A sweet combination of spices

What does Pork Tenderloin with Hot Fanny Sauce taste like? A little sweet, a little spicy — a little Mexican, because of the jalapeños and poblanos — but not too hot and very, very flavorful. This is a great way to sauce a tender cut of pork. The sweet potato mashers we’re serving with it, combined with a bit of chopped pecans and topped with marshmallows, are light as air. We added another side to the dish as well: a cool and creamy bit of coleslaw to play off the spiciness of the pork. Delicious? We think so.

Behind the Dish: Pork Tenderloin with “Hot Fanny Sauce”

So…we all know what pork tenderloin is (ours will either be grilled or cooked in a cast-iron grill pan), but what exactly is “Hot Fanny Sauce”? Chef Todd, who once cooked at the restaurant of its inventor George Germon, describes it as “a fresh-pepper barbecue sauce,” made with onions, jalapeño peppers, chicken stock, sherry, red-wine vinegar, salt, and ground red and poblano peppers. Todd tells us he doesn’t really recall preparing this sauce back when he worked at Al Forno (he worked at the pasta station, preparing all the pasta entrees and sides, and the starch sides such as potatoes), but is enjoying the opportunity to whip it up here as part of the Julia Project.

How did “Hot Fanny Sauce” get its name? According to Julia’s cookbook from which we derived the basic recipe, Cooking with Master Chefs, there’s no big story behind it. George Germon just liked the name! (To see him whipping it up, look for the video at this link.)

There’s another project going on today that you might enjoy knowing about. Ruth just gave Marc a rather special gift…the gift of a full kitchen inside our garage at home, complete with a smoker. And since that time, Marc has been busy smoking beef brisket like you wouldn’t believe. The end result? Bistro 185 is going to have yet another notable special on tonight’s menu: Smoked Beef Brisket with Ruth’s corn pudding. Now, how are you supposed to decide what to have tonight? Good luck deciding!

Back and ready to start again tonight!

We’re back — and ready to go! Tonight we’ll feature Grilled Pork Tenderloin with George Germon’s “Hot Fanny Sauce,” served with individual ramekins of marshmallow-and-pecan-topped sweet mashers. We hope you’re ready to rejoin us, because we are more than ready to resume cooking up great dishes for you!

Here’s something we thought was interesting. In his very last column published recently, retiring New York Times head restaurant critic Frank Bruni decided to answer questions he had been asked over the years but had not yet answered, as well as questions he said he wished he’d been asked. Among them was this provocative question: “Is there any best, safest way to navigate a menu?” His answer was this:

— Scratch off the appetizers and entrees that are most like dishes you’ve seen in many other restaurants, because they represent this one at its most dutiful, conservative and profit-minded. The chef’s heart isn’t in them.

— Scratch off the dishes that look the most aggressively fanciful. The chef’s vanity — possibly too much of it — spawned these.

— Then scratch off anything that mentions truffle oil.

Choose among the remaining dishes.

What do we think of that advice? Well, the first piece shows a great deal of insight into the restaurant business, but not necessarily into the heart of the chef. A restaurant is in business to make money, and yes, there are items on the menu of every restaurant that are money makers. They may not be the most creative items, but guests enjoy them and order them time and time again. The same is definitely true of Bistro 185. Why would we take such items off the menu?

However, we would challenge the assumption that “the chef’s heart isn’t in” these tried-and-true favorites. We believe that even the most popular dishes on our menu should be made with the freshest ingredients and presented beautifully. For example, almost every restaurant we see has a Caesar salad on the menu, and so does ours. But if it is to meet our standards, it had better have the freshest Romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, and other ingredients we expect to find in a Caesar salad.

At the Bistro, we have people come in and order the same entree time and time again. If we took these entrees off the menu, these people would be very disappointed and might not come again. However, the other four people they may be with are trying our new specials — so if we lose the less adventurous diners through eliminating their favorite items from the menu, we may also lose their friends who like trying something new and different on our special menu. That way, everyone would lose.

