The Place: Ten Asian Bistro, 4647 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach; 949-660-1010; tenrestaurantgroup.com.
The Hours: Mon.-Fri., 4-7 p.m.
The Deal: $5 well drinks, house martinis, house wines and champagne; $3 Sapporo, Blue Moon and Kirin. $5 appetizers and a reduced-price menu on more substantial dishes such as bento boxes.
The Scene: Don't let the Newps address fool you; this is no PCH den of cougars. It's two steps away from John Wayne Airport. Step over the stream and up into the wooden entrance and you'll see that they've tried to close in the cavernous restaurant with dark woods and careful lighting. The effect is slightly dated but not distracting. The denizens are, like most places right off the 405, refugees from the office towers of South Coast Metro, with the occasional UCI student or family having a cheap early dinner. Tables for happy hour are near the front of the restaurant; down in the main restaurant is for dinner only. The bar is nowhere near the happy hour tables, so either sit at the bar or get table service. Of note is the sheer number of menus: a happy hour menu, a cheap-eats menu, a dinner menu and a drinks menu will be dropped off at each table.
The Sauce: If you lament the inexorable demise of the fruity, sticky sweet sugar bombs served up and called “martinis”, then Ten's happy hour is the place for you; the happy hour martinis are a Cosmo, a lemon drop and an apple martini. There are some quite credible cocktails, including a daiquiri-like cucumber drink called “The Spa”, and what may be the best sake list in Orange County, but unfortunately none of the good stuff is discounted for happy hour. Still, this is technically Newport Beach; if you can flash the cash, you can drink well. If not, stick to Kirin.
The Food: You go to Ten to make dinner out of the appetizers. While the sushi isn't going to overturn Abe-san or Shibutani-san as the doyens of OC fish anytime soon, it's fresh and reasonably priced; inventive California-style rolls are the usual assortment of eel-sauced or mayonnaised fish and rice. Bento boxes are expensive by happy hour standards, but huge; they're loaded with gyoza or a pasty egg roll, broiled fish or meats, rice, salad and pickles. Shrimp and vegetable tempura is a large portion of halved-lengthwise shrimp, kabocha squash, green beans and potato for $5; a portion of white roughy in a sweet sauce is a good alternative to the fried overload.
The Verdict: As a place to drink and get drunk, maybe not; as a place to get an early substitute for dinner, it's spot on.
The Grade: B.