I have a surprisingly long list of BYOBs left to try, but sometimes Steamer and I get pretty picky, at which point I usually suggest a non-BYOB and he ropes me back in. It was one of the last hot Friday nights of summer, and we wanted to start eating and drinking immediately outdoors. Ideal world: Another $13 go-round at El Potosi
. Our eventual choice? Nothing involving Styrofoam cups, that's for darn sure.
We decided to walk to Bonsoiree Cafe and Delicacies, a newer spot on Armitage that I knew little about, other than the fact that it operated on a prix-fixe basis. Though its recently posted fall menu seems to shake up the pricing a bit, we caught the tail-end of the summer menu, a three-course meal for $24, with about five choices for each course. Pricey, but reasonable enough.
After a stop a few blocks north at Provenance Food & Wine, where Joe gave the restaurant a thumbs up and helped us select a dry and crisp half-Sauvignon Blanc, half-Verdejo Vina Marian white for $9.99, we arrived at the near-empty restaurant, walked out to the sweet, tiki torch-lined patio and snagged a corner table. Co-owner and chef Kurt Chenier turned out to be our server, which meant we got a boatload of honest tips about the menu. We also got sweet-talked into starting with a cheese plate (not part of the prix-fixe) that came with modest portions of four French cheeses, fennel crackers, figs, strawberries, pine nuts and hazelnuts.
We debated the menu as I tried to eat more than my share of a creamy Camembert. You pick one item from each section; many were marked to indicate a $5 or $10 upcharge, though. We basically ignored that ("We're celebrating summer!" was Zinny's answer to every moment's hesitation) and went with plenty of Chenier's recommendations.
I started with the kona kampachi tartare (upcharge), a delicate serving of raw fish studded with a "chili sesame wonton" that looked like a Japanified tortilla chip. Steamer took the pulled-rabbit route (upcharge), which he raved about; I busied myself by sneaking doughy bites of the sage gnocchi surrounding the poor bunny.
It's worth mentioning that the food is lush but the portions are sane. That gnocchi accompaniment was pretty rich, but with only five of them on the plate, I was less stuffed than I normally am when presented with comfort food on two glasses of wine.
By this point we were well through the Spanish wine, whose subtle honeydew flavor proved a great enhancement to the fish. Kurt recommended three bodega-type liquor stores within walking distance, so Steamer went on a booze run while I ordered the next course: pan-roasted barramundi for me, skate wing for Steamer (upcharge, upcharge).
Kurt had explained that barramundi is a smaller fish, so unlike gigantic tunas that spend eight years soaking up mercury, it's pretty pure. It was served on a crispy asparagus risotto cake with summer plum chutney. If it's not already obvious, let me lay it out for you: When it comes to Chicago's slim world of special-occasion BYOBs, Bonsoiree has added another player to the game.
Because Steamer loves me so, or because he was more interested in the six-pack of Sierra Nevada he had picked up, he didn't seem to mind me devouring his skate, which is one of my favorite fish, and, in this case, delightfully buttery. We probably didn't need dessert, but after that second beer (hey, it was hot and Friday night) we figured heck, why not? I ordered the banana bread pudding with a shot of white chocolate crème anglaise (no upcharge!). Out came two small squares, which I drowned in the sauce and savored, along with my last beer. Steamer got the trio of ice creams, which was the only dish of the night I didn't sink my fork into.
All in all, it was a satisfying meal: I'm always a sucker for talking to chefs; the food was definitely a notch above your typical Logan Square fare; and spending three hours on that patio had done my work-weary soul plenty of good. The $100 bill, which included $10 worth of corkage fees, made it a night we probably won't repeat anytime soon, but one I felt no (OK, almost no) guilt about bolstering my credit card for. Next weekend, though, look for us at El Potosi. We'll be the ones drinking from the Styrofoam cups.
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.