I have a couple of cheap wining-and-dining tricks up my sleeve, and I've decided that it's high time I share one of the best: the temporary BYOB. Chicago is infamously difficult when it comes to securing liquor licenses, so many restaurants are forced to delay opening...or open with a momentarily BYOB-friendly policy.
The bring-your-own bottle fun can last as short as a few days or as long as a few months, but if you can catch it, you'll be lucky enough to try that hot new restaurant without the hefty bar tab. And, after a weekend of pricey partying, that's exactly what Steamer and I were in the market for.
We're on a seemingly unending Cabernet Sauvignon kick, so I continued checking the less-than-$10 bottles off my list with the purchase of a $7.49 2002 Septima Cabernet Sauvignon. With bottle in hand, we headed to Logan Square's latest, Fonda del Mar, 3749 W. Fullerton.
Bright orange touches make it stand out warmly among the block's strip of largely abandoned buildings, and the interior skews equally inviting, with wooden tables, exposed brick and National Geographic-like photos of Mexico's Puerto Escondido.
The new home of Raul Arreola (who spent a dozen years under Mexican wunderkind Rick Bayless), this Mexican seafood eatery's menu alternates between Spanish and English, but our helpful server was quick to explain. After staring longingly at the list of not-yet-available margaritas, we uncorked the bottle and ordered a small vuelve a la vida, a sort of shrimp cocktail packed with oysters and octopus as well. Piling shrimp high on saltine crackers, we nodded in agreement over the wine: free of the harsh tannins that inexpensive Cabernet can fall suspect to, and packed with just enough blackcurrant fruitiness.
Come entree-time, we agreed to split the huachinango a la veracruzana, a whole red snapper topped with olives, capers, tomatoes and chilies, and borredo en mole negro, roasted lamb chops in smoky mole negro with garlic-mashed potatoes. The "Veracruz" part of the fresher-than-fresh snapper was saucier than most I've tried, perhaps a nod to Arreola's partners, who hail from Mia Francesca. The lamb was equally fresh, though modestly sized.
We called it quits, only to have a tempting serving of flan accidentally delivered to us. But the lady doth protest too much: Turns out it was a gift from the chef and, without a doubt, the most delicious thing we tasted. With tax and tip, we forked over $50 for our healthy, wholesome meal, and for the ever-important bragging rights of having tried a fresh-on-the-scene restaurant...for less.
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.