I'm prone to unfortunate bouts of indecisiveness, and Monday was no exception. Steamer and I hadn't come to a happy agreement on any dinner plans, which lead to an awkward phone conversation re: wine.
Flustered Zinny: But what if we get sushi? I don't want to be stuck with a red.
Always cool Steamer: Do you want sushi?
Zinny: I'll get a red.
I popped 'round to Binny's and picked out a $7.99 Pinocchio Nero D'Avola. I never buy Italian wine, mainly due to a past friendship with the sommelier at Va Pensiero whose distaste for Chianti was so profound that I mentally swore off Italian wines by association. But while home this summer, Dad and I stopped at the town liquor store (I had never been and oh my lord the bottles of wine I spent my barely-21 youth missing!) that was serving tastings of the grape. I was duly impressed.
And look at how happily things come together: Steamer was in a rare mood for Italian, so it was Italy all around. Most Italian BYOBs actually have a full bar, but allow you to bring if you fork over a $10 corkage fee. Not for us. But we did stumble upon Caro Mio, a quiet spot just east of Lincoln Square that fit the bill.
The dreamy exterior, complete with bulbous, Christmas-ornament-like strings of lights and a tree entirely covered in tiny white lights, was so welcoming that we were surprised to find just two other parties inside. The emptiness wasn't overwhelming, though. We chose a corner table by the windows, which were fronted by a forest-like showing of tall-as-me plants. The warm sienna walls, eclectic artwork and exposed espresso machine warmed the space, which suffers from unfortunately dull floors (large tile squares) and ceiling (straight out of a basement). The music, straight off my 1999 playlist with Bjork and Red House Painters, was right up my alley, though a little out of place.
Service was attentive but minimal. A few simple slices of Italian bread turned delicious when dipped in the olive oil plate, robust with the addition of fresh chopped garlic, red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese. We began with a simple insalata caprese ($7.95), four tomato slices topped with the expected fresh mozzarella and basil.
Dinner proved a more difficult decision; most things were appealing, but none were too surprising. The menu is divided into chicken (mainly half-chickens), veal and beef (mainly veal), seafood (salmon and a bevy of linguine-and-seafood options) and pasta, which is split into homemade and non. We opted for a linguini frutta di mare with shrimp, calamari, clams and mussels in an oil and garlic sauce ($18.95), a wise and lighter mate to one of the specials: homemade manicotti and cavatelli, which came with meat, though it wasn't specified on the menu.
The portions were large and the food was well prepared, but it all lacked that little bit of specialness you hope for, or, more specifically, that my default mode anticipates when forking over close to $20 for an entree at an Italian (come on, romance much?) restaurant.
The wine, however, was like a perfect dinner guest: Made the feast just that much better, offered witticisms at just the right moment and, sadly, excused himself before the night got too late (Steamer had to run out and get another bottle from a nearby spot after I started whining about the impending end of the bottle). I had to scribble down its so-appropriate-when-drinking sentiment: "A glass half empty is indeed half full, but half a lie will never be half a truth." Nice. Also nice is the fact that you have twelve labels to choose from. Binny's had two: One with Geppeto and the little guy, the other with a fair maiden and Pinocchio. Steamer warily pointed out that Pinocchio was on one knee in front of the maiden (the bottle I chose). I assured him it wasn't a hint.
We finished with a decent tiramisu and paid the bill, which seemed surprisingly reasonable at $55 (I mentally tallied it closer to $70). Will I buy the wine again? Definitely. Caro Mio? Perhaps, in the summertime, on that dreamy sidewalk patio.
Zinny Fandel's tales of living the (mostly) BYOB life are intended to be attempted at home and in the community, preferably at BYOB restaurants.