Buying wine should never be anything less than a pleasure, which I tried to push into my thoughts as I paced Binny's, fretting that I had two, not 20, minutes to grab something and go. Steamer and I were doing dinner site-unseen, hitting up Bucktown's Babylon Eatery, and I was having a hard time inventing knowledge of the perfect pairing of wine and shawerma. Steamer is an avowed red wine drinker in the winter months; knowing that our days of wine-stained lips were coming to a close, I bypassed the Sauvignon Blanc (blast! Such an easy choice) and wrote off Petit Syrah as too cinnamon-friendly.
I opted for a $7.99 bottle of 2003 Rex Goliath Central Coast Pinot Noir. Partially because Binny's selection of unusual, less-than-$10 New World Pinot leaves a little to be desired (though my frustration should be directed at the sad fact of life that cheap Pinot isn't easy to find). But mostly because I couldn't turn down a bottle whose name and vintagesque label art praise an infamous rooster, one who detracted attention from the bearded lady at the Texas Circus about a hundred years ago. Oh, and this rooster wasn't named Charlie. Try HRM (His Royal Majesty, of course) Rex Goliath, who tipped the scales at 47 pounds. That's one husky rooster.
With Goliath in tow, we entered Babylon Eatery, which could appropriately be dubbed "David." You wouldn't expect this tasteful and tiny storefront to pack a BYOB punch at first glance. It's essentially a classed-up fast food joint. Exposed brick walls, impeccable cleanliness and white cloth napkins meet with casual tables, fountain Coke in Styrofoam cups and an order-at-the-counter hierarchy. Germophobes can rest easy: My guess is that very few lips ever touch the stemware. That said, if you can BYOB, why don't you?
It was one of those preciously inexpensive experiences that makes you realize wine isn't too posh to be drunk at all occasions, and that you don't need to spend a good deal of money to get good food. We ordered a baba ghanoj appetizer, a chicken kabob pita sandwich and a falafel pita sandwich, I plopped down $13.89 (in a state of near-disbelief) and came back to Steamer with a corkscrew, some glasses and a proud we've-never-been-so-thrifty grin.
We cracked open the wine and dove into the baba (all food is brought to your table), which was smoky and delicious. Enough so that by the end of the meal we were dipping our fingers into it, licking off the last bits (partly because it was excellent, partly because we got a pretty wimpy basket of thin pita bread). The falafel wrapped trumped the chicken kabob in terms of flavor, but sides of tahini dressed it up just fine.
The Pinot turned out to be a decent choice. It's a grape that has a pretty high velvet-potential, and drinking anything velvety and smooth makes any day a good day in my book. The eggplant's smokiness brought out a smoky quality in the wine itself, though bits of cherries did peek through.
Our baklava finish, part of our eternal search for the world's best baklava, certainly didn't medal. Dense without being flaky, it didn't have the delicacy I had hoped. Applying "dense without being flaky" to the wine, however, would be sort of appropriate. A good $8 Pinot deserves a compliment or two, after all.
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.