No sooner do I open my mouth than I put my size eight foot right back into it. After resolving to buy wine near my BYOB eateries of choice (the better to explore the city, my dear), I was faced with locating a liquor store in Pilsen for a night at Mundial Cocina Mestiza
. I'd heard that Guadalajara Food & Liquors
, 1527 W. 18th St., was an ok pick for wine, so I hopped on my bike with plenty of time to peruse the bottle selection and make it to the restaurant on time.
Then, very-exaggerated disaster struck in the form of a flat bike tire. On the up side, I found a ride, but I also found myself at Binny's in River North. Mexican food guru Rick Bayless recommends pairing wine with sauce rather than meat, a rule of thumb I try to follow when whipping up chipotle shrimp tacos at home (good with a smoky Argentinean Malbec). Since the sauces I'd be eating were anyone's guess, and since Binny's selection of Spanish albarino, which I heard was great with Mexican, tipped into the $20 range, I went with a $12.99 bottle of Over the Shoulder Sauvignon Blanc. It's a grape that Bayless recommends pairing with lime, jalapeno and serrano chilies.
In the 90-degree heat, I was glad to greet the rest of the group—all nine of them—with a cold bottle in hand. I've never BYOBed with that many people. Heck, the last time I dined out with a group that big might have been a family reunion circa 2004…and I can guarantee this dinner out-boozed that one.
That was the first difference. When Steamer and I BYOB, we split the bottle even-Stevens, and when we go out with another couple, it's sort of understood that you bring your own. But no sooner had we sat down than six-packs of everything from Bohemia to a Two Brothers' brew began rotating, the sangria started pouring (you can order virgin pitchers for $7 and add your own wine) and I started dishing out the lime-friendly wine to anyone willing to take a sip.
"Sharing" was definitely the buzzword of the evening, and it rocked. I always thought I had it lucky with Steamer, who never blinks an eye at splitting everything so we can taste as much as possible—generally about four or five menu items. After one look at the food flying around our long, banquet-style table, I was ready to put intimate dinners for two on a permanent hiatus.
We were seated in the backroom, which gave us a decent amount of privacy in which to yell clear down the table—and once the appetizers hit, there was plenty of feverish questioning—along the lines of "Have you tried this unbelievable shredded chicken thing?"—going on. I think it's pretty safe to say we ordered just about every botanas on the menu. I had bites of guacamole, nopales empapelados (cactus baked in foil) and ceviche, downed an oyster, sampled a couple types of empanadas and basically took the quesadillas de huitlacoche hostage. When it comes to Oaxacan cheese mixed with corn fungus, I abandon all my manners.
I had sampled so much food that the idea of ordering a main dish seemed like overkill, more on the stomach than on the wallet. I also assumed this would be a pricey one, considering our heavy hand with the appetizers and the fact that this is no Nuevo Leon—many entrees topped $15.
I ultimately settled on the ensalada India, which the waitress proclaimed her favorite upon my ordering. I could see why—it was a giant mound of mesclun, corn, mango, jicama, red pepper, tomatoes, tortilla strips and cilantro. I poked away at it for a good hour, while sampling my neighbor's jumbo shrimp and an artichoke- and pistachio-studded risotto that was absolutely inspiring.
When the bill came, we divided it by 10—that was the easiest way to go, and we had all eaten enough that it didn't seem worth grappling over. And when, with tax and tip, my share came to just $35, I was shocked. I think I've finally figured out the way to get the tasting menu experience without spending $200. If only Alinea would go BYOB…
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.