Every time Ruth suggests to Marc that we remove an item that has been on the menu a long time, the question she always gets back is: “Is it a seller?” If the answer is yes — “Why shoot a winning horse?”

The beauty of Bistro 185 is that we have different specials that appear and disappear from the menu, and that is where our creativity comes in. At the same time, we keep offering the old favorites — but while they may not require the same creativity, we put as much care into their preparation as we do into the specials, to make sure they’re consistently satisfying to the people who order them every time.

As for “aggressively fanciful dishes,” we might agree with Mr. Bruni on this one. We watch for too many ingredients and components in a dish, because when there are too many, the main item tends to get lost. Personally, we like clean presentations that highlight the key ingredient.

As for truffle oil — yes, that’s very trendy! You need to watch that it is not on every entree.

In short, we can say that fads in dining come and go, as does the popularity of certain dishes. Ideally, a restaurant strikes a balance between offering creative dishes for adventurous diners and familiar entrees for those who prefer the dependability of a menu standard. But whichever way you like your dining experience, we strive to offer the best of both options at Bistro 185. How are we doing? Let us know!

Vote for Week 3 Encore Dish

To wrap up some other polls we’ve taken before we take this one…

Looks like the Boeuf Bourguignon and Sautéed Veal Scallops tied for most popular dish of Julia Project Week 1, with 50% of the votes each. As for Week 2, the winner was Bouillabaisse de Poulet, also with 50% of the vote, although the Loup en Croûte, Cream of Mushroom Soup and Savarin with Cherries and Apricots also got votes.

Oh, and 75% of you thought the movie Julie & Julia was “as delicious as Julia Child’s cooking.”

Now for Week 3. Obviously, the pork was a huge hit, but was it your favorite dish of the whole week? Let us know.

Vacation almost over…

Hello again from the Conch Republic!

Last night we went back to Michaels and ordered the 4-cheese fondue. We were disappointed in it. As Ruth said to Marc, “It looked better on somebody else’s plate.” The fondue itself was OK, but the dipping items were breads, salami, cold roasted chicken, broccoli, carrots, raw zucchini and yellow squash. Large hunks! Just not something we would ever order again. We had maple pecan ice cream for dessert — but we think the ice cream we make is so much better.

We did sit next to two very interesting men who just came back from California — the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. They were very much into wine and food. They talked about having dinner at The French Laundry. They made their reservation six months in advance — dinner for three people — which was $1,400. You read that right! And guess what: They didn’t like it! On the other hand, they have frequented another Thomas Keller restaurtant, Bouchon, many times and really like it there. They did say the wine selection at The French Laundry was wonderful — go figure!

Our bartender last night was really nice. She moved here 14 years ago from Manhattan — talk about a lifestyle change! She came down here for vacation and never went home. We can definitely see doing that. It is such a laid-back and easy place to be.

Today, we are going snorkeling, and then back to Louie’s Backyard for tapas on their upstairs patio. Some of the restaurants we wanted to go to are closed for vacation, as this is the off-season.

We are leaving tomorrow. Oh well — back to reality!

A little food, a little wine, a lot of sunshine

Greetings from Key West! We need to provide an update and revision to the story of how things went yesterday. Although we planned to go to Sarabeth’s, we learned they are closed Monday and Tuesday, so we went to a place called Camille’s Restaurant instead. The rest of the day…we never made it back to a restaurant at all! We spent a while traveling around the island, but staying here at the Casa Marina Resort, we couldn’t resist taking the time to enjoy the island’s largest private beach by just relaxing there for a bit. We swam in water as warm as a bathtub, hung out on the beach with some cheese and Chardonnay, and just relaxed (with or without a book). Marvelous!

Today we finally made it to Sarabeth’s. Ruth chose their Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with strawberries and wheatberries, while Marc went for the Sautéed Lump Crabmeat and Key West Pink Shrimp Cake. Sarabeth’s has a delightful atmosphere as well as terrific food; it’s wonderful to just sit outside in its colorful space with an eleectric fan blowing on you to ensure there’s a nice breeze!

