Serious Eats: Drinks
Happy Hour, NYC: Terroir
What Terroir's happy hour lacks in hours (well, hour; it's from 5pm-6pm), it more than makes up for in quality. First, it's available seven days a week, easy to put on your weekend to-do list. Second, it's quite pleasant in their East Village bar on the early side: in our experience, much less crowded, a calm and friendly place for a few drinks. And third, you can knock back three quality drinks for $12 and learn something in the process.
How does that work? As Terroir's colorful and opinionated wine menu (seriously; go read it) will tell you, they're sherry ambassadors—declaring it "the most underrated beverage on the Planet Earth" and putting their money where their mouth is by pouring it out, free, during happy hour. (One glass per person.)
You've got your choice of a crisp, dry Fino, Gutierrez Colosia, and a darker, fuller Oloroso, El Maestro Sierra; our server, true to the menu's word, couldn't stop talking about them, what he loved about each, how they were and weren't typical of their style. For sherry novices, it's a free primer along with the free drink.
But do switch to wine—$6/glass at happy hour with four whites and five reds available on our visit. "This wine is way too good for happy hour!" one server said in a stage whisper, leaning across the bar with a bottle; of course, we had to try a glass. The Herdade do Esporão Verdelho they poured us was quite floral on the nose with elements of citrus and peach, crisply acidic and finishing dry. It'd be a fantastic summer sipper, interesting but still refreshing and straightforward. After chatting about a few of the reds, we settled on the 2008 Musar Jeune from Chateau Musar in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley—soft and full-bodied Cinsault-Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon blend, with notes of berries and cherries but dry on the finish.
As wine bar kitchens go, Terroir's is fantastic; on this visit, we tried the calamari ($8) with smoked chickpeas, oil and lemon, and a little chili heat. While the food portions seem a tad small for what you get, it works out to a pretty gentle average once you've had three generous drinks that average $4 apiece.
Even after happy hour's over, you can make your way through the wine list by "tastes"—Terroir serves three-ounce pours of a huge number of wines, at just a little more than half the price of a six-ouncer, letting you try out the menu without committing to a full pour.
The staff is more than up to the challenge of guiding you through that list. But even more impressive, they're informed and plain-spoken without a hint of pretension. Our party had guests of varying wine expertise, and our server chatted with all of them, explaining the wines in simple terms without that "Really, you're not familiar with Viognier?" expression you'll see so often. They call themselves "an elitist wine bar for everyone," and really, that seems about right.