Latin American Barbecue: A fantastic fiesta

So, the Latin American Barbecue last Wednesday looks good, no? It tasted even better…says the Tenant. I can tell you, as hot as the weather was, this was a terrific meal for it, because while we tend to think of barbecues as hot and smoky (at least over the grill!), the emphasis in this dinner was more on the cool and refreshing…even as it offered piquant, spicy flavors that danced on the tongue.

For starters, we were all served glasses of Marc’s Special Sangria, garnished with orange slices. This sangria has been available at the bar for quite a while this summer already, and it is truly the perfect cooling treat anytime, but especially for this dinner. Its rich mix of chilled fruits and spices prepared our palates for all that was to come.

The opening dish, Shrimp Ceviche, continued the theme of cool refreshment. The shrimp arrived plump and well-cooked from its time spent bathing in the pungent lime-juice marinade with the other chunks of veggies, fruits and herbs, from tomatoes to mangoes. The cocktail selected to accompany this course was a delightful caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil, a concoction of cachaca — sugar-cane rum — sugar and lime. It was intensely sweet and pleasingly powerful, very well mated to the ceviche.

Now that we were all relaxed quite well into the South American vibe, we were ready to enjoy the course of Smoked Chicken Empanada with Brazilian Black Beans. The savory, flaky little pockets of meat-filled dough sat atop the incredibly flavorful beans, dressed with a cool drizzle of creme fraiche. They could not have tasted better. We had wine for this course: ’09 Lo Tengo Torrontes, an Argentinean white with a bright, smooth flavor.

The next course brought us right back to cool — South American Style Jicama-Orange-Avocado Salad with Chili-Lime Vinaigrette. This “slaw” style of salad featured a gently fruity-spicy dressing and the juicy tang of fresh orange slices. The perfect touch! Another white wine was served alongside, ’10 Octave Vinho Verde, a light and airy Portuguese selection, dry and crisp.

Then it was time for the star of any traditional barbecue meal: the meat. And oh, what meat! This was beautifully cooked, thinly sliced Argentinean Grilled Flatiron Steak with Chimichurri Sauce, Plantain Chutney and Peruvian Corn Pudding. The savory, spicy green chimichurri enhanced the natural flavor of the already well-seasoned slices of meat, tender and pink on the inside, yet with those crispy dark edges that signify perfect barbecue. I had never had plantain before, and had been curious as to what this more savory version of the banana was like. Well, as chutney, I loved it, and it was a welcome addition to this beautiful dish in which meat, chutney and sauce were arranged on a generous slice of the corn pudding, one of my favorite foundations for any dish. It all added up to produce a spectacular sequence of flavors: sharply spicy, then savory and sweet. With this dish we were served the only red wine of the evening, ’07 Guentota Old Vine Malbec, a rich, full-bodied and bountifully flavored selection.

To top off the evening, a little crown of a dessert: Quesillo de Coco, Venezuelan Coconut Flan. It sat on the plate looking irresistible in its puddle of caramel, flanked by incredibly tangy fresh raspberries. I almost hated to break the surface of the glaze; it looked too pretty to eat. Of course, not eating it would have been a huge mistake, because these little Latin American versions of creme caramel were absolutely fantastic. The accompanying wine was ’09 Moscato d’Asti, a crisp, light, peachy, pear-y white with just a touch of sparkle and a wine that always works with dessert. A satisfying conclusion indeed.

If you missed this dinner, you missed one masterful barbecue — but all is not yet lost. Sign up for this Wednesday’s classic barbecue American style (Yes, an earlier version of this said Thursday — but it’s Wednesday!), and you’ll feel as if you’re truly enjoying what summer is all about. I’m already looking forward to it!

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Ay, caramba! We had a great Tequila Dinner!

The Tenant is back, and you’re going to have to make do with me for a while, because Ruth and Marc are going off on a well-deserved vacation. But they’ve entrusted me to write another of my reviews, this one of Wednesday’s Tequila Dinner. At this event, we were able to enjoy some of the many distilled forms of the blue agave plant, which is a succulent plant related to lilies — not a cactus, as some think. It’s been cultivated for many thousands of years, and people have been making tequila from it for quite a long time! We got to taste a few products of that experience.

