For a wine lover, the most magical acronym out there is “BYOB.” Toting a bottle of your choice allows you to avoid extraordinary mark-ups — up to 300 percent in some restaurants. Moreover, it makes dining out a more active experience. You, the diner, decide what will be poured alongside the menu in front of you, rather than just accepting whatever the bar is offering. This allows for affordable experimentation in a way that is difficult to do when cooking at home or ordering off a wine list.
There is, however, an art to BYOB. It is not always cheaper or better to bring a bottle. If a restaurant has a corkage fee of $20 or above, management is basically discouraging you from bringing wine. And, it’s not going to be worth it unless you’ve got a limited edition Jeff Koons Dom Perignon or a 1985 Olga Raffault Chinon that you are totally bent on drinking. At places that have great wine lists, even if they do offer corkage, you might be better off asking the sommelier to help you find the best value on the list. Take the stunning $49 Francois Pinon Silex Vouvray at New York's Pearl and Ash, for instance. Seriously, take it. It's a steal!
BYOB works best in low-key settings, and in particular at family-style meals, when the servers will set you up with some ice buckets and leave you to your bacchanalia (you may want to bring your own wine key, especially if there is no corkage fee at all). It can be an excellent way to taste some new wines with friends, or even do a vertical tasting of a particular varietal from one region.
Here's a brief list of great BYOB spots in cities around the country; many of them allow beer as well as wine.
NEW YORK CITY
Peking Duck House
Chinatown’s famed multi-course duck feast ($31 prix-fixe, family-style). No corkage fee. Bring off-dry Riesling, a softer Chenin Blanc from Anjou, sparkling wine, fruit-forward Pinot Noir. 28 Mott St., New York, NY; pekingduckhousenyc.com
Spicy and inexpensive Sri Lankan food. No corkage fee. Bring Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, rosé. 91 1st Ave., New York, NY; sigirinyc.net
Authentic, comforting Italian cuisine, including pizza. $7 corkage fee. Bring a light red like Lagrein from Alto Adige or a slightly fuller one like a Piedmontese Dolcetto, or a nicely chilled white like Vermentino or Falanghina. 102 Berry St., Brooklyn, NY; oreganowilliamsburg.com
Classic French bistro fare. $20 corkage fee normally, but on Wednesdays no corkage fee. Calls for a fine Burgundy or, in the winter time, a full-bodied Chateauneuf du Pape. 2500 Washington St., San Francisco, CA; chouquets.com
Fresh and creative Caribbean-inspired tasting menu. $12 corkage fee. Try one of Berkeley-vinified Broc Cellars’ light and lovely concoctions, like the lightly-sweet Love White blend or the Nero d’Avola, alongside your arepas. 2823 Mission St, San Francisco, CA
A Food Affair
French-inspired, leaning toward locavore and organic. No corkage while they are working on obtaining a liquor license. Bring a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc or Sancerre, or a lightly-oaked Chardonnay from lauded California winemaker Steve Matthiason. 1515 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA; afoodaffair.com
Cheap, authentic, and filling Mexican food on Sunset Boulevard. No corkage fee. Enchiladas with a chilled Pinot Noir? Porque no? Multiple locations; pinchestacos.com
Asian barbeque with seasonal, local ingredients at Chef Bill Kim’s third Chicago restaurant. No corkage on Sundays. Bring an off-dry, mineral Austrian Riesling or a buttery Chardonnay from California. 1400 W Randolph St., Chicago, IL; bellyqchicago.com
A nine-course tasting menu of contemporary American haute cuisine from Chef Chris Nugent — and BYOB, a rare thing at fine dining establishments like this one. No corkage fee (see their suggestions of where to shop). Bring your favorite Champagne, a Chablis, a 1998 Pomerol — all of it! 2656 West Lawrence Avenue, Chicago, IL; goosefoot.net
Classic Italian fare, serving various pasta dishes and pizzas, conveniently located between two wine shops. No corkage free as long as you order an entrée. Bring Verdiccio on a summer day or if you’re having seafood, a young Barbera or Nebbiolo if it’s cooler out or if you’re having meaty dishes. 4601 Southwest Parkway,
Austin, TX; milanoaustin.com
Texas French Bread
Innovative, seasonal, farm-fresh New American cuisine. $12 corkage. Also has a great natural wine list. Bring your favorite culty natural wine, like one of Frank Cornelissen’s light and tangy red blends, a Puzelat rosé, or an herbaceous vintage Chinon from Catherine & Pierre Breton. 2900 Rio Grande St, Austin, TX; texasfrenchbread.com
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