Champagne Dinner puts a sparkling finish on another year

There’s no doubt about it, to my mind: while each of the Bistro’s wine and beer dinners and vegan multicourse feasts is unique, there’s something extraordinary about the champagne/sparkling wine dinner that serves as the finale of the special-dinner year. It’s as if all the stops are pulled out in order to create the ultimate elegant dining experience. As the Tenant, I have missed only one since moving here in 2008, and I know they’re something to be especially anticipated. In that sense, not to mention all others, last night’s did not disappoint!

The pleasure began with an unannounced aperitif before dinner, a Lamarca Prosecco served in the only coupe glasses of the evening. This wine set the table, you might say, for all that came after. The couple who served as my dining companions for the evening were very excited, as, while they’ve enjoyed many a dining experience at the Bistro, this was their first time at a special dinner; normally, her job and early hours make it difficult to attend weeknight events, but she has the week off. I’m pleased to report we all had a fantastic time and that each of the dishes and wines was a pleaser indeed.

The first dish, Escargot en Croute, featured buttery, garlicky snails tucked into flaky beds of golden phyllo dough accented with a Pernod cream sauce, topped with creme fraiche and a dollop of orange caviar, long chives laid atop to finish. A top-notch presentation and the escargot was perfectly tender and delicious in its saucy, garlicky bed. The rather tart Dr. L Riesling Sec, a sparkler from Germany, accented it very well.

Course number two would conjure up a few memories of the beer dinner earlier this month, but oh, with what a difference! Once again, Duck Confit, a perfectly cooked crispy leg of duck, made an appearance, but this time in combination with a pile of thin, crispy duck-fat fries very similar to those that laid the foundation for the poutine from that dinner. This time, though, instead of being graced with cheese curds and gravy, the frites bore just the slightest touch of fragrant rosemary and sea salt, and were served with a dollop of the most flavorful, amazing Roasted Garlic Aioli (mayonnaise) one could imagine. If Ruth put this in jars and sold it, I’d be first in line to buy it! It tasted heavenly with both the duck and the fries. The wine chosen for the course, Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut, could not have been a better choice with its fresh, crisp flavor.

I’d already warned my dining companions that if they’d never experienced a Bistro 185 scallop before, they were in for a treat with the third course: a scallop guaranteed to be cooked just right and full of flavor. The Scallop Rockefeller lived up to my advance billing in every way. Traditionally, a Scallops Rockefeller recipe calls for spinach, onion, garlic, lemon, butter, Pernod and hollandaise sauce. This variation had the rich cooked-to-wilting spinach and a delicate lemon shallot sabayon, but included a welcome addition in the form of crunchy little bacon lardons–which ramped up the appeal even higher. Each scallop was presented on a real scallop shell resting on a bed of lettuce: score 10 for presentation! To drink, we were poured Ayala Brut Zero Dosage, a highly unusual “brut nature” sparkling wine that is bone-dry with no sugar added during fermentation. As we discovered, this makes it a very appealing accompaniment to seafood (not to mention nice for those counting their calories–although, of course, at a dinner like this, we were not).

The fourth course was a classic of the kind that I like to believe anyone can appreciate–even the least adventurous diners of all and those who like to stick to a “meat and potatoes” diet. With French Braised Short Rib and Root Vegetable Mash with Wild Mushroom Saute, you simply cannot lose. As always, the Bistro short rib was melt-in-your-mouth tender and the mashers rich and flavorful with a combination of winter root veggies in the savory mushroom sauce. Our sparkling wine for this dish was another Italian, Adami Garbel 13 Prosecco, with a hint of dry tartness that set off the dish beautifully.

Our dessert for the meal was a special treat. It was described as Boule de Neige (“Snowball”) with Hazelnuts and Raspberries, and it arrived at the table as a mound of whipped-cream-covered, dense, flourless chocolate cake surrounded by a raspberry coulis and garnished with ground hazelnuts and fresh raspberries. What a dream! Ruth says she got the recipe from a French chef, but that’s all she’ll say about it, and after tasting it I can understand why she isn’t too eager to divulge the secret. This one should be a regular in the dessert case all winter long–if not summer! Who says snowballs are only for December through March? When they’re made of chocolate, hazelnuts and whipped cream, there really should be an exception. Our final wine was a Norton Demi Sec from Argentina, just sweet enough to go nicely with the dessert–although this dessert would go just as well with coffee, water or on its own!

