A Guide to the Quintessential Chicago Wine Bar (and places that merit a smellalizer test)

When I’m on a first date, particularly of the interweb varietal, I cannot bear the process of waiting for the server to bring the bill. It seems every time I step out and food is consumed, food or beverage arrives promptly, but the bill? That’s the time Ned or Stacey (why am I making oblique Thomas Haden Church references?) has chatted up their 17 coworkers or wiped up their 90th table,  the point at which, even on a good date, one can’t help but note the lag in service, the diminished momentum of conversation, and the sound of street lamps.

That’s why the wine bar should be the first date of preference. Appropriate mood lighting abounds, as well as the brief, painless service interchange. AND on top of that, there isn’t that residual guilt of, “dammit, I ordered the salad AND entree, i should at  least kiss the date in question on the mouth. Maybe even some tongue?” 

Here is a list in order, of the top and middling contenders for Chicago wine bars:

West Loop: Tasting Room

 Tasting Room epitomizes low-key class. Candles and rooms decorated in primarily brown tones  create a warm, welcoming atmosphere, and on a weeknight it’s far from impossible to get a skyline view in one of their many window seats. The wine menu is overwhelming, and at times, admittedly I’ve had trouble getting the server to nail my wine craving, if you say the words “fruity” “textured” or “smooth” chances are they’ll approximate your taste, and if cautious, a diner can always ask for a sample. Parking is fairly easy (again I’m focusing on weeknights). However, if you live more than a hop from the West loop, a cab can become an added expense, and they are closeish  to one of the ashland El stops, but the station would be too seedy for a lone gal to use at night. The menu might be too fussy for my personal tastes, but they do serve chocolate fondue, which has become a Nessie type rarity on chicago menus. This place really does fall under the You Can’t Go Wrong category, assuming you live within cab range, or have the discipline to Stop at One.

Wicker Park: Bin Wine Cafe

La Deee Da. I do know Enis, one of the hosts who works at Bin Wine Cafe. He is pleasingly flirtatious when I run into him on his way home or picking up menus at Kinkos. That’s why it irks me to say Laa Deee Da, re: the restaurant in which he works. first of all, the lighting, and loud clinking noises, ouch. I need to take an Excedrin when walking in there. Are they attempting a Fast Food ambiance at Foodie prices? I did dine there recently with a friend and found the food uneven. The bruschetta style dish was pastey, salmon inedible, but beet salad fresh and springy. Our waitress was a doll, but I cannot recount how many times the servers have been unresponsive and slightly passive aggressive. I wouldn’t call it a date place unless one can snag a seat in the dimmer front, but then you and your date are  contending with the Wicker Park types who didn’t get enough attention as children and compensate with unmuffled motorcycle engines or barking laughs. While some of the dishes win win win, I wouldn’t make this a go to wine bar. It’s really just a badly lit, overpriced eatery.


Ahhh….darkness. When one walks into Jin Ju the low lights envelope and soothe. Sure, you may or may not be able to see your date, but really…why the need to see every tiny detail? That’s for the next morning at brunch!

The two standouts of jin jiu are the server’s personalities, and the kicky, mildly innovative but reliably spicy and enjoyable dishes. You can depend on “Mike”,* the diminutive but muscular server to give you a reassuring and flirtatious squeeze on the arm (not tuchus, never fear) as you sit down. Our runner up, but not lesser favorite is “Lance”* (apologize for stereotypical name) the flamboyant, expressively waxed server who never fails to welcome, and elucidate the menu items.  I tried a Korean restaurant in chicago, but was intimidated by the exclusively Korean menu and self cooking woks/pots at the table. Lance and Mike have endless patience to explain and distinguish one seemingly similiar sounding menu item from the other. It’s a relief…ethnic cuisine for confused yuppies!

The dishes bat it home every time. The bi bim bap with sesame oil (it’s the second item on the entree menu) adds an interesting twist to the traditional dish, and each meal is accompanied by spicy, delectable vegetable/salad/kimchee type thingies that vary every few months or so. The pear martini, a powerful drink (ladies be warned) has the nonpreserved flavor of real pears, with the accompanying kick of decent quality wodka. They excel in wines as well, usually offering the appropriate mix. I should warn, if you have tummy troubles, I would abstain from a night at the Jiu, the spicy dishes are tough. Other than that, Jin Ju is always a pleasant night out.

*Server’s names have been changed not only to protect their identity, but to protect myself from revealing that I’m horrible with names.

Jin Ju on Urbanspoon

3137 West Logan Blvd – Chicago, Illinois


Dunlay’s aspires to please, and that it does. The restaurant offers affordable and relatively healthy fare that rounds the bases of many types of cuisine. The veggie burger I have returned to faithfully, converse to the reaction my dog gives to her benefull dogfood.  The salads are substantial, wines interesting but not toooo interesting. But how does Dunlay’s fare as a date place?

I rank Dunlay’s in the mid to upper echelons….as a second date place. Not first, and definitely not third. The menu is affordable, but not bottom barrel, but for a first date you risk the dragged out meal torture. Plus the interior in the Logan Square location has boom boom boomin’ music, so awkward to speak a notch about your normal volume. The service is almost always upbeat and responsive, but not overbearing. If you choose to sit outside, which datingdish recommends, you enjoy the views of the various eclectic offerings of the Square, glance occasionally at other couples enjoying their awkward or rewarding dates, and feel the humidity baring a hole into your soul. Ok edit that last thought, I went there on a particularly humid evening a few weeks ago.

