“Mad Men” Retro Dinner: a fabulous flashback to the ’60s

Wow, if you missed the “Mad Men” retro dinner, you missed a good one! As the chronicler of these events, The Tenant apologizes for being a bit behind because of technical issues regarding the posting of the video. I had really wanted to resolve those before going ahead with the review, but it looks as if it may take a while, so I’m going to go ahead anyway by illustrating with some still shots, and I hope to be able to resolve the video problems later.

A few Bistro guests–the ladies, at least–really got into the spirit of things by dressing for the occasion, which is exactly what Marc and Ruth hoped for. The men, not so much, so we ended up choosing only a female winner of our costume contest (by applause). The prize went to a certain lady by the name of Mary from Chagrin Falls, whom you can see here in her vintage leopard hat. Mary really decked herself out, from coat (her mother’s, she said) to dress to gloves and shoes: truly a deserving winner.

As for the meal? That was a winner, too. I missed a few of the early drinks, but I must confess that the Grasshopper served with dessert was very yummy. Tasted like a liquid, intoxicating version of a Girl Scout Thin Mint. Indeed, it would have made a fine dessert all by itself!

As for the food, the throwback-style hors d’oeuvres and courses served as a reminder that even in an era when Americans were generally not all that adventurous about their dining tastes, there were still pleasures to be had. The Shrimp-Stuffed Deviled Eggs were a simple delight, each

topped with a fresh shrimp and a sprinkling of orange caviar. Sausage and Crab Stuffed Mushrooms with Herb Beurre Blanc Sauce were rich and full of flavor.

Certainly Betty Draper (at least back in the days when she was hosting dinner parties for Don rather than counting her calories as Mrs. Henry Francis) would have been proud to serve up Oysters Rockefeller like this: buttery and spinachy and bread-crumbed, with a squeeze of lemon and just enough oyster liquor to make for delicious imbibing.
Then we came to our ’60s salad. To be honest, I thought this was going to be one of those dishes that would be authentic, but so-so compared to what we usually consider a salad today. True, back in the ’60s (and even in some very traditional steakhouses today) they just loved to serve those big wedges of tasteless iceberg lettuce ladled with dressing and maybe a scattering of bacon or tomatoes or something, but weren’t they a little ho-hum? Well, not this one. What I learned here is that when it comes to a traditional iceberg wedge salad, the dressing makes all the difference between a salad that’s a yawn and a salad

that’s WOW. This Thousand Island dressing was housemade and tasted it; the fresh chopped tomatoes blended into it only made the whole thing more of a refreshing eye-opener.

The main dish was the kind of impresser you’d expect to find coming out of the kitchen if Pete and Trudy invited you over to Cos Cob for an evening: Beef Wellington. It’s beef filet in a tux, one made primarily of puff pastry, and tender and juicy inside that jacket. Gently golden brown, deliciously sauced, it fit right in with the theme of the evening.
Our grand finale was grand indeed: Individual Baked Alaska. I’d never had Baked Alaska before in any style, but I knew what it was made of, and, well, you’ll never find me arguing against ice cream and sponge cake enrobed in meringue. Ours were delightfully decadent desserts served in twin pools of raspberry coulis and chocolate sauce. Couldn’t have been better.
The Baked Alaska even served as birthday cake for one lucky diner celebrating a natal day. It certainly looked as if everyone had a truly fun time at this dinner, and the positive feedback was coming in even before the evening was over: at least a few guests want the Bistro to do it all over again, even down to the same menu! From drinks to food to classic ’60s tunes playing all night, it was filled with style and taste. A delightful time-traveling trip–no sugar cubes required (unless they were for putting in your after-dinner coffee)! One thing’s for sure: if there’s even an encore presentation of this episode of “Mad Men,” you won’t want to flip the channel. Drop in, tune in, and turn on–you’ll love it!

Italian-style Vegan Dinner: Bellissimo!

And so the Tenant returns with a Vegan Night review…Actually, I did enjoy last month’s offering tremendously, as I’m sure many of you did. Trouble was, I wasn’t feeling well enough to really be up to photographing it or reviewing it at the time. I ate my Wild Mushroom Salad with Pistachios right away, but could only get through about half the Asparagus and Meyer Lemon Risotto because of poor appetite from my cold, so I boxed up the rest, along with the dessert, for home. The positive side of this was that when I woke up the next day after sleeping for many hours, I had that delicious risotto to eat, which was creamy, comforting and hit the spot–the perfect dish to eat when you’re not feeling well and want something cozy to eat without having to cook it. I finished my Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble a day or so later, reheating that as I had the risotto, and it was absolutely yummy. So I was looking forward to this month’s offering and being able to enjoy it in a healthier state (believe me, it took a while).