This year’s version of the Bistro’s Champagne Dinner definitely left us feeling bubbly and happy. I certainly do hope you were there and enjoyed it as much as I did. Either way, though, you can still enjoy a magical evening of special cuisine and sparkling wine–make reservations for a sitting at the Bistro on New Year’s Eve and start thinking about which entree appeals to you most from the special menu for the evening. Whatever you choose, you’re sure to have a fabulous time!

A little preview of tonight’s Champagne Dinner…

Just to whet your appetite…

The escargot have been shelled…

Here they are, waiting to go…

The duck confit is cooked to crispy-skinned perfection…

…and the fries are sliced and ready to be cooked and served up hot tonight!

See you soon at what is sure to be an incredible feast!

Here’s what we’re cooking up for New Year’s Eve…

What are you doing New Year’s Eve? If you haven’t made plans yet, but you know you want to hit the town for a nice dinner to ring in 2012, you’re most welcome to join us. On December 31, we’ll have  three dinner sittings–at 5, 7 and 9 p.m.–and our menu, along with several of our most popular recent offerings, will include a few special items for New Year’s Eve only. Here’s our entree list for the evening:

  • 4 oz. New York Strip Steak, Balsamic Reduction, Blue Cheese Mash, Onion Rings, Asparagus
  • 12 oz. Veal Chop, Gnocchi with Wild Mushrooms and Butternut Squash, Roasted Garlic and Veal Demi-Glace
  • Rack of Lamb ( three double-cut chops), Couscous with Pine Nuts, Cranberries, Raisins and Roasted Garlic
  • Moroccan-Style Slow-Roasted Lamb Shank, Pan Sauce with Apricots, Almonds, and Roasted Root Vegetables with Saffron Israeli Couscous
  • Long-Bone Double-Cut Pork Chop Wrapped with Bacon and Stuffed with Proscuitto, Applewood-Smoked Provolone and Granny Smith Apples, Finished with Apple Schnapps Sauce, Sweet Mash and Saute of Root Vegetables
  • Boeuf Bourguignon: Boneless Black Angus Short Ribs Slow-Braised in a Rich Burgundy Wine Sauce with Onions, Carrots and Mashers
  • Duck 3-Way: Roasted ½ Duck, Smoked Duck Egg Roll and Duck Confit Fried Rice
  • Chicken Marsala with Wild Mushroom Ravioli
  • Chicken Bouchee: Puff Pastry Filled with Breast of Chicken in a Creamy Sherry Sauce with Asparagus, Leeks, Pearl Onions, Mushrooms and Carrots
  • 2-4 oz. Lobster Tails and Pappardelle Pasta with a Salmon Caviar-Black Truffle Cream Sauce
  • Lobster Ravioli with Day Boat Scallops and Shrimp in a Creamy Lobster Sauce
  • Pan-Seared Day Boat Scallops, Risotto with Butternut Squash and Wild Mushrooms
  • Chilean Sea Bass, Hollandaise Sauce, Corn Pudding and House Tempura Vegetables
  • Alaskan Sockeye Salmon, Saute of Organic Green Vegetables and Roasted Baby Potatoes
  • Sesame-Crusted Seared Wild-Caught Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Aioli and Ginger-Mandarin Drizzle, Cold Sesame-Peanut Noodles and House Tempura Vegetables
  • Florida Hog Snapper – side to be determined
  • Vegetarian Ravioli

What better way to start a new year than with a truly first-class dining experience? Call 216.481.9635 and make your plans to welcome 2012 at the Bistro!

HOLIDAY HOURS: We’ll be open from 5 to 9 p.m. tomorrow night, Christmas Eve. As usual on Sundays, we’ll be closed this Sunday, Christmas Day. We’ll be back for lunch Monday at noon. Happy Holidays!

UniBroue Beer Dinner: cozy, hearty food and brew!

The Tenant returns…and as I wrap up my last preparations for the Christmas holiday, I can’t help but be warmed by fond memories of last week’s UniBroue Beer Dinner at the Bistro, which served up wintertime comfort food French Canadian style–along with a selection of intriguing beers courtesy of Quebec’s UniBroue brewery. As our expert of the evening, Greg from Cavalier Beer Distributing, explained, UniBroue specializes in Belgian-style brews–slightly sweeter beers made from Belgian yeast strains and conditioned with the yeast staying in the bottle–which made fine accompaniments to the hearty courses served up alongside.

