4 favorite local spots to BYO
by Michael austin
What To bring
HB Home Bistro:
2010 Talbott Chardonnay Logan ($22)
2009 Ravenswood Zinfandel Lodi ($14)
2009 Justin Justification ($40)
2008 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay ($40)
2010 Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir ($40)
2009 Paraduxx Napa Valley Red Wine “C” or “Z” Blend ($46 each)
2011 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc ($11) or Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc ($17)
2010 Casa Silva Carmenere Reserva ($12)
2009 Clos de los Siete Red Wine ($17)
Yuzu Sushi and Robata Grill:
Adami Garbel Brut Prosecco Treviso DOC ($15)
2011 Clayhouse Adobe White ($13)
2010 Decoy Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($22)
Actually, starting with bubbly is a good idea at any of these places, not just Yuzu. Try a bottle of Mumm Napa Cuvee M ($20), or Laurent-Perrier Brut LP ($35), and kick off your BYO dinner with a celebratory toast. Cheers!
The obvious reason to go to a BYO restaurant is to save a little jingle on wine. You get your bill and it’s $50 to $75 lighter than it would have been at a comparable wine-selling restaurant. Long live the BYO.
I would never dissuade anyone from going to a restaurant that sells wine. Never. But there are some very good restaurants that just happen to let you bring your own. You can be very budget-conscious and limit your bottle prices to what you would normally pay for a single glass, or you can use this opportunity to splurge, as retail prices are usually less than half of what restaurants charge for the same bottle. So $130 on a wine list becomes $60 at a wine shop. That is a good deal for two people, let alone four.
Always bring more wine than you will drink. You’ll be glad to have the variety and you can take home what you do not finish, or share it with your server or the kitchen — or the people sitting next to you. That’s half the fun of going BYO. The other half is saving some dough. My four current favorites are listed below with wine suggestions.
HB Home Bistro (3404 N. Halsted, 773-661-0299) is a charming little place where the menu is constantly evolving and the staff is the epitome of relaxed and friendly. Executive chef/owner Joncarl Lachman probably will call you back to confirm your reservation, and then greet you at the front door. Start with almond-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, and move on to rabbit and spaetzle with mustard seeds, cremini mushrooms, mint vinegar and English peas and sugar snaps. If you are there when the chocolate candy bar is on the menu, order it.
Ruxbin (851 N. Ashland, 312-624-8509) sends out plates of food so pretty you almost do not want to disturb them. But after one bite you end up devouring the dish and trying to spot your server to see if your next dish is on the way. Because the kitchen is tiny at Ruxbin, dishes, especially appetizers, arrive as they are made. Go there prepared to share. Try the octopus grilled with chickpeas, pickled green onions, radishes, black soybeans, grapes and ginger-scallion vinaigrette. Follow that with Ruxbin’s upscale take on “beef & broccoli.”
Tango Sur (3763 N. Southport, 773-477-5466), dark and candlelit, feels a half a world away from the sports bars that dominate the neighborhood. I like to start with a few empanadas — they are as good or better than any I have had in Buenos Aires — and then pop a couple of Argentinian or Chilean reds and go back and forth between them when the steaks and morcilla arrive. If you get there early and you are waiting to be seated, head to the little room in back where you can open your wine and sip it. Flickering candles and grilled meats await you.
Yuzu Sushi and Robata Grill (1715 W. Chicago, 312-666-4100) is very casual, offering grilled appetizer-size skewers of meats and vegetables starting at $1.50. Try the chicken and green onions, pork shoulder with honey garlic sauce, beef short rib, and asparagus wrapped in bacon, and order them at the end of the meal, to get you through your bottle of red. This is after you have polished off some bubbly or a bottle of white with sushi and a few appetizers such as the avocado mango salad with seasonal greens and a creamy ginger dressing.
BYOs will give you a bucket or two of ice, but it is always good to bring chilled wine so you can have a glass right away instead of waiting for it to cool. I like to tip a little extra at BYOs, especially if the server is refilling glasses, opening bottles, carting away empties and foil fragments, and reminding you not to forget your corks if you want to keep them. Even when you throw a little more their way, you still come out way ahead.
Michael Austin is a Chicago free-lance writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.