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Corkage policy at Chicago fine restaurants

p
pam Jan 13, 2003 09:06 PM

My husband and I will have one night of a business trip to Chicago for a dinner alone, and would like to try a special (Charlie Trotter/Trio/Tru, etc.) fine restaurant, but also would like a chance to drink a first growth bordeaux from our cellar at home - I don't cook well enough to match the wines, and we don't get to eat out together that often. In LA, there are some wonderful restaurants that have accommodating ("if you order one from our list, we will open your bottle for a corkage fee") restaurants (such as Josie) (there are also restaurants that are offended). Is it realistic to expect a welcoming attitude/corkage fee in Chicago (assuming that we are total sots, and prepared to share two bottles between two diners), or should I not even bother to ask when calling to make reservations? (I am afraid that if I ask while making a reservation, if the policy is "NO" that they won't even accept our reservation - Charlie Trotters in particular seems to have a bit of an attitude - from prior posts on this site). Any recommendations?
Thanks for patience with a Chicago novice from LA.

  1. b
    bronislaw huberman Jan 13, 2003 11:13 PM

    from what i hear, trio is quite accomodating. i believe a 20 dollar corkage fee.
    bronislaw

    3 Replies
    1. re: bronislaw huberman
      d
      dickson d Jan 14, 2003 04:50 AM

      Definitely ask when reserving. If it is indeed a special bottle of wine that they do not have, most places will accomadate you. And if they won't, another of equal quality will. I have brought my own wine to a number of places, including Charlie Trotters (it was a very special bottle, though). As an aside, I would choose Trio or the Everest Room (and 4 or 5 other places) ahead of Charlie these days.

      d

      1. re: dickson d
        p
        pam Jan 14, 2003 12:32 PM

        thanks for the heads up.

      2. re: bronislaw huberman
        c
        CAthy2 Jan 16, 2003 08:55 AM

        Just curious, is $20 a reasonable cost for their accomodation?

        Regards,
        Cathy2

      3. l
        leek Jan 14, 2003 11:01 AM

        It really depends on the restaurant. Some say "no problem" and charge the same corkage to everyone, a few, like Charlie Trotter, will decide if your bottle is "special enough" and charge a different fee (if, for example, your bottle is something they have they will charge you a high corkage, even though you may have gotten it at the winery when you were on your junior year abroad and been saving it for all these years to open on your 50th birthday).

        Call and ask - at some places, I would venture perhaps Trio might, though I do not know, they might be interested in cooking something to go with your wine.

        We brought a magnum to a restaurant in San Francisco once, and since it was far too much wine for us, we gave the host, our waitress, the chef glasses. The chef sent a message to us saying "what you've ordered is fine but I can make you something that will go far better with this wine" and he did, even using some of the wine in the sauce.

        12 Replies
        1. re: leek
          p
          pam Jan 14, 2003 12:31 PM

          Your SF dinner sounds like it was very memorable and fun. I doubt we will bring a magnum, but the idea of coorinating wine with restaurant in advance is a good one I had not considered. Thanks for suggesting Trio - it sounds promising.

          1. re: leek
            c
            Cathy2 Jan 16, 2003 08:05 AM

            According to Chicago Magazines Morsels:

            If you bring in a bottle of wine to go with your dinner at Trio (1625 Hinman St., Evanston; 847-733-8746), they'll charge you $50 to open it. If the bottle you are toting happens to be on their wine list, they won't open it at all.

            1. re: Cathy2
              v
              Vital Information Jan 16, 2003 08:11 AM

              I saw that this morning. Where would Penny get the idea to write that?

              1. re: Vital Information
                c
                Cathy2 Jan 16, 2003 08:14 AM

                the walls have eyes ...

                1. re: Cathy2
                  w
                  Witold Jan 16, 2003 10:02 AM

                  It's the same corkage policy at Trotter's and Tru. This is pretty well-known. Check the Wine Spectator website for instance for a long article with Trotter defending that policy (the article was from 2 years or so ago when this was the big issue on the wine chat boards). Pollack was probably just trying to correct some of the careless speculations on this board being offered to the visitor as expert advice. The fee at Trotter's could actually be even higher now. And that bit about chefs being able to design whole meals around a bottle of wine, without pre-planning (i.e. several days ahead), is just plain naive and shows a complete ignorance of how four-star kitchens work. The idea that Trio would chuck all their carefully-designed and crafted gimmick-dishes in the heat of the action just to accommodate a bottle of wine cracks me up. At Trio, as at even the most improvisatory of four-star kitchens, there is an outer limit of what (and the number of dishes that) could be substituted. That is to say, there is an outer limit to what kinds of materials have been "prepped" that day (prepping at such places is generally a whole-day affair). Yes, this includes Trotter's, despite the fact that Charlie is such an expert at weaving this tired little fiction of cooking-as-jam-session. Puhleeze. Anyone with some knowledge of four-star operations sitting at the Trotter kitchen table and watching the expediter can see exactly what's happening at once. If a guest ends up feeling like a meal was custom-designed for him, this should be chalked up to the skill of the captain who has a complete mastery and understanding of what a kitchen can or cannot do that particular day and who is capable of negotiating with the kitchen for such changes. And it should be chalked up to his skill at making it seem custom-designed, and effortless.

