Steamer has been gone four weeks, and I've come to that same realization I have every summer he's away: I just don't drink when he's not around. That's partially because I hole up like some character from the Secret Garden, locked in my room with a book and a big bowl of pudding, wondering when life will be fun again. It's also because our BYOB outings have given way to sweet brunches with girlfriends, coffee with acquaintances, barbecues where I try my best to appear comfortable but end up furiously munching on the veggies and dip platter.
So when J. agreed to dinner, I, determined to wine and dine, gave her a smattering of BYOB places to choose from. We settled on Treat, 1616 N. Kedzie Ave., a globally-inspired newbie that's been garnering glowing reviews for its menu of Moroccan chicken skewers, chicken tikka masala and caprese paninis.
I stopped at Provenance on the way for the vino. I'm falling for its 10-under-$10 table, and falling even harder for the fact that it always seems to have a refrigerated bottle of my wine of choice on hand, a must in hot summer months. On the always-helpful-owner's recommendation, I left with a $7.99 bottle of Aveleda Vinho Verde, a "frizzante" (lightly fizzy, which sounded fun) Portuguese white.
I could pretty much bet my life on the fact that I'd arrive before J., who's always pleasantly and breezily five minutes late. I was ushered to a table where I used my few solo minutes to take in the place (with that feigned intensity that hopefully conveys "yes, I really do find this shade of muted golden paint that I'm staring at fascinating").
Still, I liked what I saw. The petite restaurant is divided into two sections: On the right, the entrance, a bar of sorts with a few stools, one oddly placed booth in the corner. The tables, two-tops that can be easily combined for larger parties, take over the left. On the whole, it has that clean, uncomplicated breakfast-spot feel, the kind of place that would throw a little sunlight on your scrambled eggs.
But Treat's nighttime cool still makes good on those simple, early morning touches, like water cups that float a slice of lemon and attentive service that quickly gages your dining-approach and happily offers a "just wave me down" policy. That's what J. and I needed. We both read menus as we would the New York Times: with a prolonged intensity that hangs on every word. Even, as is the case with Treat, when the menu is a modest one: five appetizers, five sandwiches, five entrees, five sides.
We labored over our meals as if there was some right or wrong answer, only to decide then second-guess ourselves and ask the waiter for his opinion. I ended up with my gut pick: a turkey panini on rye with swiss cheese and apple-tarragon slaw, accompanied by my choice of side (curried vegetables). J. was told to go with the salmon, served over wilted spinach with mint yogurt. She obliged.
We sipped glass after glass of the almost-bubbly as we waited...which shouldn't sound as alcoholic as it does. Treat uses rocks-size wine glasses, allowing us to sweetly sip, refill, sip, refill. Other wine facts: we weren't offered any kind of ice bucket (rats), and there's a BYOB corkage fee of $1 per person, which I found perfectly fair.
Though I wasn't close to buzzed by the time our food arrived, my reaction to it was downright giddy. J.'s salmon was picture-perfect, delicately draped across spinach that still held a bit of firmness, a crazy steal at $11.95 (with tip, dinner totaled just $26). My panini, at a rock-bottom $5.95, was divine: large, grease-free, made with quality turkey, and slightly sweet thanks to that apple-tarragon slaw.
Though my inclination is to say that we left with that blissful happiness you achieve after a coffee-filled breakfast of blueberry pancakes, the leaving part didn't happen for a while. Our plates were cleared and we were allowed to sit for a good long time, finishing that fizzy white wine, glass after glass...
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.