Best/Worst BYOW Restaurants?
Now that BYOW has been in Ontario for a while (since the end of January 2005), I thought it would be interesting to see what others regards as the the best/worst BYOW restaurants. Here I am focusing on the BYOW experience assuming the restaurant is a place I would patronize. In other words, if I don't like a restaurant's food it doesn't matter whether they do good job at BYOW. For me, BYOW involves several dimensions - corkage fee, quality of wine service (decanters when appropriate or requested, proper stems, knowledgeable servers) and receptivity to customers bringing their own wine. I have occasionally posted some places that I think do a good job on BYOW. What do others think?
Most bring-your-own-wine restaurants in Toronto have a corkage fee so high that its obvious purpose is to discourage bringing your own wine. I mean, if the corkage is $20 or $25 (the going rate at most BYOW joints), there's little or (more likely) no money saved by the guests who deign to bring their own. But there several restaurants in my part of town that offer low corkage fees and also have high food standards. My favorite is Paese, an Italian spot on Bathurst Street just north of Wilson, that charges no corkage whatever. This, despite an impressive wine list of its own, many bottles of which are respectably priced. Paese isn't a top-level Italian place, like the somewhat nearby Coppi, on Yonge Street, or Via Allegro in the west end of the city. But it's very, very close in quality, at the top end of the second level, which is good enough for me. Despite its location in a small plaza, the restaurant is attractive and pleasantly laid out. And the service is first class.
Two others of note in my area, though only if you go on the right night to get low corkage, are the Miller Tavern, on Yonge Street south of York Mills Road, and Fat Cat, on Eglinton Avenue just west of Avenue Road. The Miller offers $1 corkage on Monday nights only (it's much higher on other nights) and Fat Cat on Tuesday nights only (also much higher on other nights). The setting is quite nice at the Miller, the service pretty good from an agreeable young staff and the food quality high if you know enough not to order anything complicated. I like the steak (about $27 for a delicious chunk of meat) and the Irish salmon (can't recall the price, but it was reasonable, as are most of the dishes at this high-end joint). And Fat Cat's cooking is, in my view, always superb - with the owner/chef usually manning the stoves on Tuesday.
When I do the BYO option, I usually expect that there will be some solicitous response from the establishment, especially if the wine is something special. I've taken old Californa cabs to Morton's on a couple of occasions, and find that when that happens, the service becomes almost dismissive. The sommelier ignores you, you have to almost scream to get a decanter, and they have gotten to the point where they will now limit the number of bottles. At 30$ corkage, there should be more attention! Although the fee seems high, the wine list starts at 400% and rises significantly with age and price point. If you bought a wine for $30 from vintages 10 years ago, it's probably on their list for around $500 today.
Tuesday at Fat Cat is $5 - I think that's the chef's night off.
Mimosa (on Yonge N of Eglinton) is free on Tuesdays.
Both are pretty good.
However, most places charge $20-$25 (a few charge more). Sure, $20 is not insignificant, but most places in Toronto have at LEAST a $20 markup on all their wines so, if you plan on having wine with your meal you are better off even with a corkage that high. And that will give you a great selection any night of the week. Sure I'd prefer less, but I'm realistic about restaurant profitablity (or survival) so I don't balk at that charge and it gives me good choices nearly every night of the week.
But I do want 'acceptable' glassware at that price (I've actually taken my own Champagne glasses to a place that had 'bad' glasses, but good food - still much cheaper than paying over $100 for Champagne at most places).
My favs for BYOW....Mortons (the only real steakhouse which offers it), Miller Tavern (best patio), Kubo Radio, Cantine (not for the food), Zucca, Amuse Bouche (superb service), JK (though they have the best wine program), Starfish, Lee, Fat Cat, and beerbistro (but why have wine when you should be having beer!)
Also noticed the the powers that be at the OliverBonacini group finally vaulted themselves into current day by now offering BYOW at all their restaurants. Should be interesting to see how this is received.