Things got off to a rousing start with the combination of a Shrimp Tamale and two paired glasses on our tables: one of fresh pickle juice and one of Tierra Organic Blanco Tequila. Tierra is the only organic tequila sold in the United States, and blanco tequila is 100% agave tequila, unaged and untreated with additives. The contrast of the tart pickle juice with this slightly sweet tequila was a tastebud-tingler. So was the tamale, a combination of shrimp, plantain, cornmeal mush (with many tasty spicings and flavorings, including fresh cilantro and lime) served in a corn husk.

The second course was ropa vieja — shredded beef brisket cooked for 24 hours in a bath of Tex-Mex seasonings, seated atop jalapeño corn pudding, and topped with refreshing sour cream. But before it arrived, we were able to get a start on the accompanying tequila drink, an intriguing iced latte of Kahlua and Mexican chocolate known as a “Daring Dylan.” This drink, which I could enjoy as a substitute for chocolate milk any day of the week, featured Don Julio Anejo Tequila (aged in oak at least one year) and was rimmed with a very Mexican flavor combination of cocoa and cinnamon. OK, I admit it: the rim tasted so good, I licked it off!

You’d think the second course of a meal would be an odd place for a chocolate drink to be served, but the Daring Dylan was actually an excellent complement that helped cool the spicy-hot ropa vieja on the palate.

Next came another hearty dish, House-Made Black-Bean, Goat Cheese and Poblano Ravioli. These large, fairly flat ravioli were full of rich flavor from the beans, cheese, and poblano peppers, and sauced with a delicious roasted red pepper sauce streaked with cream. The tequila for this course was a powerful, pungent Don Julio Repasado (100% agave, stored in oak between two months and a year).

Following the intense flavors of this course came some gentle, cooling refreshment. Normally this point of a meal features a salad course, but this one was a little different: Chef Ruth had prepared three different kinds of guacamole. We each had a scoop of traditional guacamole made with avocados, a scoop of sweet and fresh guacamole made with mangoes, and a tart and tangy guacamole made with Marc’s smoked trout. The guacamoles were served with long fried plantain chips atop a bed of carrot and jicama slaw. These were very tasty; I thought the contrasting flavors of the mango and trout varieties were a fun and out-of-the-ordinary twist on the theme. The refreshment continued in the drink served with this course, a Mexican Mojito made with Don Julio Blanco Tequila, spiked with plenty of fresh rooftop-garden mint. Yum!

By this time, though, my eyes were getting bigger than my stomach. I had to have my fifth course, the Seafood Vera Cruz, packed up to go. But that was fine, because I had an absolutely wonderful lunch of it the next day! If anything, the seafood stew, rich with fish, mussels, shrimp and grilled scallop, full of peppers and onions and served over a timbale of saffron rice, tasted even better with the broth aging that extra day for the flavors to marry even more. Utterly delicious. The Tierras Organic Repasado tequila served with it was fiery and intense.

Somehow, even packing up the stew, I found room for the dessert course that night. And was it ever wonderful: tiny chocolate cups of margarita sorbet — like the most concentrated form of margarita slush you’ve ever had — along with smooth, soothing caramel flan and a fantastic churro, or Spanish fried doughnut stick, dipped deeply in molten chocolate. Mmmm-mmm! And the final drink was something special, too: a “Frisky Surprise” featuring Tierra Organic Anejo tequila. This slushy fruit drink was served in tall glasses with an orange slice, and was a refreshing and unusual treat.

So, it was another success for a Bistro 185 special dinner evening — but if you think this one was good, what Ruth and Marc (especially Ruth) are cooking up for October is really going to amaze you. Be sure not to be late signing up for it, because it’s going to be a dinner with a bit of a Halloween-style theme like you’ve never seen or tasted before. What is it? You’ll have to wait a little longer to find out. But watch this space — soon you’ll know!

Tequila!