However, if you are looking to impress your date with wild, unexpected choices, don’t come here. The menu has the solid upscale sandwich/salad/appetizer offerings, albeit delicious. The lighting, always of concern to datingdish, is okkkkaaayyyy, not bad,but a bit dim and cast down, a no no.  One practical note: the veggie burger, while legendary in my mind, does crumble. It’s authentic, but again, unseemly on first or even second dates. Wait til things have solidified before ordering that, bun intended.

Dunlays on the Square on Urbanspoon

facebookgrab1Patty was just unfriended for the third time this month. Why God why?

Alejandra thinks her boyfriend’s sexual technique needs some updating

Carlos work Rogaine! Work!

Natasha feels like she should have never left her husband

Cynthia forgot to take her birth control pill last night…on purpose.

Ilya wishes Bush were still President

Deirdre is just about ready to cash in her 401K for that mini face lift. Tax penalties be damned.

Roman is talking to the little people in his head, and it’s nice to connect for once.

Lewis is seeking good lies for his resume
David has never told his English Department colleagues that he has not read Hamlet
Charles wishes he worked with more God fearing Christians, like himself.
Diane’s incontinence issue is rearing its ugly head again when she saw the Ben Stiller sketch. I thought those pads were working!
Jim hesitates to say it, but his wife is fat
Thanks Chris for your clever input.

I sometimes (gasp) question the utility of the internet, also known as the “interneta” when one is meandering through Europe desperate to touch base with friends and associates. As of late my efforts to answer life’s grand questions falls flat, especially when desperately in search of answers. Ironically also when seeking medical advice, the answers are there, but always worst case scenario!

The most recent efforts, as in “getting over an ex” revealed many pages about how to “win the ex back” usually redolent with fatal grammar and spelling errors. My search for “reinvigorating your career as a graphic designer” plopped me in front of lots of “motion design” URLs quoting smug inspired designers. And yet when the urgency isn’t there, I find the exact page and bit of information desired. Is there something to the aphorism of “it’ll happen when you’re not looking for it” that applies to internet searches? p.s. ever use that bit of wisdom on me and look to get smacked. Even with mapping, occasionally disaster falls. I looked up an address in the suburbs and found the streets mislabeled. Tragedy, travesty, and where do we turn? God forbid, our doctors, therapists, our own internal compass? As much as I want to know when Jennifer Aniston has last visited “Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf” on  Cayuhanga Blvd. I have more urgent informational needs from the internet, such as the Meaning of Life.

This month we’re featuring a guest contributor. He prefers to subsist under the radar, but he has a way with the words and with the advice. So now…heeeeeere’s Shlomo!

Dear Shlomo,I’m getting kind of frustrated with one of my friends. Lately she’s been giving me a lot of unsolicited advice about my personal affairs, such as raising my weight. When I (reluctantly) admit that I want to watch what I’m eating, she says “oh you’re playing diet.” Ironically if I lose weight, she says, “wow you look almost…gaunt.” How do I keep this nosy friend out of my gastronomical affairs?

Weight and Mate Watching

Dear WaMW,
I was known as Shlomo, but now I go by “Lucky Kharms.” Please make a note of it.
You could admit that you love having your friend nose around your affairs. There, was that so hard? A little low-intensity kvetch here and counter-kvetch. there. Drama without the drama, and the minor-league poking and sniping reaffirms your intimate terms and mutual support. Am I right or am I right? You’ve got a good thing going with this gal. Simply let it flower and you two will be Pigeon Sisters-lovely at least until the ice-caps melt.

Shlom–, er, Lucky

wendywassersteinbwphotojillkrementzWendy Wasserstein, ever read her? Heidi Chronicles, Shiksa Goddess, An American Daughter? What do you think, come on, let’s sit and talk about her. And I don’t mean in the “coffee tawk” sense, chock full of yiddishkeit tacky irony. I mean let’s really think, and speak. There’s a good table over there in the corner, it’s not too drafty, and the playa with the loud ipod seems to be leaving. Phew, good. Ew, there’s a coffee stain there, oh good, let’s wipe it up.

Me: What have you read of hers?

Me2: Not a lot, her book of essays, Shiksa goddess, Heidi Chronicles, I keep meaning to read more.

Me: What interests you so about her?

Me2: She’s incredibly brilliant and yet verging on anachronistic. She has these beautiful way of crafting a detail or a thought, soulful and true. For example when she writes about writing itself, she described how she would take herself on writing vacations in Ann Arbor and London and Boston. Her descriptions of the hotels and waitstaff at each restaurant was so vivid, I felt like I was eating her broiled fish with her. Hmmm…I’m hungry. Also she was fiercely independent, she never married, chose to have a baby on her own, and had an arguably tragic life, as she died at 55 from lymphoma, leaving her daughter a orphan.

Me: What irritates you about her?

Me2: Well, the thing that jumps out at me are twofold: one is her Cathy comic sensibility. She writes ad nauseum in her book “Shiksa Goddess” about her struggles with weight, calorie counting, and other women’s thinner figures. The p.o.v. just seems so 80s! In addition, she was exceedingly private about her love life, a conspicuous dearth, since the plot points of her plays focus on male female relationships. Third is that she really did live a life of incredible privilege, an artist’s life in what I’m guessing was a pretty comfortable lifestyle. I’m pleased to see an artist succeed financially, but I’m wondering if she was mildly oblivious to her own material success.

Me: I sense you identify with her

Me2: What are you my therapist? At least write up the invoice for insurance return. Yes and no. I’m probably more physically confident, but also less successful materially and careerwise. I don’t identify as an intellectual nerd or wallflower. I must say I find her to be an enigma, because she was very determined to follow her own path but has this veneer of being self effacing.

Me: Well said!

Me2: Ok thanks. Now let’s integrate, this is getting weird.

me and me2: OK.