If you’re like me, you find yourself on the road and searching for a good meal pretty often. Sometimes it’s just too much work to get to the best restaurant in town, and we have to fall back on the tried and true.
I’m not one to be too judgmental about a restaurant’s wine list, really -- well, actually, maybe I am. But I am willing to give credit where credit is due. Buying wine for a large regional or national restaurant chain is a heck of a lot harder than stuffing one list full of gems. These five well known chains have managed to create exceptional lists that have persuaded me to visit them again and again.
OSI Restaurant Partners, LLC is the outfit behind Outback Steakhouse. I’m not much for a Blooming Onion, but if you’re throwing some shrimp on the barbie I wouldn’t mind the Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling that's on Outback’s list. But that’s not even close to being the highlight of OSI’s wine chops.
At OSI's Bonefish Grill seafood restaurants, you can find solid wines like Oregon's King Estate Pinot Grigio and the Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay. Their Roy’s chain, which I visited repeatedly while on Maui (the Kahana location used to have aged German Riesling on the list, for cheap!) and visting the Hawaiian islands offers some just off-center wines that can please novice and geek alike. I'm always happy to share a few bottles of the Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc or the Erath Pinot Noir with Roy's island-inspired cuisine. I'm sentimental that way!
But the real jewel in the OSI crown is the Flemings Prime Steakhous and Wine Bar chain where you can find 100 wines by the glass, with 30 of them, like the Bodegas La Cana Albariño, priced under $10. Others, like the Miner Family 2004 The Oracle, may cost more, but are delicious and certainly are well chosen to complement the menu.
The steak is great (yes, the butter helps), but the wine list here really is killer for a national chain. The well thought out list has all the staples, and then some. Two of my favorite south of the equator steak wines are featured on the menu, and I know either the Argentine Achával-Ferrer Quimera or the Rustenberg John X Merriman from South Africa would be a perfect complement to my Cowboy Ribeye. Heck, I might as well order them both!
Landry’s restaurants are more of a classic restaurant group than a chain, but with locations nationwide they are worth keeping on one’s radar. It seems like they’ve got a place or two in most major metropolitan regions featuring solid wine choices at comfortable prices. From the 2006 Trimbach Pinot Blanc at Peohe’s in Coronado, California, to the magnum of 1999 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon (priced at only $140!) on the list at their Simms Steak House in Golden, Colorado, Landry’s outlets have their bases covered. And if you find yourself in Houston, you’ll have to admit that selections like the 2007 Santa Chiara from Paolo Bea for $85, and the 2008 Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso for $48 at La Griglia are pretty darn enticing.
Here's my favorite corporate restaurant program, hands down: Legal Seafoods. How can you not like well-prepared seafood paired with equally well chosen wines like 2009 Verdemar Albarino and 2009 Simonsig Chenin Blanc by the glass? Check out their "Great Shellfish Wines" and you'll know why I'm in heaven here; the 2009 Txomin Etxaniz Txacoli is only $35 a bottle and the 2009 Domaine Pepiere Clos des Briords Muscadet clocks in at a remarkable $27!
I have never been disappointed with the wine selection at a Legal Seafoods restaurant. If you're not sure what to order check out their Tasting Flights, or just ask for help. Mmm, raw oysters, wood grilled fish, great chowder for the cold weather, a crab cake or two and an awesome, really fairly priced wine list. What more could you want? A business trip somewhere near a Legal Seafoods! Congratulations on a job well done.