Main, 150 Main St., Westport, (203) 221-7222, tavernonmain.com
Bar Q, 261 Main St., Stamford, (203) 316-0278, barqstamford.com
The "Jalapenotini" at Tinto. (Kim Williams photo)