I’ve traveled to many parts of Canada many times, but I must confess that in all the times I’ve visited, I have yet to try what’s more or less the national snack: poutine, a French Canadian concoction of French fries piled with cheese curds and topped with gravy. While you can find poutine on Canadian menus everywhere, even the fast-food counters (especially the fast-food counters!), I had yet to try it. For this reason, I was all the more curious to experience it as the first course in this dinner. And the fries for this version wouldn’t be just any fries, but fries cooked in duck fat. This, along with the hand-cut slenderness of the frites and the green-onion garnish, elevated the poutine served here from fast-food snack to true Bistro-level fare. And was it delicious! The frites were oh-so-crispy, the gravy rich with a slight touch of cinnamon, and the cheese an intriguing contrast. Our beer served with the course was La Fin du Monde, a Belgian-style Triple Ale, which Greg explained actually was a term referring to its 9% alcohol level rather than any actual “triple” process followed in the brewing. I liked its light, airy feel and mild sweetness.

Our second course was one I’d gladly enjoy as a holiday meal, at Christmastime or anytime! In Quebec they’re fond of cooking meat with one of the products for which they’re well known–maple syrup–and while that kind of cooking can be cloying in less than a practiced hand, Chef Ruth knows how to do it just right. The Maple-Glazed Pork Tenderloin had just enough sweetness to complement the utterly tender meat and gently glaze the roasted, caramelized Brussels sprouts surrounding it, along with the chunks of bacon (whose smokiness contrasted delightfully with the sweet maple) and pecans. Amazing!

The beer for this course had an old French Canadian folktale behind it, according to Greg: the kind of folktale whose plot seemed to have a fairly consistent pattern after we’d heard a few of them. Maudite, which means “damned,” makes reference to a story of long-ago lumberjacks, impatient to get home, who make a deal with the Devil to fly their canoe quickly back to Montreal by air. Unfortunately, one of them makes the mistake of mentioning God during the trip, which displeases the Devil and condemns them all. (There are many versions of this story, but that’s one. We learned that there seem to be many French Canadian legends connected to men who make deals with the Devil, only to their regret.) Maudite, the beer, is a quite pleasant one by contrast, darker than La Fin du Monde, very effervescent. It went well with this dish indeed.

The salad course, a French White Salad, was a pleasant change of pace. Very much a contrast from the warm, smoky dish preceding, this was a cool combination of chopped Granny Smith apples, white asparagus, mushrooms and leeks, in a lightly sweet dressing, garnished with a few crunchy pomegranate seeds and accompanied by a crispy toasted baguette slice. Its accompanying beer, too, was white: Blanche de Chambly, a traditional white ale of half grain, half barley, with a touch of citrus and coriander, and a slightly lower alcoholic content (5%) versus the first two beers (the Maudite ranks at about 7%).

It was back to stick-to-your-ribs fare for the next course, a Deconstructed Cassoulet. This plate assembled a crispy leg of duck confit atop a bed of white beans and braised sauerkraut with a smoky slice of sausage alongside. It was absolutely savory and rich and a delight. In keeping with the hearty nature of the dish, the beer for the course, Trois Pistoles (which actually refers to coins, not pistols, as Greg explained to us), was darker in color but still had a light, sparkly feel.

Dessert concluded the meal with quintessential Frenchness: a Chocolate Creme Brulee garnished with raspberries and served with the final beer, Terrible (pronounced the French way). Terrible was not at all terrible, but quite pleasant–a hoppier, darker beer, with some cocoa notes to play off the flavor of the dessert very nicely.

All in all, this dinner was a treat for anyone who loves Belgian-style beer and/or the sturdy, satisfying cuisine of our northern neighbors. Beer fans, especially, will want to stay alert for the next opportunity to experience this kind of feast.

For those who prefer their bubbly more in the form of wine–your chance to indulge is coming soon. I hope to see you at the Bistro on the 28th as we say goodbye to 2011 by floating away on a river of champagne and incredible edibles. In the meantime, have a terrific holiday season!

There’s still time to make reservations for our Dec. 28 Champagne Dinner!

