Checking Lists: A Critical Look at Restaurant Wine by Alan Goldfarb (M.Y. China)

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Alan Goldfarb was the wine editor at the St. Helena Star, where it is said that assignment must be akin to covering Catholicism in Vatican City. He was also the senior editor for AppellationAmerica.com. His work has appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, Wine Enthusiast, and Decanter. He’s the contributor of the chapter “Chewing on Chile” in the Travelers’ Tales book Adventures in Wine. He was also the technical editor for California Wine for Dummies.

He’s a restaurant wine consultant and advises wineries on public relations projects. (For his “Checking Lists” column, he will not promote his clients.) You can listen to his latest appearance on iWine Radio. Have a question or a comment? You can email Alan. He’d love to hear from you.

M.Y. China’s Phantasmagorical Hippodrome Might Surprise (If You Let It)

Sitting a few stools away, not far from the humongous bell that hovers over the bar at Martin Yan’s improbable-to-San Francisco circus of a Chinese restaurant, I overheard this from a man to his wife: “Are we in Vegas?”

At first glance, one can deduce: What’s happening to San Francisco’s sophisticated view of itself? And how can we abide by such a loony tunes atmosphere existing in our midst, and in a shopping mall, no less?

I’ll tell you. I mostly enjoyed my meal at Martin Yan’s M.Y. China in the Westfield Centre—and while the dining experience wasn’t perfect or close to fabulous, it’s well suited for those who want to eat fairly well before or after a movie at the theaters one floor above.

On my visit, I did not witness the restaurant’s pulling-of-the-noodle demo, but Yan himself—a longtime TV chef—was on the floor, flitting from table to table, taking pictures with enamored customers and explaining the food that sat in front of them. Yan, in his clownish but endearing manner, graced my table, pointed to the crispy tofu and exclaimed, “Oh, that’s tofu,” to which I retorted, “Ah, yes.” To which he parried, “Very healthy.” Okay … even if it’s fried?

Which brings me, circuitously, to the wine list at M.Y. The broadsheet contains about 40 offerings, most of which are very good, from an array of regions and with a depth of range. There’s only one cabernet sauvignon, which is a good thing, because it’s difficult to pair the food with that variety; but there are a quartet of chardonnays, though only one that is unoaked and thus stands a better chance of having an affinity with the cuisine.

What is perfectly suited for Yan’s food is the silly named Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2011 ($8 by the glass/$36). I was almost embarrassed, but not enough not to order it, because I wanted a dry riesling to go with Yan’s version of dan dan noodles (a chilled dish with a kick from chiles and vinegar). The server correctly told me the wine was dry, and it held up to augment the dish, so that both melded effortlessly. It was a good example of a wine and food pairing. The Kung Fu Girl was obviously selected to tickle those that like such seemingly inoffensive brand names and, of course, to fit in with M.Y.’s big-top atmosphere.

Prices are reasonable, starting with a couple of $30 selections; most bottles come in at the $40-50 range. There’ s a $98 nonvintage Veuve Fourny Blanc de Blanc Champagne that is too expensive. Thankfully, there are more whites than reds. Dry whites with higher acidity go best with Asian food, in general, and fare better than fruity reds, in particular.

There are disparate regions represented on the wine list, such as Ischia, a small island off Capri; Liguria, with a red Isasco Rossese 2011 ($50) (which is misspelled on the wine list as “rosese”). There are two gamays, a Raisins Gaulois Marcel Lapierre 2011 ($9/ 32) and a Côte de Brouilly Chateau Thivin 2011 ($48), which are from Beaujolais, not Burgundy, as listed.

The staff will get its feet once the restaurant takes on a patina of time, although they’re very attentive and fairly well versed in the wine program’s nuances. The stemware, always an important and utilitarian adjunct to any restaurant’s wine regimen, here are made by Schott Zwiesel. The glass is thin, which aids in a better surface-to-mouth ratio, therefore improving taste, and is a perfectly serviceable vessel; perhaps considered a poor person’s Riedel or Spiegelau, the standards among wine aficionados.

Kudos then to M.Y. China for presenting such a decent list (although there is not one rosé), commensurate with the cuisine. We have experienced a paradigm shift, at least in the Bay Area and I suspect throughout much of the country, that wine, even in Asian restaurants, has become de rigueur. It used to be that Gallo, Inglenook, and Sebastiani (before those brands experienced their own change toward quality) was all one saw in ethnic restaurants. I think Charles Phan and his then-wine buyer Mark Ellenbogen changed the tide at Slanted Door. They proved that good wine can work together with Vietnamese food to enhance the diner’s experience. By forging a promising wine list in concert with good Chinese food—in spite of the Vegas-style spectacle—M.Y. China is worth a visit.


WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Côte de Brouilly Chateau Thivin 2011. On the list for $48 at M.Y. China (about $24 retail), this gamay—like most dry and wonderfully fruity reds from the Beaujolais region of France—is misunderstood. This is no nouveau Beaujolais, that sweet, cloying, right-out-of-the-fermentation tank excuse for a wine that floods the market during Thanksgiving. This gamay is a little tight—meaning it’s young but will open in time—and is packed with earthy notes. Just as important, it is complementary to M.Y.’s wok- seared beef.