I'll eat and drink my way through anything from Vietnamese to soul food, but there's one kind of BYOB I try to avoid: the hungover kind. Unfortunately, Steamer and I spent most of Friday night at home working our way through a nice collection of Two Brothers Domaine DuPage beer, unwisely followed by a bottle of Cotes du Rhone that had gone undrunk since its purchase the week earlier. The "at home" part of the equation was much more well-thought out than the consumption part: We were saving our cash for a Saturday night dinner at Habana Libre
, 1440 W. Chicago Avenue.
Since I was doing 100-percent of the stomach-clutching moaning when our date-night rolled around, I pulled myself together and met Steamer at the Cuban restaurant at 8 p.m.
Some people crave greasy fries when they're battling a hangover. My sister, oddly enough, craves ketchup. But when I'm fighting the dog, nothing turns me off more than sugar, even in bread. So no cubano (Cuban sandwich) for me this time—strictly seafood.
I made a quick stop at Vas Foremost (purveyor of that fateful six-pack from the night before) and picked up the most easy-going lager I could think of: Bohemia. Proper pairing was definitely giving way to easy drinking.
We arrived to find a pretty hefty line but decided to wait it out, mostly because standing sounded better than roaming. Thirty minutes later we were pouring our beers into votive holder-like cups—Steamer assured me my beer would make everything right—and settling down for our seafood feast.
Habana Libre's menu is divided into sandwiches, chicken, beef, pork and seafood sections, but we set our sights straight on the mariscos part. We asked our super-friendly waitresses about six questions, half of which required her to run to the kitchen and back, before choosing the ceviche (available only on weekends), the "golden-fried fish" (after deciding the market price of deep-fried snapper was a little too steep) and shrimp fajitas.
Steamer munched away on the baskets of butter-glazed French bread, and we clinked glasses in a quiet cheers to weekend fun. I like the fact that Habana Libre is the kind of place appropriate for toasting. With the dim lighting, paper lanterns and bits of Cuba hanging on the wall and playing through the air, it offers a little something special, definitely making the list of well-chosen BYOBs for thoughtful dates or birthday celebrations.
The arrival of the ceviche was almost reason enough to touch glasses again. The giant portion of shrimp, tomato, onion and cilantro came topped with cubes of perfectly green avocado. The whole thing smacked of freshness and was big enough for us to foresee the accompanying eight crackers as woefully inadequate for scooping it all up; we quickly progressed to the last few pieces of bread. Then I broke out the fork.
By this point I was feeling a little better, had basically polished off the golden beer and made the potentially wise, potentially wimpy decision to stick with water for the remainder of the meal. Steamer was presented with an absolutely hulking tilapia that looked more blackened than golden, and I got my hot plate of shrimp, onions and red and green peppers. Both came, as do all entrees, with rice, black beans and a few slices of plantain.
Steamer spent the next seven minutes tirelessly working every last bit of fish off its bones, while I rolled myself a stuffed corn tortilla. The fajitas were good, though the ingredients tasted sauteed rather than grilled; while I would have preferred them char-grilled and firm—meat trumps grease on my hangover days—I had done enough moaning for one day and happily worked my way through the meal.
I had only been given three tortillas, and Steamer and I thought it was odd that two of the cheapest items in all of restaurantdom—crackers and tortillas—were given out in such short order, but again, I capped the moaning. The portions were plentiful, Steamer's tilapia was simple but satisfying, our pleasant seafood dinner cost an even $50 after tip and I was well on my way to avoiding a repeat of the night before. That seemed reason enough to rejoice…with a long sip of water.
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.