It’s not too late to plan to ring the New Year in early with us at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 28, at our  Champagne Dinner. Here’s our menu for this sumptuous combination of bubbly libations and incredible food, “Amuse-Bouche”:

First Course
Escargot en Croute
Caviar-Creme Fraiche-Chives
Pernod Cream Sauce
Champagne: Dr. L Riesling Sec

Second Course
Duck Confit
Duck-Fat Fries with Sea Salt and Rosemary
Roasted Garlic Aioli
Champagne: Adami Garbel 13 Prosecco

Third Course
Scallop Rockefeller
Lemon Shallot Sabayon
Champagne: Ayala Brut Majeur Non Vintage

Fourth Course
French Braised Short Rib in Coquette
Root Vegetable Mash
Wild Mushroom Saute
Champagne: Ayala Brut Zero Dosage Non Vintage

Fifth Course
Boule de Neige with Hazelnuts and Raspberries
Champagne: Norton Demi Sec

The cost of this incredible dinner is $75 per person, and reservations will make a truly memorable holiday gift for someone you love (hint, hint). Don’t miss out–call 216.481.9635 to reserve your place for this magnificent evening!

Solve your last-minute holiday gift shopping dilemma right here!

Still not sure about what to get that person (or those people) who seem to have everything…what to get them that won’t be exchanged, “re-gifted” or otherwise unappreciated? You don’t have any idea what their size or taste is in clothing or stuff for the home, they’ve already bought themselves every kind of cool gadget under the sun, the last thing you feel like doing is tackling the shopping crowds at this late date, and it’s too late to order anything online to get it delivered in time (at least without paying a monster of a shipping fee). What to do, what to do?

We have a suggestion. It does require that you answer one lifestyle question regarding your potential recipient, though.

Namely: Does this person eat?

If the answer is yes, we have your solution: a Bistro 185 gift certificate.

Our gift certificates are available in denominations as low as $25 and as high as $100 (you can get $50 and $75 certificates, too). Just think of the advantages:

1. One size and color (well, they’re actually several colors) fits all.

2. If the person eats–just about ANY kind of food–it will be used and enjoyed. No “re-gifting” likely on this one.

3. If you were about to throw up your hands in despair and just give money or a gift card, well–a Bistro 185 certificate isn’t cold and impersonal like cash, or even some gift cards. It shows you put some thought into the fact that your recipient enjoys occasions of fine dining, and you want to give that person the gift of one (or maybe even a few).

4. No need to wrestle with crowds at any shopping establishment. Just stop by the Bistro and tell a server you would like to purchase. Done!

5. Unlike some gift cards, it doesn’t need to be used immediately. It doesn’t lose value during any time it goes unused. It’s always worth the exact same value it was the day you bought it. No hidden tricks. Also, it’s highly unlikely to get sold or traded away on one of those gift-card Web sites for something else.

6. It’s good at any Bistro 185 location. Well, OK, there is only one Bistro 185 location. But when you enjoy the care we take toward preparing your meal fresh from scratch, you realize that’s actually a good thing.

7. Your potential giftee lives out of town? Well, what better reason for the giftee to come visit you? (Assuming that‘s a good thing. If not, at least you’ll be at the Bistro when you get together.)

8. If your recipient is a vegan, this is a great way to treat him or her to vegan fine dining through experiencing our Vegan Dinner Series.

9. It shows your good taste in fine dining and flatters your recipient, whom you have assumed shares it.

10. It supports local business here in Northeast Ohio, and shows your recipient that you do so as well.

You do have to come to the Bistro to buy our gift certificates. But we’re pretty conveniently located, only a few minutes right off I-90. You’ll spend less time coming here, buying your certificates and leaving than you will just hunting for a parking spot at the mall right now!

For those who eat, and can make it to East 185th Street at some point in their lifetimes, Bistro 185 gift certificates are the ultimate holiday present. Your recipient will think of you with each delicious bite. So come on in today, and get your holiday shopping finished quickly and easily.

French Wine Dinner: Oo la la, it was delicious!

As the Tenant sits down to review yet another special Bistro dinner, she is reminded of the first time she ever sat down to a classic French meal: when she was in high school French Club, dining with her classmates at a lovely old French restaurant in Shaker Heights with the not-very-French-sounding name of The Wagon Wheel. Perhaps some of you are old enough to remember it. I recall the name as the subject of much joking at the time; we were from Lake County and lived close enough to Geneva-on-the-Lake that the most familiar restaurant to us with the name “Wagon Wheel” was a burgers-pizza-and-beer joint near the beach. Classmates who heard the name of the restaurant we had selected for our club dinner thought we were going to the one in Geneva, and joked that the only French food we’d find there would be “French fries.”

