It's easy to feel like an Occidental tourist when trying to order a suitable wine at most Asian restaurants.
Two guys are trying to change that at new Minneapolis restaurants. Jon Provenzano at the Thai-ish Ginger Hop and Randy Norman at upscale Indian eatery Om relished the challenge of devising wine (and in Ginger Hop's case, beer) lists that provided optimum opportunities for their customers.
"I said, 'Let's do something that's not being done,' kind of like throwing a curve ball on a 3-2 count," said Provenzano, who had built a fabulous low-priced list at Chiang Mai Thai. "To me, dining out, you have to have some surprises."
The surprise for him?
"Austria and grüner veltliners," he said. "First of all, they come in liters, which is the perfect size. It just gives you that one last glass to top the night with a great conversation for two people."
The grüner veltliners fit the "casual, affordable" vibe at Ginger Hop, Provenzano said, and their vibrant crispness played well with the menu of the new E. Hennepin Avenue restaurant.
So did a quite different varietal, and another beverage entirely. "People are starting to realize that riesling doesn't always mean sweet," he said, "and that it goes really well with food and no doubt goes excellently with Asian food.
"We also wanted more emphasis on beer, and there we purposely set out to stay as domestic as possible, starting close to home and then reaching out. We looked for some stronger beers that aren't heavily represented around the city."
Across the river, Norman had an entirely different approach from his previous stints at the Capital Grille and Seven Sushi, not to mention the area's other Indian eateries.
"We have contemporary upscale casual Indian cuisine," he said, "Introducing our type of food allowed me to do some things a little bit outside the box as far as lighter wines to pair with our dishes. Malbecs and albariños and pinot noirs are big on our list."
The bigger reds, not so much. "We have a couple of syrahs because the pepper in syrahs goes well with creamier dishes," Norman said. "But for dishes with a higher heat content, the syrah accentuates the heat."
Details such as that heightened the importance of assiduous training for the staff.
"We got them totally involved with what pairs well with certain dishes, and with understanding today's educated diner," Norman said. "We also have been diligent about if [a customer] is adamant on having a certain wine, giving them a taste of something that we think might work."