I’m checking out a new happy hour in Madison each week along with my girlfriend, Abby. I’ll report on the hits, misses, and best deals. Suggest your favorite happy hour via email.
Tavernakaya is a sleek, modern Japanese restaurant styled after the izakaya bars of Tokyo, complete with paper orb lanterns and a long, slick-looking bar. The vibe is comfortable but slightly upscale. This wasn’t our first time trying Tavernakaya, but we enjoyed our first happy hour experience so much that we doubled back last Friday for round two.
We showed up just past 4 p.m. The place was practically empty, so we took a seat by the window overlooking the Capitol for top-notch people-watching. After looking over the huge selection of sakes well out of our price range (but you can try the house sake for $3 during happy hour), we decided to order one of the drink specials advertised on a chalkboard over the bar: sake lemon drop shots for $4. Sapporo and New Glarus’ Spotted Cow were on draft for $4, but our shots turned out to be an excellent choice. Abby declared them to be her “new favorite beverage,” though she has a track record of making wild overstatements.
We also ordered edamame, one of a few small plates for $3 on the happy hour food menu, and the absolutely fantastic Taiwanese-style fried popcorn chicken for $5 with Chinese five-spice, Thai basil and spicy mayo. But we weren’t quite satisfied with the smaller bites, so we ordered items off the main menu. It’s available starting at 5 p.m. I had the vegetable fried rice ($11) and miso soup ($3). Abby ordered an ebi-ten, or tempura shrimp roll ($6.50). Practically everything we ordered was flavorful and well-balanced, and it was all delicious.
Our bill was bigger than usual — about $60 with tip — on account of ordering off the regular menu. But we took food home for lunch the next day, so the expense didn’t seem unreasonable.
Abby and I agreed that, so far, Tavernakaya is our favorite spot for happy hour in Madison.
The big takeaway: The space is slick, modern and just plain cool-looking, and it’s equally suited to big or small parties. It’s possible to eat cheap if you stick to the happy hour bites, but it would be difficult to piece together a full meal that way. Expect your bill to balloon quickly if you order off the main menu, but the food and drinks are worth it.
Happy hour: Monday-Friday 4-6 p.m. Happy hour drinks available all day Thursday; select regular sushi rolls $5 on Wednesday.