Last Call: Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Sinister Beauty

So I kept hearing about how great Winslow’s Wine Café is from a friend who lives nearby and often walks to the place for an evening. I live nowhere close, but I knew I was going to be in the neighborhood one Friday night recently and thought to e-mail her an invite beforehand.
Though it was barely 7 p.m., the place was already packed. Yuppies and cowboys, trust-fund babies and TCU brats, plainfolk like yours truly — seems that everybody in town had piled into the microscopic building that formerly housed a gas station, to see and be seen in what’s rumored to be the trendiest new joint in town (or at least in Arlington Heights).
The wait for seating was about an hour. No, they don’t take reservations. And, yes, the postage-stamp-sized place — taking into account the bar, patio, and dining area — looks like it could barely fit 100 eighth-graders. I would have made a U-turn, had I thought to program my friend’s number into my cell phone. (D’oh!)
Since I couldn’t call to say, “Aw, hell no, I’m not waiting an hour for a freakin’ glass of wine,” I figured I’d just go ahead and indulge, even if I was going to be standing the whole time.
Winslow’s wine list is a veritable United Nations of vino, featuring selections from four continents. But holy dead presidents, Batman! Talk about sticker shock. Nothing on the menu is under $7 — that’s “per glass” — and, unless you count your time spent with a buzz, there is no happy hour.
Good thing the guy behind the bar was friendly and willing to serve me, even though all I could manage in response to his pleasant greeting was a grouchy, “Just give me a merlot, doesn’t matter which.” What he handed me was a really, really good $8 job: sweet, not too strong, not too oak-y.
For fear of looking like a TABC spy, I stopped studying the serving area and looked out across the room. Through the thronging humanity, I noticed an opening at the bar and started making my way toward it, but before I could even take Step No. 2, a bunch of yuppies half my age descended on the prime real estate like methed-out vultures on a cow carcass. Hey, Mr. Winslow: How ’bout carding those still-wet-behind-the-ears babies, eh?!
Having already vacated my relatively decent standing spot and already in motion, I just gave up and let my feet carry me along. In one corner of the room, there’s an honest-to-goodness wood-fired oven, and by the entrance, there’s an area where you can buy a bottle of anything on the menu or fill out the necessary paperwork to join Winslow’s wine club. I’m not much of a joiner, but I gandered long enough at the piles of literature piled on a table there to make out something about discounts or something.
At around the same time, the merlot began to work its soothing magic on me, and about 10 minutes later, when my friend and her hubby arrived, I actually didn’t mind the thought of waiting and drinking. Perhaps in some sort of karmic compensation for my not making a scene about the table-stealing yuppies, we were seated. On the patio and directly under the comforting warmth of one of those giant heaters, we were attended to by an army of fluttering, cheerful servers, all knowledgeable about the grape.
Among other things, we tried an Italian pinot grigio ($8) and an Argentinean malbec ($9). Both tasted great. The pinot was especially nice: fruity without being overwhelmingly sweet …
And it was at this point that we realized the sinister beauty of Winslow’s. By the time you get seated on a busy night, you are either too tipsy or too hungry to split. Plus, everything on the menu looks good.
Based on what we tried, it tastes good, too. The red pepper hummus with pitas, the shrimp in a spicy olive oil, and the tenderloin with a dainty drizzle of barbecue sauce were all scrumptious. So were the bruschetta with three different savory toppings and the crab cakes.
Round Two: The Viogner Estampa chardonnay ($7), pronounced “vin-yay,” according to our sassy server, was tart but surprisingly tasty. The Argentinean Gougenheim malbec ($8) was stronger than the merlot, but my friend said it had “a nice nose.” (That’s fancy-talk for “it smells pretty.”) The best name of the evening goes to the Australian Woop Woop shiraz ($7). Heavier than the merlot but lighter than the Gougenheim, the Woop Woop was just plain fun to order, and by the time we were done with it, my friend said, rather matter-of-factly, “I think I’m drunk.”
No matter how your stocks are (not) performing, save up for a trip to Winslow’s.

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