When Richardson Browne opened the Rokerij ("smokehouse" in Dutch), he built it to look as dark, cozy and romantic as the smokehouses of the Netherlands he loved so much. It has since been remodeled to look and smell more like a good old American steakhouse. For variety and value, you can't beat the happy-hour menu selections.
The scene: Chalkboards display wine selections and daily specials. A right-angled bar and open kitchen are hung with pots and pans.
To partake of happy hour, you're required to sit at this bar, either the one upstairs or the cellar bar reached by an outside staircase. Both locations can be fun, but the cellar's stone-finished walls, low ceilings and fireplace are a bit more romantic.
The food: During happy hour, 21 not-so-small plates are priced at $5 each. Most plates contain four to six servings, which means two people really can't put away more than two or three selections.
Blue crab tostadas (six to the plate) are small, round blue-corn chips piled high with sweet crabmeat. They're lighter than most other selections without sacrificing flavor. Oysters Rokerij - three plump, fresh bivalves topped with spinach, Dungeness crab, crumbled bacon and jalapeño hollandaise - are rich and florid. Three are enough for one oyster-lover but not for two. Miniature soft-shell tacos filled with flavorful carne adovada get an extra boost from spicy chile de arbol salsa. My only complaint: The shells seemed a bit hard and dry.
The Rokerij offers four different "toasts," which simply means buttery slices of toasted baguette topped with something yummy. The house favorite is ultratender beef tenderloin topped with melted French triple-cream Brie. Oh my! Toasts topped with sauteed mushrooms and the same luscious Brie are almost as good. Ditto for tomatillo toasts, overlaid with strips of grilled ham, slivers of chicken breast and tangy tomatillo salsa.
Fat, crunchy onion rings (six of them) aren't too greasy, aren't too limp. They come with four dipping sauces: tomatillo, jalapeño hollandaise, chile de arbol and roasted red pepper. They're all pretty good, but barbecue sauce wouldn't be a bad addition. The only dish my buddies and I feel lukewarm about is Arturo's Asian short ribs, a wan version of Korean kalbi that just falls a little flat.
The drink: No off-the-wall, wildly imaginative cocktails here. The Rokerij is known for its eclectic, affordable wine list. Drop by for lunch or before 4 p.m. and you'll find a decent selection (four or five whites, four or five reds) of $5 wines by the glass. Drinks are not discounted at happy hour.
The lowdown: Seating is somewhat limited (16 bar seats upstairs, 17 in the cellar), so aim to get there by 4:30. That way you'll find a good spot and won't feel rushed to place your order. Taco fillers include steak and chicken, but don't miss the adovada - a signature at Richardson's (Browne's New Mexican-Southwestern restaurant down the street).