Everywhere we go, we’re impressed by the relaxed, laid-back atmosphere of Key West. The people are so friendly and pleasant. Feral chickens and cats roam everywhere. The chickens are believed to be the descendants of animals originally brought to the area for cockfighting purposes, but today they wander freely around the island, protected by law. The cats, many of them with six or more toes (“polydactyls”), are believed to be descendants of cats once owned by Ernest Hemingway — and many cats like these live in and are cared for at The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, a must-visit for any tourist who loves Hemingway or just loves literature. We visited last year, and it was so easy to feel the spirit of the man just by entering the mansion where he lived and wrote for more than a decade. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and animated, and his tour truly seemed to bring Hemingway back to life for us — we could almost feel him sitting right there in each room. We highly recommend a tour of this treasure to anyone who visits.

More later on from this supremely relaxing place!

Seafood and duck on the Key

Hi and greetings from Key West!

Last night we ate a great place — Michaels. We started with a glass of champagne with Chambord, and Marc had a great martini — Ketel One with Gorgonzola-stuffed olives. We started with a crêpe stuffed with beautiful and sweet chunks of crab, grouper and shrimp with a bechamel sauce — really lovely — coconut shrimp with an apricot dipping sauce and a wonderful wilted spinach salad. For dinner, we shared the duck entree. Too full for dessert!

They have a fondue menu that we may try tonight, along with a chocolate soufflé.
We are heading out for lunch to Sarabeth’s.

Vacation Day 1: dining Key West style

Hi again! It is definitely hot here — makes the margaritas taste better.

For us, vacation time is an opportunity to stop running our own restaurant long enough to enjoy the atmosphere and cuisine of other restaurants, and Key West is a great place to do just that. Last night we ate at a local favorite, Seven Fish on Olivia Street. The interesting thing with this restaurant — at least to Ruth — is that they never change their menu. It was exactly the same as when we visited last year. That concept is so different from the way we operate the Bistro.

The food is very good. Marc had yellow tail — locally caught fish in a Thai curry sauce with sticky rice and vegetables. Ruth had sautéed scallops (from California!) with mashers, peas and spinach. Odd combination — but it somehow works.

For lunch yesterday, we went to Louie’s Backyard — a beautiful spot right on the water. The food was nice.

Today we went fishing and caught our lunch. We took the “grunt” fish fillets to a restaurant by the dock, and they cooked our fish for $7.99. We had it fried, served with rice and beans — could not have better or fresher.

More later, including information on our Day 1 dinner!

Some thoughts on a new old bestseller

Greetings from Key West! We were offline for a while there, but we’re back on again! And what did we see in this morning’s New York Times but an article about how Mastering the Art of French Cooking has become a surprise bestseller, “bringing with it all the butter, salt and goose fat that home chefs had largely abandoned in the age of Lipitor.”

Aside from the spotlight brought back to it by a popular movie, why is a cookbook advocating such labor-intensive, time-consuming recipes, featuring some rather expensive ingredients, that recommends liberal use of cream and real butter in an era in which we are all cholesterol conscious, a bestseller yet again? It would seem to contradict all logic about the world we live in today. But we think we understand this phenomenon a bit. And part of the answer may even be found in a New York Times bestseller from way back in 1982.

In that year, a man named James Naisbitt first published a book called Megatrends, in which he attempted to identify trends toward which our society would move during the next decade. He identified one of these by calling it “high tech/high touch.” It’s paradoxical: The more technological and scientifically streamlined our society becomes, the more popular will become trends in the opposite direction to counteract the effects of all that technology. For example, the wider the variety of mass media entertainment we have available to us, the more some of us will value still being able to curl up with a good book (even if it’s on an electronic reading device!). The more capable modern medicine becomes at diagnosing and treating some of our most challenging diseases with pinpoint accuracy, the more appealing homeopathic remedies become for treating other ailments. And, we would add, the easier the food industry makes it to put meals on our tables that are quick, easy to make and follow all modern nutritional guidelines, the more our bodies long for a good old-fashioned traditionally cooked meal featuring sauces rich in butter and — yes — even some nice crispy bacon. And that’s not just a trend that’s lasted a decade; it’s followed us right into the 21st century.

