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Sommelier and Chef to Lead Chinatown Wine-Pairing Tour

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

CHINATOWN — What's the best thing to wash down that steaming bowl of Szechuan-style pig-intestine casserole?

A glass of German Riesling or a flute of champagne, say Lower East Side chef Eddie Huang and sommelier Michael Madrigale, who'll be hosting a wine-pairing tour in the heart of Chinatown next week to show that the neighborhood's cuisine fits perfectly with a bottle of vino.

"This whole idea came out of us going out to dinner in Chinatown," said Madrigale, 33, the wine director at star chef Daniel Boulud's Bar Boulud on the Upper West Side, noting that he relied on Huang's knowledge of Chinatown cuisine and ability to speak Mandarin to find the perfect pairings.

"These are great wines, and they belong on a table with Szechuan peppers just as much as a table with foie gras."

Given the abundance of BYOB restaurants in the area, as well as Chinatown's reputation for serving authentic dishes that can be intimidating to outsiders, the pair decided to organize the May 1 event to share their culinary discovery with wine-loving gourmands.

Accompanying the plates of cold beef tendon and chili-braised beef, will be a white Austrian Gruner Veltliner, a red Chateauneuf-du-Pape and a Champagne — all of which help extend and intensify the already potent flavors found in Chinese cooking, Madrigale said.

"It's greater than the sum of its parts when you add those two things together," he said of marrying the spice of Szechuan flavors with richer wines containing residual sugar and high acidity.

"We're bringing food from the Far East and wine from Europe, and they couldn't fit better."

Huang — who's no stranger to pairing booze with food, after grabbing headlines for featuring specials on the since-banned alcoholic energy drink Four Loko — will provide his insider knowledge of authentic Chinese and Taiwanese cooking to help diners expand their palates.

"People know about these places, but they don't necessarily know what to order," said Huang, who runs the popular Rivington Street restaurant BaoHaus, noting that the three restaurants included on the tour aren't very well known outside the community. "You're going to get things you normally wouldn't get when you're on your own."

The goal of the event is not only to expose diners to a new style of eating, but also to promote the idea that the seemingly highfalutin practice of wine tasting doesn't have to be reserved for luxe restaurants. 

"We're just trying to make wine more approachable, more fun and more welcoming to people," Madrigale said.

It also represents an exercise foreign even to Chinese people, Huang noted.

"I don't think that this is something that many people do," he said. "The people in China don't even know how to drink wine with Chinese food. This is something that me and Mike are really figuring out ourselves. We wanted to do something different."

Madrigale will bring the appropriate glasses to taste each wine — something he admitted may make him appear snobbish — but ultimately the idea is to "take the air out of all the bulls--t in the wine industry," he said.

Plus, diners will enjoy a cultural experience not readily available anywhere else, Huang added.

"You'll eat like a Chinese family does when they go out." 

Tickets to the Sun., May 1, event are still available and include the price of food and wine.