                  1. re: Witold
                    l
                    leek Jan 16, 2003 03:20 PM

                    1 - everyone told the original poster to call and confirm what the corkage policy was wherever she decided to go

                    2 - no one was suggesting restaurants automatically change dishes on the spur of the moment, but that she might consider telling the restaurant *in advance* what wine she was going to bring and that it was a special bottle

                    3 - Perhaps Plumpjack in San Francisco is not a 4-star restaurant, and they didn't change their entire menu for us, but we did send a glass of wine back to the chef and he did change my entree dish because he felt it would not match the wine and what he made was not on the menu.

                    1. re: leek
                      g
                      G Wiv Jan 16, 2003 04:18 PM

                      Leek,

                      Especially nice of them as Plumpjack is a winery as well as a small chain of restaurants. I've had lunch at their Squaw Valley property and thought it was quite good.

                      Interestingly, Plumpjack is known for selling $100 plus bottles of wine with screwtops as opposed to cork.

                      Enjoy,
                      Gary

                      Link: http://www.plumpjack.com/

                      1. re: G Wiv
                        m
                        Mike G Jan 19, 2003 10:38 AM

                        You know what else really chaps me? When you walk into Trotter's with a steak and some potatoes and they charge you an extra $50 to cook them for you!

                        1. re: Mike G
                          d
                          dougk Jan 20, 2003 03:37 PM

                          Especially now that Charlie's into the raw food movement.

                          1. re: Mike G
                            v
                            Vital Information Jan 20, 2003 04:10 PM

                            Not to take anything away from the fine humor, but what about if you walked into CT with a teal duck, coho salmon or some smuggled ortolons from France, well hung hare or anything else that is pretty much difficult to get through normal channels. Do you think he might whip something up for you?

                            I know a Thai restuarant that did not blink when I brought in my own peppers...

                            1. re: Vital Information
                              m
                              Mike G Jan 21, 2003 02:59 PM

                              I think any chef would swoon at a brace of ortolans, unless he called the fish & wildlife cops.

                2. re: Cathy2
                  b
                  bronislaw huberman Jan 16, 2003 12:09 PM

                  This is simply not true. I jsut called to confirm and was told that a 25 dollar fee would be applied. I wonder where this came from?

                  bronislaw

              2. j
                JeffB Jan 14, 2003 11:38 AM

                Tru is pretty good about it too. Your post leads me to assume that Chicago's four-stars are a bit more accomodating about corkage than LA's. You can't go wrong with any of the choices listed, IMO. But act fast on reservations. I went to Trotter's fairly recently (a review is listed in FAQ's below). While it does not seem as avant garde as it once was, I can't agree with my fellow poster, whose opinions I admire, that there are 7 or 8 better places in town at that price/service/ingredient level. But, if I had to pick one, I'd go with Tru.

                1 Reply
                1. re: JeffB
                  p
                  Pam Jan 14, 2003 12:27 PM

                  I have wanted to try Tru - it may be the best bet. While it sounds as if, with the right wine and the right approach, any of the Chicago restaurants will accommodate us, it is much more enjoyable if the restaurant shares our delight in something special, rather than begrudingly letting us "get away" with something that they don't really approve of. If Tru is more welcoming of the practice, it will be more fun for us.

                2. d
                  drdvl8 Jan 14, 2003 12:04 PM

                  I am not really sure why you would want to bring a bottle of wine with you all the way from LA for a dinner in a chicago rest. The shock of travel is not usually the best thing for wine. If you brought the bottle of wine with you on the plane and planned to drink it that night the wine will not be at its best.
                  My opinion is that you would be much better off finding a more accommadating restaurant in LA. The wine will taste better there and it will certainly be much less of a hassle.

                  As far as restaurants, my favorite in chicago for special occasions is always Les Nomades 222 E. Ontario (312) 649-9010. I have always had memorable evenings there.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: drdvl8
                    p
                    pam Jan 14, 2003 12:23 PM

                    Thanks - You are probably right about the wine - it will have a couple of days to get over "travel shock" but I still agree that disturbing the bottle is not going to have it be at its best. (We are careful with the wine we travel with, though). I appreciate your recommendation of Les Nomades, too. Thanks

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