"You want me to make you another ladies' drink?" the bartender teased my boyfriend last night at Sushi King (3401 Kirby, 713-528-8998).
His face reddened. He looked at the empty martini glass to his right -- which had recently held a peach and tequila combination garnished with a cherry and a pineapple frond -- and shook his head.
"No," he hemmed and hawed. "A, uh...a beer will do just fine, thanks." He cleared his throat, perhaps attempting to sound gruffer: "A Kirin, please."
A second passed. The bartender and I locked eyes and began laughing hysterically. If your bartender can't make fun of you in this world, who can?
Sheri, the chipper bartender at Sushi King, is like the human embodiment of a Ziploc bag full of Pop Rocks. She bounces and pops effervescently from one end of the small bar to another during happy hour, dishing strong drinks and dirty jokes (ask her about dung beetles the next time you're at the bar) with aplomb. It's not exactly the scene you'd expect to find in an otherwise chic sushi restaurant, where chefs with advanced pedigrees serve exceptionally high-quality fish.
Sheri is at least part of the draw during happy hour; the other is -- of course -- the prices.
Happy hour normally runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. during lunch and 4 to 6:30 p.m. during dinner, but those hours are extended until 10 p.m. on Sunday and Monday evenings. "You know why that is, don't you?" boyfriend grumbled as we made our way in yesterday. "Because they're getting rid of the fish from the weekend."
But I'm there for more than just the fish -- old weekend fish or not. Agedashi tofu is only $4 (although I wish other appetizers besides just edamame made the happy hour list, such as the shiso hasami age or the shumai), and the rolls -- a guilty pleasure if ever there was one -- are only $4 to $5, nearly 50 percent off what they'd normally be.
Drinks like boyfriend's "ladies' drink" run $5 for a cocktail or a beer to $2 for a small house sake. The sake is served hot, so beware if you don't care for Gekkeikan from the big white box (essentially the Budweiser of sakes): It has to be served hot to mask the fact that it's not particularly awesome sake. If you don't mind this, $2 is a pretty good deal for a good deal of sake.
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Of the rolls that Sushi King offers during happy hour, it's the simple Houston roll and the fried-all-to-hell Phoenix roll I like the most. The fish-packed Houston roll might be an efficient means of disposing of extra tuna, salmon and yellow tail, but I'm perfectly fine with that. The Phoenix roll is unabashed comfort food: fried white fish covered with sticky sweet eel sauce that begs to be licked off your fingers. Yes, I ate my rolls with my fingers last night. Sue me.
And, yes, the happy hour prices are only good at the bar. But with Sheri back there mixing drinks and dishing out facts about fish like a Discovery Channel special ("I work here because I love sushi so much," she explained to one customer), there's nowhere else I want to be.