Chaya Downtown for happy hour yesterday. It's true. If you don't work in the Financial District, you might not know about it. But it's very central, at the base of the City National building across from the library, and offers free valet parking with validation, a bonus for how difficult it is to park right there. The other great thing about Chaya is the patio, which sprawls along the side with glassy skyscrapers reflecting off of each other overhead. When it gets warm, it's transformed into the Summer Beer Garden, complete with a cook grilling skewers on a Japanese konro grill, plus drink specials, wines by the glass and Kirin beer topped with some wacky frozen beer foam to keep it cold when the days get too hot.
While others favor the beef tongue skewers, we thought they were a little unseasoned and flavorless; not our favorite. There's chicken skewers (par-cooked before it hits the flames, rendering it a bit spongy for our taste), shrimp brochettes, and giant grilled squid ringlets with great seasoning and wasabi aioli. More than anything we loved the grilled vegetables - because not everything grilled has to be meaty. The grilled romaine with a slice of grilled bacon was tasty, but we especially liked the corn, which takes cues from elote, the Mexican grilled corn smothered in mayo and cotija cheese. For a Chaya twist, this one is smothered in jalapeno aioli, chile powder and feta cheese. It's at once sweet, spicy and salty and just really delicious. But be prepared to make a mess; there's no graceful way to eat corn on the cob, with or without all the toppings. Find it at the Summer Beer Garden Sundays through Fridays, from noon-8 PM through August.