I tell this story only because sometimes things come full circle in the most amazing way. One of the courses we dined upon that evening in Shaker–the Wagon Wheel there turned out to be very French–was Coquilles St. Jacques, baked in a scallop shell. It was amazing. And, as it happened, some time ago I was in the Bistro, and happened to overhear that the recipe for the Bistro’s own version of that dish, one of its most popular starters, was influenced by none other than…the old Wagon Wheel. What a coincidence!

While Coquilles St. Jacques was not on the menu at Wednesday’s French Wine Dinner, it certainly carried on in the tradition of that long-ago French meal I so enjoyed…while introducing me to at least one type of cuisine I had not yet experienced. And it was all paired with very enjoyable wines provided by Heidelberg Distributing Co. of Independence.

Our first wine at this dinner was an aperitif: Cremant de Loire, a truly charming sparkling wine that started things off well indeed. From there, we made a little trip back to the Bistro’s Julia Project with one of its very popular dishes from that era: Potage Parmentier, or Potato-Leek Soup. Dressed with frizzled onion and a sprinkling of chive oil, t was heartwarming and rich and full of flavor as ever, an ideal first course. It was also well paired with Chateau L’Hoste Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc 2008, a soft, light, slightly buttery wine, dry without being extremely astringent or puckery.

For our second course, we were served something brand-new to me, but which Marc (who prepared this particular dish) and Ruth explained is a classic type of French lunch: Cured Salmon in a Jar. We were each served a large, shallow jar and a plate of toasty baguette slices. Inside the jar, under a bay leaf, we found tender morsels of salmon that had been cured in oil for five hours, flavored by slices of potato, onions, olives, carrots, lemons, peppercorns, rosemary and thyme. As Ruth explained, these could be placed on the toasts and eaten, or enjoyed straight from the jar. I found it really tasty. I wouldn’t mind having a jar of this combination in my fridge all the time! The wine for this course was Domaine du Pere Caboche Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, a blend of white grapes from the  Southern Rhone region that was a bit drier and just as pleasant as the Sauvignon Blanc.

Our third course was as rich and rewarding as could possibly be: Coq au Vin with Fingerling Potatoes. Ruth explained that this dish was prepared by browning the skin of the chicken first in olive oil, then marinating it overnight in a petit Syrah before being finished with mushrooms, roasted garlic, pearl onions and the potatoes. It must have been this treatment that made it fall-off-the bone tender and yet at the same time gave the skin such a crispy, smoky flavor and made the sauce so hearty; the vegetables with it were equally sumptuous. It was served with Michel Chapoutier Crozes Petit Rouge 2008, a Syrah from the Rhone that was a perfect match.

After all that richness, a salad course was just what we needed, and this one, a French Green Salad with Brie and Pear Beggar’s Purse in a Balsamic Reduction, was a fine choice. The salad was accented with spears of white asparagus, and the little phyllo-dough purses of cheese and pears tasted marvelous with it; they provided a warm, flaky contrast to the cool lettuce and tart dressing. So did the wine, Simmonet Saint-Bris Sauvignon Blanc Burgundy 2009. This is a fresh and fruity stainless steel-fermented wine from the only place in Burgundy allowed to produce Sauvignon Blanc.

To conclude this tres elegant meal, we were served an Apple-Apricot-Marzipan Tart with Soft Whipped Creme. My German side has a passion for marzipan (especially around Christmastime), and this marzipan tasted wonderful with the paper-thin slivers of fruit, crispy golden crust and gentle glaze. The dessert wine, an oak-aged Chateau Rieussec Sauterne, was also quite special. A sweet ending to an evening that brought me back in time to my first experience with French cuisine, and made me feel all the more determined to visit someday and experience the country’s cooking firsthand.

This dinner brought November to an end and provided a promising preview of some of the special things the Bistro has in store for December. With two wine tastings, a French Canadian beer dinner, a Champagne Dinner and special plans afoot for those who make reservations for New Year’s Eve, there’s something to please everyone. Make your plans (and your reservations) now!