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Happy Hour Hunt: Z Cuisine Á Côté

The Place: Z Cuisine Á Côté, 2239 West 30th Avenue, 303-477-1111.

The Hours: Tuesdays from 4:30 to 10 p.m., and Wednesday through Saturday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

The Deal: Wines by the glass -- Gascogne Blanc and a Côtes du Luberon -- are served for $5; Stella Artois is poured for $3. Various small plates (which are really quite large) go for $12 and chef Patrick Dupays's French onion soup is $5 (and vegetarian).

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The Digs: The bar is like raw acoustic guitar, an old friend, an oversize quilt and plush down pillows: It's home in the simplest and purest sense of the word. Á Côté is far more charming and enchanting than the average neighborhood bar, and once you've become a part of its trance, it's incredibly hard to leave, regardless of how much wine you've consumed or how much foie you've shoved down your gullet. Patrons chat happily and intimately under coral-beaded chandeliers while perched upon wooden stools with a circumference large enough to accommodate the largest of derrières; black and white French films project silently on a wall covered in framed photographs. I would take up residence there if they'd let me.

The Verdict: The downfall of Á Côté's happy hour is that, unless you have extreme discipline, your bank account won't be thrilled once you get the tab. However, the experience is so enthralling that it's entirely worth the extra pennies -- and I wouldn't hesitate for a second to return. The love that goes into preparing the food at Á Côté is so evident that it's literally palatable, and you'll soon realize that, for an event that's traditionally centered around a cheap buzz, the five dollar glass of wine you're chugging for happy hour has become little more than a second thought. The happy hour plate is a lovely charcuterie dish brimming with artisan cheeses, housemade confitures and country paté. The combination, which changes frequently, is accompanied by an utterly sinful chocolate pot de crème lightly sprinkled with cayenne powder. The tartine a la Parisienne -- a flawlessly fried egg topping an open-faced sandwich on grilled batard, whose rich béchamel is hard to distinguish from the Emmanthaler that melts perfectly onto the Colorado farm-raised ham -- was most appropriately described by another diner as an "Egg McMuffin on crack." Enough said. The staff possesses the same passion that's evoked in the food, which is apparent not only in their knowledge of the menu, but in their vast repertoire of wine and their ability to excite even the weariest of customers.

Overall Grade: A

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