HOURS: Daily from 4–5:30pm and 10 pm–midnight.
PRICES: food specials between $3-$15

Toulouse Petit is a restaurant inspired by New Orleans, a mystery-drenched city full of doom and magic. But there is nothing doomed about Toulouse, the million-dollar project of savvy restaurateur Brian Hutmacher, who also owns neighboring Peso’s —a cash cow of a Mexican restaurant that at night becomes a popped-collar sausagefest unlike anything else this far north of Chico.

And while the twinkle of candles conspires with the glow from Georgia O’Keefe-esque blown-glass chandeliers to create a certain mystical ambiance, if there is magic at Toulouse Petit it is the happy hour, featuring 42 dishes (plus 12 sides), all of them under $7. (The restaurant also offers rib eye for $15 a plate during the late-night HH.)

I go to a lot of happy hours, but I’ve never seen happy hour food like this. The first plate that emerges is a tuna tartare, which comes laced with a subtle horseradish-truffle vinaigrette and topped with a quail egg ($5). Then comes a small platter of three oysters on crushed ice ($6) followed by a duo of spicy lamb sliders ($5) accompanied by a handful of fries and aioli. Finally, our server brings a glorious hunk of chicken and duck liver terrine ($4) the size of a small moleskine notebook. It is flanked by a pile of onions, a scattering of gherkins, some spicy mustard, and a few (rather too few, actually) tiny toasts.

The bill for this food, this feast of delicacies, comes to $25.85. Uh, what?

I spoke with Hutmacher just before Toulouse opened, when he told me he planned to offer HH food at cost, relying on alcohol alone to turn a profit. (If you doubt him, consider that Peso’s is the largest buyer of alcohol in the state, not counting casinos.) This takes the pressure off the staff, he said, to make all of their the money during the dinner hours of 6-9pm. Thus, the deals that await anyone who can get to Toulouse before 5:30 or after 10pm. How the kitchen can push out so many different items so quickly is another matter, I can only assume the have some kind of Louisiana voodoo working for them. And only hope that they can keep it up.

There are no drink discounts during HH, so all things being equal you have to make a choice between 1. the excellent fair-priced wine list (the creation of Wild Ginger vet Shing Chin, who honors his fine-dining background with a well-finessed and totally charming tableside manner) 2. one of 22 beers including several that hail from the Big Easy, or 3. a New Orleans-style cocktail like a sazerac ($7.50) or vieux carre ($9).

Each of these options is a good one.

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Find more happy hour favorites here.

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