First course: Minestrone with Pesto Rouille and Garlic Toast. Oh my, was this tasty! A rich melange of fresh and lovely vegetables and white beans, swirled through with the flavorful pesto, rich with fresh basil. It would even be good as a winter dish, but as a spring dish it is excellent and very Italian.

The main course, Gardein Piccata Style with Caper-White Wine-Lemon Sauce, Gnocchi and Saute of Seasonal Vegetables, could not have been better. The gardein did as fine a job of mocking a veal cutlet as it does chicken, breaded and sauced with a light yet richly flavorful brew of capers, white wine and lemon. It sat atop a bed of gnocchi, which in the hands of some chefs can be rather leaden–not at the Bistro! They were delicious little potato-y nuggets coated lightly with sauce. And the vegetables….oh, the vegetables! Fresh as could be, including wonderfully savory asparagus that tasted like spring itself.

For the grand finale, there was the Limoncello-Infused Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce and Puff Pastry Tuile. The panna cotta was served in a ramekin as a sort of chunky pudding, and was lightly lemony and delicious, drenched in tart raspberry sauce and topped with fresh plump raspberries and a sprig of mint. The tuile alongside was feather-light and an ideal accompaniment.

Once again, the Vegan Night offering proved how tasty and satisfying a vegan meal can be, even for those who don’t normally eat vegan. Incidentally, while  was eating I saw a man who was just leaving the Bistro rhapsodizing about the quality of the mushroom salad he had just enjoyed, which put me in mind of how delicious last month’s vegan mushroom salad was. If you’re normally not a vegan eater, and you haven’t tried Vegan Night at the Bistro yet, you just might want to give it a try…you could be quite surprised. Of course, if you have, you know that next month’s offering will be just as good!

Rooftop garden “spring”-ing back to life!

Spring certainly seemed to come early this year, but despite the summerlike weather we experienced in late March, we’ve had some cold days and frosty nights in between time. Now that we’re in mid-May, however, we’re bringing you fresh flavors from our rooftop once again.

As usual, we’re starting with the herbs. Tonight, you can come into the Bistro and whether you’re enjoying our Vegan Night Italian fest or one of our specials or regular offerings, you’ll taste fresh spices coming straight from garden to table. Savor the special touch brought to your plate by sweet basil, rosemary, sage, chives, and lemon thyme, and know we brought it right down from the roof for you.

In addition to that, we’ve set in the plants that will ripen over the next few months and provide us with succulent flavors all summer long: our 2012 tomato garden. It’s a little different each year, and this one will bring you another delightful palette of sunny flavors to savor. As always, to get things started quickly, we’ve put in some Early Girls for quick-ripening, bright-red meaty fruit with an incredible flavor and an aroma to match. They’re cozied up next to some Better Boy hybrids, which will provide succulent, juicy products for this summer’s salads as well.

This year, they’ll be joined by heirlooms like Brandywine Pink, which produces large, pink beefsteak tomatoes considered to be among the best tasting, most sweet and “tomatoey” fruits you can find, while having leaves that look more like potato leaves than spiky tomato leaves. Another heirloom we’re adding to our collection is Cherokee Purple, a dusky rose, extremely sweet variety.

Our Purple Passion plants will be producing large pink beefsteak tomatoes with delicious flavor. Vivid colors and tastes will come from our Hillbilly tomatoes–orange-yellow beefsteaks with red and pink streaks–a very flavorful variety, and our Lemon Boys, which produce tomatoes with lemony-yellow skin.

Our Marglobe heirlooms are a solid disease-resistant variety that will produce firm, smooth, red, tasty fruit. And our San Marzanos will be ready to cook up for creating terrific sauces and salsas.

We hope learning a little about what we’re growing on the rooftop whets your appetite for the summer dishes to come. From now through September, as always in the warm months, you can be assured of finding cuisine here at the Bistro that’s fresh, delicious, and local–some of it very local. Nothing like digging your knife and fork into something we just picked and brought down from the garden a few minutes ago!