Cultures combine deliciously at Israeli Fusion Wine Dinner

Hi, Tenant here…unfortunately the cold season seems to be doing a number on me, and between the sniffles I’ve had a slow time putting up the video and writing the review for the latest fabulous Bistro dinner. But good things come to those who wait, so here we go:

Now to describe it…Let’s just say that at six courses, this was one huge feast. I made it through only three before I had to ask for a couple of them to be packed up so I’d have room for dessert. While I always enjoy the leftovers, I also know that not eating (even if I just sample) each dish in turn always minimizes the full experience a bit, so I regret that, but boy…the opening dishes were so good there was no way I could not do justice to them and that meant I had a lot less room by the time the fourth course came around! Yet all were delicious, each in its own way. And each showcased a particular aspect of global Jewish cuisine that can now be found in Israel. With the exception of the dessert course, also, all the wine was Israeli, from the Recanati Winery, and that too was a display of variety.

The festivities began with what I’ll gladly admit is probably my favorite traditional Jewish food, latkes. While not Jewish myself, I’m descended from Germans on my mother’s side–her parents were German–so potato pancakes have always been part of my family food tradition. And one of the things I’ve always loved about the Bistro is how closely Ruth’s latkes approximate the potato pancakes my mother used to make. You can thus imagine my pleasure at getting to eat one that combined potatoes and apples (applesauce being the favored condiment for this food at my house) and topped with some of Marc’s famous house-cured salmon and Israeli feta herb cream (Mom never had that–if only she had!). This was accompanied by a small cup of salad of various cubed veggies cooked tenderly and marinated in something that tasted pretty good. I didn’t even care, I just knew it was tasty. Our wine representative for the evening, Pat Fisher, explained that the accompaniment for this dish, Recanati’s 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, was grown on the coastal plains of Shamron, where hot days and cool nights provide the grapes with a climate much like that of Northern California. I found this wine fruity and intensely spicy in a way, and it set off the dish very nicely.

The second course was another dose of what tends to come to mind when one thinks of traditional American Jewish cookery of European origin…chicken soup with matzoh balls. But this version combined the traditional and classic with a taste of the Middle East. Ruth used her own mother’s Ashkenazi traditional recipe and served it with matzoh balls stuffed with walnuts, onion, cinnamon and cumin. It was a delicious twist. First, the soup…nothing floating it it but some slices of carrot and snippings of parsley, rich with the purest and most satisfying chicken flavor, yet clear enough to read a book through. (I have no idea how many times she must have strained it to get it that clear, but wow, was it clear.) In each bowl, a light and fluffy matzoh ball full of flavors that really made it sing (the Italian-Greek side of me loved the cinnamon especially). To drink alongside, Recanati 2009 Chardonnay, from the cooler northern regions of upper Galilee, smooth and buttery on the tongue and just right.

Course number three was one I would love to see the Bistro add to the fall dinner menu lineup (actually, I could say that of all three of the remaining entree courses, but this one really stole my heart). The 24-Hour Sous Vide Moroccan Lamb Tangine was just amazing. This was an incredible stew of meltingly tender chunks and shreds of lamb in a rich dark brown sauce flavored with pine nuts, apricots and sweet currants, topping a bed of couscous. You couldn’t ask for a heartier dish to warm your belly or your spirits on a cold autumn night, and oh, so rich with flavor and spice…With this dish we were poured a 2010 Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon, which we were told originates from higher, cooler elevations and grapes that produce a Cab as deeply fruity and spicy as our lamb.

I usually learn something new at every wine dinner I attend at the Bistro, and at this one, I learned that for many centuries, India had a sizable Jewish population–one that by now is almost gone. Most of these Cochin Jews emigrated to Israel, where they brought their Indian food traditions with them. Thus the fourth course was Chicken Curry with Grilled Naan and Drizzled Virgin Olive Oil. I love Indian food, so even though I was close to the point of not being able to fit in another bite, I had to have a taste of this dish before packing it up for later. But of course, I derived the most enjoyment from it by finishing it off as a separate meal. The chicken thigh was perfectly cooked and coated in a sauce rich with curry and chickpeas. The traditional Indian naan bread was hot and tasty (had to find room to fit that in). The wine was a 2005 Syrah, and although I could take only a sip or two, it struck me as a deep, warm, smooth accompaniment.

I could fit in but a tiny taste of course number five, but luckily, it saved well and I was also able to enjoy its full deliciousness on a delayed basis. This was yet another dish brought to Israel from Jews who came from elsewhere–in this case, Spain. Ladino-Style Fish Ragout is Jewish cooking with a Spanish accent:  in this case, a good-sized chunk of halibut simmering in a tomato-based sauce with fingerling potatoes. The flavor and quality of this fish was just outstanding and the sauce complemented it wonderfully. Another upper Galilee-sourced wine, a 2009 Merlot, was served with this course.

Finally–somehow I managed to find room for it, and am glad I did–came dessert. Actually, a quite simple, Eastern European dessert: cheese blintzes, served with a blood orange coulis and garnished with fresh raspberries. My blintz was hot and tasty and sweet and delicious. The original plan was to serve Israeli Sabra liqueur, which combines the flavors of chocolate and oranges, with this dish, but unfortunately the distributor was unable to obtain it in time, and as a result the Sabra was substituted with a Washington State red wine called Chocolate Shop. The wine is infused with chocolate to provide it that classic flavor, and while it wasn’t the Sabra, it made an interesting and pleasant companion to the blintz.

I enjoyed this dinner from beginning to end, even if my eyes were a bit bigger than my stomach. And, of course, as you already know, the Bistro has yet another lineup of special events ready for October, each of which will offer its own pleasures: the Vegan Taste of Fall Oct. 13, the Clam Bake Oct. 14, the Twenty-First Amendment Beer Dinner Oct. 18, and the sure-to-be-amazing True Blood Season 2 Wine and Spirits Dinner Oct. 27. Save the dates and make your reservations now!

In the meantime, in case you missed it, here’s a link to the News-Herald’s story this past Wednesday in which Chef Ruth talked to Janet Podolak about Rosh Hashanah food traditions. It includes a recipe for her chicken soup with matzoh balls, so you can give it a whirl yourself. Try it; it could make a sweet New Year for you! I only wish I had about five gallons of it in my apartment right now–I think it would knock this cold right out of me!

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