Badmaash, the freewheeling Indian restaurant in downtown L.A., has just started a new wine program. As it happens, a lot of Americans don't think of wine — European-style grape wine, that is — as a natural pairing with Asian food, but they're wrong. Wine is for everything.
Badmaash's wine menu points out some specific wines on its list that go well with particular dishes, such as a Chinato Americano spritzer to pair with samosas and a cabernet franc to go with the tikka masala. Cabernet franc is an unusual wine in the pantheon of great grapes, though, and when you order it, your server will warn you that it's a funky one. But it has to be, to stand up to any spiciness in the food.
That's something wine directors and sommeliers across town think about when pairing wine with Asian food: What's something that won't get lost behind the heat? And whether it's terroir or just cultural ideas of what tastes good together, there are certain European grapes that show up repeatedly on the wine menus of high-end Asian restaurants. They may be trite but they work well together — Kris Yenbamroong of Night + Market and Night + Market Song has said that he tries to avoid rieslings, because it's such a common pairing with Thai food … but there are three or four rieslings on his wine list now. Some things just work together. Such as Central European wine and South and Southeast Asian food.
Kathryn Coker, the wine director at Cassia (and all the Rustic Canyon restaurants), pairs the fried cauliflower with fish sauce with Schloss Lieser “Estate” Feinherb 2015 Riesling. “It's a spicy, crispy fried delight that needs that slightly sweet, laser-focused riesling,” she said in an email.
“I also love the beef rendang with coconut curry, sambal, kaffir lime, peanuts and rice with the Umathum 'Rosa' rosé from Burgenland, Austria. This dish is really complex and needs a wine that is just fruity enough for the spices but not overpowering at all. Rosé is actually perfect. This is a bigger rosé. … It drinks more like a light red wine. But it's so refreshing and lets all the flavors of the dish shine.”
Louis Tikaram, the chef at E.P. & L.P. in West Hollywood, is currently in a torrid love affair with orange wine. He recommends pairing a glass of Slovenian Kabaj Orange Rebula with his kokoda (Fijian-style ceviche with Baja shrimp), grilled baby green lip abalone with Thai aromatics, or turmeric curry with New Zealand diamond clams.
I've wondered (mostly idly, but it's fun to think about) whether this can all be chalked up to Wolfgang Puck's tastes and influence. Reisling, gruner veltliner and gewürztraminer are all common pairings with Chinese food. Puck is an Austrian chef who has opened Chinese restaurants, including WP24, which has all three varietals on the wine menu.
Whether it was Puck or someone else, we raise a glass to the idea of spicy food and strange wine, together forever in harmony.