It may well be that many people are buying MtAoFC “just to buy it”; it may spend more time in most homes sitting on the kitchen cookbook shelf looking impressive than actually having its spine cracked and its pages spattered with oil and butter during a vigorous cooking session. (Although we certainly hope that isn’t true for everyone; the more you try to make these dishes at home, the greater appreciation you develop for what goes into them, and the greater your feelings of accomplishment as a cook, even if you have no ambitions of becoming a chef.) But even those who never actually open their copies of the book (are there such people?) are demonstrating a hunger for the kind of “high touch” that comes from engaging with a truly superb meal, even if it’s at a distance.

Here in Cleveland, we’re lucky — we have a population that appreciates great food and a restaurant community that is working hard to satisfy that appetite. We can do more than just watch Iron Chef on the Food Network; we can actually go to a local restaurant (or two, or three) and experience an Iron Chef’s cuisine. Michael Symon’s success and high profile have helped lift the boats of all the independent restaurants in this area, and we’ve enjoyed being part of that. He’s raised the bar for restaurateurs as well, and with such high-quality establishments competing with ours, and the palates of the local community so well educated, we feel even more keenly the need to not only maintain the integrity of our own offerings but also bring them to a new level.

Here’s another paradox: Even in a recession, and in a city like Cleveland that has operated on a Rust Belt economy for a long time, restaurants that strive to bring truly fine dining experiences to their patrons can survive and thrive. Part of the reason is that recessions that affect even wealthier diners may cause them to choose to postpone an expensive vacation and substitute a series of nice evenings out at good restaurants instead. If your original plan was to travel to Paris this year, and now you can’t afford it, you can still come to the Bistro and enjoy the kind of dishes Julia Child did when she lived there decades ago. Sit on our patio, feel the breeze, order a bottle of wine, and let a bite of something savory soaked in a butter-cream sauce linger on your tongue. For a few hours, you’ll feel as if you’re at a sidewalk café on the Left Bank — but it’ll cost you a lot less.

There will still be some time left for you to take that kind of summer “stay-cation” when we return home and reopen. It won’t even matter that the kids are back in school. (In fact, having successfully gotten the kids back to school, you may be more than ready to treat yourself.) Stop by, and we’ll make you forget you’re only a few miles from home.

Speaking of vacations, though…in case you’re wondering where we are today, our plans include a fishing expedition. The object: landing something delicious for dinner. Check back in later; we’ll let you know what we caught and what we did with it!

Julia Project Dishes for Week 4

Here’s our Julia Project lineup of dishes for Week 4, beginning with dinner on August 31.

Monday, August 31 — Grilled Pork Tenderloin with George Germon’s “Hot Fanny Sauce,” served with individual ramekins of marshmallow-and-pecan-topped sweet mashers. (This dish, from In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs, page 75, will feature a sauce Chef Todd learned while working under George at his award-winning restaurant Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island.)

Tuesday, September 1 — Filet de Boeuf en Feuilletons, Duxelles: Tenderloin of Beef sliced and stuffed with mushrooms and roasted. We will serve this with Yukon gold mashers and grilled asparagus (Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 2, page 180)

Wednesday, September 2 — Poached Filet of Red Snapper with Mushrooms and Fast White Butter Sauce, served with Israeli couscous (Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, page 238)

Thursday, September 3 — Fried Chicken with Chicken Gravy and Corn Pudding (In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs, page 192)

Friday, September 4 — Crêpes Suzette (Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, page 410). Also, Fridays of the Julia Project will be “Reprise Nights,” in which we will bring back a popular dish from earlier in the week in addition to our special Friday dish. (Last night, we brought back the Pork Tenderloin with Prunes — and you ate it up!)

Saturday, September 5 — Paella with Chicken, Lobster, and Clams in Saffron Broth (In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs, page 201)

Mark your calendar and make your reservations…when we come back, we’ll be cooking up a storm!