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Stir Fry and a Bottle

Alex Yan’s small Chinese bistro has a big wine list.


Photography by Mitch Tobias

In a little Chinese restaurant across from BevMo in Walnut Creek, there’s an innovative and affordable wine list that any big liquor store would envy. The restaurant is Yan’s China Bistro (also in Alamo), and owner Alex Yan has a wine for every dish on his menu.

His standard wine list, with Asian food–friendly wines by the glass, is just the beginning. You can also select dozens of aged and affordable wines from the reserve list, and the super-reserve list offers more than 300 bottles that top out at $300. (Just give Yan a little advance notice.)

The week before we talked to him, Yan broke out a Salmanazar (that’s 12 bottles in one giant bottle) of 1980 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon to pair with New York steak, for a friend’s birthday (see recipe below). “I know so much about wine: I can’t drink bad wine anymore,” says Yan. “And I don’t want my customers to drink bad wine. I just want to have fun with it.”


Q: How do you keep a list with such great wines so affordable?
A: I don’t have to make it a business. I usually charge only $10 over retail. You bring your own bottle of wine in, I charge you $10. You buy the wine from me, I charge you $10—and the wine is already chilled. The aged wine is below retail, and you can’t find it anywhere else.

Q: What Chinese spices or ingredients work best with big red wines?
A: Shiitake mushrooms and fermented black beans go with older Bordeaux. They have that earthiness, of course. With an aged Cab, we always do Angus beef stew clay pot. It picks up the star anise. A Cab with toned-down fruit goes very well with some stir-fry dishes.

Q: What Asian dishes would clash with any wine you might serve?  
A: Curry is tough. Thank goodness we don’t have chicken curry or Singapore noodles on the menu. Whenever I think of curry, I think of beer.

Q: What should we expect in the future?
A: I’m getting into Italian wines to see how they go with Chinese food. For some reason, my oxtail and cilantro clay pot goes very well with a Barolo or Barbaresco. But this is my first year getting into those. They are so tight and tannic. They won’t be ready for 15 years.


Recipe: New York Steak­—Yan’s Style

Yan suggests marinating two or more one-inch-thick steaks in a mixture of one cup soy sauce, two cups water, and a little sugar. (Be sure steaks are completely covered.) Leave steaks in the marinade until they just change color—about an hour and a half. Remove, pat dry, and rub with garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper. Sear steak in a cast-iron pan for about three minutes on each side. Add a cup of marinade to the pan, allowing it to boil until a little sticky. Remove meat from pan, and cut thick slices, as shown.


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