Since I've hung up my towering red heels and tightened the purse strings, I haven't been as up on nightclub and restaurant openings. And because I'm not waiting for such-and-such to open, I all but forgot about one of the best backdoor BYOB options around: The waiting-on-the-liquor-license BYOB.
It's been a long time since I've gone that route, and the option dawned on me once again as Merle and I were volleying dinner ideas back and forth. He had suggested Volo, a wine bar we both cherish for its sweet pea pizza. But Zinny's wallet plus flights of wine rarely proves to be a balanced equation. Still, we wanted something a little nicer than the wine-in-a-black-plastic-bag norm.
And then, ta da! Cafe Bolero, a Cuban restaurant that Steamer and I have had some great meals and even better rum cocktails at, is under new ownership, and said owners weren't legally allowed to pour those fruity drinks just yet.
I was in charge of wine, and though Danny's Buy Low is just a block south, I figured Bolero's Logan Square location justified a quick stop at Provenance Food & Wine, which I oh-so-sadly rarely get to visit, thanks to my policy of buying wine where I eat. I love the ready assistance, and the fact that the wines are so well chosen that you're bound to be presented with a manageable list of suggestions. Provenance recommended pairing an Italian or Spanish Sauvignon Blanc with Cuban cuisine. I went with Italian, an $11.99 Villa del Borgo Sauvignon, mostly because it was cheaper, but partially because I didn't even know Sauvignon grapes grow in Italy, the land o' Pinot Grigio.
Merle picked me up and we were off. Parking was a cinch, as was getting the table of our choice on a Tuesday night. We were both hungry and operating in the "man, this is already a discount!" mindset, which is why I felt no qualms about ordering an $8.95 appetizer. And not sharing.
But before we got to the menu, which is currently identical to that of the previous owner's, we got a taste of really pleasant service. Our server cracked wise about our inability to stop talking long enough to order, then left us with an open bottle of wine, bread with some of the best garlicky butter you'll ever taste, and all the time we needed to make up our minds.
It didn't take Merle long to make up his mind about the wine: good. Villa del Borgo ages wine in stainless steel, which doesn't sound too appealing in principle, but it imparts plenty of that oak-free crispness I love so much. It was fairly dry, with a pale straw color and a good melon taste. It went down nice and easy, and that first glass might have prodded along my decision to go big on the appetizer.
Merle is one of my favorite dining adventurers, and one of his only dislikes is my biggest coup: octopus. I can't get enough of it, so when I saw pulpo con ajo on the lengthy tapas list, I knew what I'd be starting with. Merle took the meat-and-potatoes route with carne-stuffed yucca and a ham tamale.
His arrived on two small plates sided by a vinegary black bean salad. I'm impressed I even noticed that much about them, as I wasted no time focusing in on my sizeable oval dish of chopped octopus, with more cubed pieces than spindly tentacles and sautéed in onion, garlic and a touch of spice until it was fairly soft. I ate it plain; I ate it on bread; I ate it until there was nothing left but the errant teeny square of onion.
I didn't know where to go from there. The mass of fish in my belly made me think that anything with shrimp might approach overkill, and the half-loaf of buttery bread next to it made the menu's sandwiches seem like an unwise choice. I finally settled on a salad, large and laden with corn, chunks of avocado, tomato, onion, carrots, celery, feta and cilantro. Merle went with the chicken stew, still cheap at barely $11. I snuck plantains off his plate, dipped into his black beans, munched away at my salad and polished off the wine.
Then we moaned in unison, stopping only long enough to take a look at the bill, which deserved no lamenting. Merle, the too-kind friend that he is, paid, and the fact that dinner cost just over $35 made me feel a little better about his splurge—and got me thinking that I should buy another bottle of that Sauvignon with all my savings.
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.