Drunk After Work: Prego
Photo courtesy of Prego Ristorante
The Place: Prego, 18420 Von Karman Ave., Irvine; (949) 553-1333; www.pregoristoranti.com
The Hours: 4:30 to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The Deal: $4 beers, $4.50 wine, $5 well drinks, $4 appetizers.
The Scene: From the outside, it looks like the old man's house from "Up", with tall corporate towers surrounding an ivy-covered, low-slung building. Inside, it's cavernous and open, with a working bread oven near the bar, a few diplomatically placed televisions, and plenty of tables. The crowd is mostly cubicle refugees and office dwellers, more nicely dressed than is usual for OC white collar work. This is a place for an after-work happy hour, and more than a couple of "let's go negotiate over martinis" deals were going down.
The Sauce: While the bottled beer selection is reasonable and the house wine is drinkable (it's Nathanson Creek--did you know they made wine in Madera?), the thing to order is well drinks. While most other bars' wells are a long, monotonous list of off-brand liquors, which are easy on the wallet but hard on the head, Prego's well is made of normal brands we've all heard of: Absolut vodka, Jim Beam bourbon, Jack Daniels whiskey. The well drinks are a little pricier than in the Houses of Bols and Barton, but it's worth the extra dollar or so to have a better drink.
The Food: $4 gets you some great deals. A meatball sandwich with two pairs on a piece of focaccia with red sauce (no, not from the jar) and a small arugula salad; a pretty decent-size thin pizza; small gnocchi with pesto; grilled calamari steak with more of the arugula, or just a classic antipasto of charcuterie, bread and caprese salad. You could frankly make a dinner out of one or two of these items, which is a big boon to your bank account. Even if you aren't in the market for food, you can snack on the complimentary grissini that'll be brought with your drink.
The Verdict: The South Coast business travelers' haven, and a place for the local office drones to get tipsy and catty about John in Marketing who refuses to be a team player, sure, but this is also a place you could bring the family for a quick, light dinner before an OCPAC event.
The Grade: B.
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