Dinner at Semiramis
was a long time coming. Steamer and I had made the trek up Kedzie Avenue a few months ago, with me blabbering the whole way about how great the chicken shawerma wrap was fabled to be. We arrived to find the restaurant closed, shoved off, and had a decent BYOB night that ended in me drowning my Semiramis-fueled sorrows in an embarrassing amount of cookie dough ice cream
Determined to right the past with or without Steamer, I made plans to cruise into Albany Park with Julia and give the eatery a second go. I biked over to Wine Discount Center that afternoon to pick up wine, "any white but Riesling that'll work," chimed in Julia. While the interior is pretty sterile and the name is dullsville, Wine Discount Center does cheap right. Sure, there's a gaggle of $6 bottles in the front, but the real bargain comes when you're looking for good prices on wine that runs from tasty (and about $8-$25) to spectacular (easily $100+).
I quickly cornered an employee and gave him my run-down: a bottle of white for a Middle Eastern meal that would be mostly vegetarian. He asked me a number of questions about heaviness, spice and, "most importantly," what I liked—something crisp and grapfruity—and took me to a wine that I deemed a little too spectacular for Zinny...a $17 bottle of Chenin Blanc.
After promising I'd pick it up for a special evening, we decided to switch gears and try a Sauvignon Blanc. He said its acidic quality thoroughly cleanses the palate between bites, allowing flavors to really shine through. He also said vegetarians (like Julia) drink a lot of Sauvignon Blanc. Always a sucker for generalizations, I grabbed an $8.99 bottle of Chilean (they're inching up on New Zealand, he said) Santa Rita Reserve Sauvignon Blanc.
A few hours later we slid into a parking spot directly in front of Semiramis, 4639 N. Kedzie Ave., and entered the right hand door, taking us into an area that seemed like your typical to-go restaurant: somewhat open kitchen, big counter, a few tables filled with people waiting, not eating. As our party was only two, we were almost immediately ushered into the room to the left, a tasteful space simply dressed in low lighting, rugs hung on the wall and hip music overhead.
Our wine was immediately opened, shoved in an ice bucket (upon request) and paired with a complimentary bowl of green olives and hot pink pickled beets. I grumbled a bit about the wine tasting too sweet (I said grapefruit!) until Julia pointed out that the vinegary beets I was downing probably weren't helping. I eased up, eased into the wine, and took a look at the menu.
I'm a sucker for Middle Eastern food, making appetizers a requirement, not an option. The ful sounded delicious and the French fries with garlic mousse sounded intriguing, but Julia and I have a shared obsession with stuffed grape leaves, so we opted for the vegetarian plate entree—grape leaves with falafel, hummus and baba ghannoaj—to start.
I went hogwild, grabbing a stuffed grape leaf, scooping a glob of baba ghannoaj onto my pita and extolling the smoky goodness while trying to cut off a piece of "some of the best falafel" Julia had ever had.
It was plenty of food, and Julia wisely ordered a fattoush salad (which ended up being huge) for her meal. I had heard too many good things about the chicken sandwiches to truly consider anything else, and the wine was making all my ambition head directly to my stomach. Though I resisted making mine a "special," with the addition of hummus, eggplant, cabbage and pickles, I did get a whopper of a shish taouk sandwich, two giant halves of perfectly thin flatbread rolled around grilled chicken, lettuce, tomato, cucumbers and tahini.
We did our best, but placed half of our respective meal in to-go containers. Realizing our meal still fell under the "insanely cheap" category, I asked for a trio of baklava (walnuts, almonds and pistachios) to take along as well. And that still only put things at $24.
As we walked outside, the night felt as crisp as the wine we had just about polished off—making me want more. I won't tell you how much I ended up drinking. But I will tell you that that half a sandwich didn't see the light of day. Which is probably why I did.
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.