I'm a sale hound, even when the sum-bargain is questionable. I'll pass up a $50 skirt to buy a $120 one on clearance for $70—a steal in my mind, but still more than I would have spent if I didn't have an unflagging attraction to the red-line discount. My thrifty nature is nothing new—one of my chores growing up involved clipping and painstakingly filing coupons according to type and expiration date—but it hasn't extended to wine until now.
For the last few months, I've let tastings be my guide in terms of what I buy. After years and years of playing label-roulette—grabbing any bottle that's appealingly adorned and hoping it tastes just as good—I've started trying to sample the goods before I buy. It's meant I've actually started spending more, not less, as proved-tasty $30+ bottles become a pretty low-risk buy. Until last week, that is.
I had swung by Wine Discount Center's excellent Saturday tasting, held from noon-4 p.m. each week and usually featuring 10 wines. The first bottle that week was a Spanish cava WDC obtained from a distributor who had gone out of business—reducing its typically $10 or $11 price tag to $4.99 a bottle. And it was good—bubbly, dry, and perfect for summer. I bought a case. So when I stopped by for a bottle before meeting a friend for dinner, I took the bargain route, buying a $3.99 bottle of the regularly $10 2007 Malma Sauvignon Blanc, another closeout bargain.
I toted it with me to Lincoln Park's Ringo, a BYOB spot that projects pretty hilarious Japanese game shows on one of the walls of the fairly large space. We got a table pretty immediately, as well as two separate, packed-with-dishes menus. We didn't give the many appetizers, noodle, yaki tori, and teriyaki dishes more than a passing look—maki was what we were after.
With 30 special rolls and just as many standard options to choose from, we were slow to make up our minds. Beyond the standard roster of tekka maki, a good number of the options listed tempura crunch as an ingredient. It's something I generally try to avoid, because the admittedly tasty but oily batter often masks the freshness of the fish.
We did make one non-fish exception: An order of spicy sweet-potato maki, covered in that tempura crunch. I had a sweet potato roll for the first time a few years ago, and while it sounds like an odd pairing with seaweed and rice, it's a delicious one.
We tacked on two less-standard choices: the Mango Seafood maki, a mix of mango, tuna and salmon topped with avocado and raspberry sauce; and the "refreshing" Mexican maki, a mix of shrimp, cilantro, corn, jalapeno and scallion topped with tuna, avocado and eel sauce.
I'm a sucker for Mexican maki in all its shapes and forms, but I'm used to a roll that's typically hamachi or tuna sided by cilantro and jalapeno. I've never had corn in a roll, and, when paired with the shrimp, the result was certainly Mexican flavored. I'm just not quite sure it worked for me. The corn was surprisingly strong, which made it more curious that anything.
The wine was equally so-so. I like my Sauvignon Blancs crisp and acidic, and this Argentinean version tasted boozy and kind of round. I wanted to taste lime or grapefruit or anything, but instead I just tossed a few ice cubes in the glass to try to mellow it out a bit and moved on to the other rolls.
The sweet-potato roll was exactly as I had hoped—more like an indulgent dessert than anything. The mango roll was sweet as well, and a pretty pleasant pick...so much so that we decided to order one more round of it, which we did after a fairly long attempt at flagging down a waitress.
We didn't leave any maki on the table but we did leave some wine in the bottle, a good third, in fact, which doesn't exactly mesh with my "wine is best when drunk" outlook. I left the restaurant on the cusp of a vow to change my ways, to bypass the bargains and put quality first—that is until I saw the sign for all-you-can-eat Mondays on Ringo's door...
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.