toulouseoyster.jpg
Kyle Houk

The Place: Toulouse Petit Kitchen & Lounge , 601 Queen Anne Ave. N, 432-9069, QUEEN ANNE

The Hours: Daily, 4-6 p.m., 10 p.m.-1

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Canterbury Snails at Toulouse Petit

toulouseoyster.jpg
Kyle Houk

The Place: Toulouse Petit Kitchen & Lounge, 601 Queen Anne Ave. N, 432-9069, QUEEN ANNE

The Hours: Daily, 4-6 p.m., 10 p.m.-1 a.m.

See Also: Beware the Mummy Dog at Lake City's Elliott Bay Public House & Brewery

Calm and Cool, the Belltown Pub Will Refresh You

The Digs: The sign that looks like the first letter of a piece of medieval printing, all swirls and flourishes, lets you know something epic is about to go down. For happy hour pilgrims, Lower Queen Anne is Canterbury, and Toulouse Petit is the shrine to Thomas Becket. A cast of characters as varied as the party of travelers in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales could be found reading the text of what must surely be the holiest, longest and most godly happy hour menu in town.

I met the Wife of Bath, who struck up a conversation with me in a low, seductive voice even as she saved a seat for her date. I also met the Knight, who helms a local non-profit and attempted to preach religion to me before I nipped that in the bud. Get there early, oh pilgrims, for by the time I departed at 5:30 p.m., there was nary an empty seat in the house, aside from the vacancy I left in my wake. I made a beeline to the Irish pub across the street (T.S. McHugh's) and chatted with a couple who were not blessed enough to find a spot.

The Deal: The menu is, in a word, cathedral. A headline stretching across the top expounds "The Best Happy Hour Menu in the Nation" and "More Than Fifty Exquisite Preparations." I only counted 49 items, yet I can't imagine a better happy hour menu within a 500-mile radius, as happy hour to me brings to mind wings and chips n' dip. The scripture I held in my hands unraveled like a scroll to reveal a massive menu of tasty heaven-sents such as Buttermilk Fried Chicken Bites with Tasso and Black Pepper Gravy, Crab Ravigote over Fried Green Tomatoes, and the globe-spanning Manila Clams with Spanish Chorizo. All the food items on the menu are remarkably priced from $4 to $8.

"Our happy hour is mostly about the food," says a towering, Aryan linebacker of a bartender. That was his response when I asked about the beer and wine specials, of which, surprisingly, there are none. A list of cocktails--including the two I sampled, the Irish Daisy (a Manhattan-like mixture of Bushmills Irish Honey whiskey, raspberry liquer, lemon and soda) and the Toulouse Hurricane (light and dark rum, lime juice and passion fruit nectar; it tasted like the Hurricane I had in N'awlins at the last Mardi Gras before Katrina)--are a few bucks cheaper than the usual double digits. The beer list is heavy on the bayou brews like Dixie and Abita, but Toulouse has ZERO beers on tap. The Wife of Bath brought this to my attention as she received her Stone IPA in a bottle.

But back to the munchies: I ordered my dishes one at a time to savor each blissful creation. First came oysters on the half shell ($5), of which you get three fresh and crisp little bivalves served on crushed ice with a powerfully pungent, heavy-on-the-horseradish-in-the-best-way cocktail sauce. Slurping those babies down was a light and refreshing pleasure.

Second came the Helix Snails with Garlic and Fresh Herbs ($6). Wikipedia has taught me that "Helix is a genus of large air-breathing land snails, terrestrial pulmonate gastropod molluscs." Sounds delicious already. I think the racing snail in The Neverending Story must have belonged to genus Helix, and let me tell you, I have never eaten snails before, and slightly intimidatingly, I was served a cast-iron baking dish full of little squirmies that were about as humongous as said racing snail. But a bit of liquid courage encouraged me to dig in, and what a surprise: They were delicious! Served in a hot bath of butter and oil, they had a smoky flavor that reminded me of meat cooked on a charcoal grill. Served with crunchy crostinis, the snails were the highlight of the evening. But as the Knight, who sat to my left pointed out, anything served with that much butter, oil and garlic is going to taste good. I assume, though, that some skill is involved in cooking something that has such potential to end up chewing like a Goodyear radial, and these were completely opposite in consistency--a firm, meaty morsel not unlike a bite of chicken breast.

Lastly, I ordered the Chicken and Duck Liver Terrine ($4). I was served a thick slice of grey-toned, molded liver loaf with mustard and crostinis on the side. The gamey, iron taste was balanced by a refreshing salad of parsley and shallots. The terrine was a fine example of terrine, but, if you're like me, liver is an acquired taste which I have yet to acquire.

The Verdict: Toulouse Petit is certainly the finest happy hour I have seen in Seattle. It's an impressive feat they have pulled off, serving so many decadent dishes at such attractive prices. The lack of drink specials to match the food specials is the one complaint I have, but perhaps it's the necessary evil that accompanies charging so little for such fine eats. If you've yet to experience Toulouse's happy hour, it is a must-try. If you have, you know what I mean. If you do find yourself waiting for a table, tell a story to your fellow pilgrims to pass the time.

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