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Some Cheese With My Wine

(Temporarily) trading BYOB for the wonders of the wine list.
Sunday Dec 04, 2005.     By Zinny Fandel
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

I maybe a BYOB junkie, but I'm no purist, which is how I ended up at Bin Wine Cafe, 1559 N. Milwaukee, on Saturday night, my head still spinning from the previous night's overconsumption and the massive page of 36 by-the-glass pours in front of me. When my dear-dear-dear friend Emilie from SF appeared up on my doorstep that morning, I concluded two things: One, I needed to pull myself together, pronto. Two, I better come up with one great, wine-heavy restaurant to take her to.

Though it's been open less than a month, our wait was a slim 15 minutes. We used the time to review our wine options, arranged in labeled groups of four (clever names included "Home Wreckin' Whites" and "I Love That Pinot Noir"). You can go as far and deep as you'd like: Winers can choose a 2.5-ounce tasting ($2.10-$6.65), a six-ounce glass ($5-$16) or a flight of four tasting-size portions. We started with a 2003 Tinta de Toro Tempranillo, a meaty glass that made my nose burn in my greedy first gulp (I switched to slow sipping afterward), and a 2004 Carmenere "Reserva" Casa Silva from Chile, served in stemless Riedel glasses.

We were whisked to what we declared the best seats in the house: counter seating in the rear that surrounded the kitchen. We were about 15 inches from a gigantic tower of cheese, and spent much of the night watching wood-fired pizzas jump in and out of the oven.

We sipped our wine, tortured our waiter with countless questions, and settled on a night of bird-like picking as the way to go: a bowl of olives, salad, cheese and pizza over the course of three hours. And while that's simply put, what we ended up with was anything but. Our cheese selections, Nancy Camembert, Gouda Ewephoria, Robiola Langhe and Arico (I know, they don't mean much without the menu's catchy descriptors to explain), were divine, a good mix of salty, pungent and, swears Emilie, brown-sugar-like.

The house-cured olives had an addictively spicy kick, and our hearts of Romaine salad was served in a divinely yummy parmesan crisp. Continuing our night of cheese, we each ordered an excellent 2002 Domaine Parent Burgundy (shelved in the "I Love That Pinot Noir" group) to accompany our simple red pizza with a perfectly salted crust.

We somehow managed to stuff in two more dishes: a fudgy chocolate banana terrine and a berry cobbler packed with the unusual combination of pineapple and cranberries. The service was great, from (possibly the world's friendliest) host to our waiter to the kitchenful of chefs who kept checking in on us. When the bill came, I had Emilie guess the damage. Keeping in mind that she isn't the mental tallier that I am, she put a $210 price tag on the experience. In truth, it was a hair over $80. Talk about a bargain bin.

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.


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