You'd be surprised at how many BYOB Thai spots there are. The exact number is somewhere between 43 and 5,000, and when you're specifically looking for a place that's not some sort of pad see eiw heaven (on my friend Sean's strict instructions that our BYOB escapade had to be Thai-, Ethiopian- and vegetarian-free), they pop up on every block.
So we decided to take it to an area of town that does noodles differently: Little Italy. But for all the multitudes of bring-yer-own Thai eateries, there's a converse number of Italian ones, somewhere between zero and five, to be exact. That's why we ended up staring at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame from our cushy seats on the patio of a sushi spot.
It's almost impossible not to think of pasta sauce when you're cruising down Taylor Street, and with Sean behind the wheel, I was left searching for the BYOB I had read about online. But when we finally drove past Japonica, 1422 W. Taylor St., at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday night, the only thing that came to mind was, well, nothing. It looked empty, with a noticeably vacant patio.
But the promise of a plateful of sushi was enough to quell my misgivings. We decided to start the "populate the patio" trend and stepped inside to let our waiter know that we'd be dining alfresco. Had I been a little more intuitive, I would have realized that that one quick peek indoors was the equivalent of one long meal at Japonica, at least in the final word summary: It's good, but misplaced.
But before I got to that finale, we got to the meal, sided by a Riesling that Sean had picked out at Binny's. Though the wine shop has a limited number of chilled bottles, it does have a bottle chiller, a tub of electric blue water that is supposed to turn your bottle icy in seven minutes, which was about six minutes too long for us. Our $8.99 bottle of Schmitt Sohne Riesling Spaltese would have to do the trick.
Just like a giant plastic bucket filled with ice did the trick as our wine bucket. We took the casual route, asked our waiter to not come back for a long time (a Zinny norm, it seems) and started sipping away. The "Spaltese" part of our wine implied that it was a late harvest Riesling, which made it sweet and sippable. In all honesty, it probably also made it better suited for spicy cuisine like, oh, Thai, but we made do just fine.
As we drank and caught up we took in our surroundings: a quaint jumble of Joe DiMaggio statues and awning-clad Italian restaurants, with a lime-green-hip sushi spot stuck between. We sat at fairly modern metal tables, and through the doors we could get a bit of a reminder of what we had seen earlier: a dramatically split-level spot that made the most of its small space, with a few tables overlooking the open area below, which houses the sushi bar and a few more tables.
The menu was right on for a BYOB sushi restaurant. Huge, with just enough fancy-schmancy maki rolls to do you well if that's your thing. It wasn't ours, so we started simple (edamame and the house salad with tangy ginger dressing) and skipped the showy rolls altogether. Sean got the $16 Sushi Bento C, with seven pieces of nigiri and a California roll.
I got just as good a deal: the small Sushi Moriwase, six pieces of sashimi of my choosing for $10. Thrown totally off-base by the any-six flexibility (usually not the norm), I panicked and went for five tuna and one super white tuna. The pieces were big, the maguro wasn't dyed (a shock at first to see the normally bright-red tuna a pale flesh color) and the super white tuna was like butter in the mouth. Mmm.
Our conclusion? Sure it was good, but when surrounded by a sports museum housing an Italian race car, frozen-in-time images of Joe DiMaggio and good ol' Rosebud, it was clear I wasn't doing as the Romans do. Next time, I think I will.
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. If you know of a BYOB spot she simply must tipple at, let her know.