Sure, everyone knows that in 1958 the Champs had a big hit with “Tequila.” But how many know or remember that they recorded a follow-up song called “Too Much Tequila”? They did!

Well, at the Bistro 185 Tequila Dinner, our goal is to make sure you don’t get too much tequila, but just the right amount — and it’s going to make you feel like partying! This special dinner features six Southwestern-style courses paired with six tequilas, and it’s all guaranteed to have your tastebuds doing a dance. Here’s our lineup of courses and tequilas:

First Course
Shrimp Tamale
Tequila: “Tickle My Pickle” with Marc’s Fresh Pickle Juice
Featuring Tierra Organic Blanco Tequila

Second Course
Ropa Vieja — 24-Hour Tex-Mex Shredded Brisket
Jalapeño Corn Pudding
Tequila: “Daring Dylan” — Kahlua — Mexican Chocolate Latte
Featuring Don Julio Anejo Tequila

Third Course
House-Made Black Bean-Goat Cheese-Poblano Ravioli
Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Tequila: Don Julio Repasado

Fourth Course
Trio of Guacamole:
Smoked Trout Guacamole
Mango Guacamole
Traditional Guacamole
Tequila: Don Julio Blanco

Fifth Course
Seafood Vera Cruz — Seafood Stew with Saffron Rice
Tequila: Tierras Organic Repasado

Sixth Course
Margarita Sorbet
Flan
Churros
Tequila: “Frisky Surprise” Featuring Tierras Organic Anejo

Our Tequila Dinner is $55 per person, tax and gratuity additional. Call 216.481.9635 to make your paid reservation, because this one will sell out quickly!

Austrian Wine Dinner a delicious success!

Hope you enjoy this new video of our latest wine dinner last Wednesday, featuring wines from Austria and Germany paired with a menu of classic Austrian dishes.

The Tenant has once again popped in here to provide a review of the latest, and you may not be surprised to hear that I felt it was delightful! Here are the details.

The dinner kicked off in fine form with a first course of House-Smoked Pork Tenderloin accompanied by an Apple Galette with Ginger-Cream Sauce. I don’t know how to describe how delicious this was. The pork was smoked to perfection and the ginger-cream sauce was the ideal addition. But the real revelation was the tender and flaky apple galette, which included sweet caramelized onions and crispy bacon pieces; it was sheer heaven! The Lois Grüner Veltliner 2008 served with this course went very well with this symphony of flavors without overpowering it.

From there, the meal continued with one of the favorite ethnic dishes of this and many other parts of America, schnitzel. But what a schnitzel! So tender and so gently breaded, and topped with a delicate Meyer lemon sauce combining just the right amounts of sweetness and tartness. Each was topped with a fried quail egg and a stripe of anchovy for a little extra savory bite. All of it lay atop a bed of exquisite redskin mashed potatoes. Very satisfying, especially paired with with a 2007 Heinrich Red that was a mixture of 50% Zweigelt, 30% Blaufran-Kisch and 15% St. Laurent. This combination made for wine that, despite its heady bouquet, was not as heavy as I tend to expect reds to be. It seemed to have a more flowery, light taste than the average red — not so much a “red meat” wine as a wine that would go with many different kinds of dishes, and was a good match for the schnitzel.

The always-welcome third salad course, this time of ruby red grapefruit, avocado and arugula dressed in a white wine vinaigrette, was a wonderful and refreshing palate cleanser. I especially love avocados, so this was a winner for me. The wine was a Zweigelt Classic Gelt 2008, and complemented the fresh, crisp flavors of the salad.

The fourth course, Wild Forest Mushroom Ragu with Asparagus and Pappardelle Pasta, was like the exact opposite of the salad course: dense, woody, peppery, in a rich and flavorful brown sauce. It was somewhat similar to Chef Todd’s ragu with spinach, and the Blaufrankisch Classic Frank 2008 was a successful match here, with enough body and dense fruitiness to not be overpowered by the richness of the dish.

In course five, the exact right things came along at the exact right time. The Juniper Berry House-Smoked Trout — yet another great product of the Bistro 185 smoker — had just the perfect pungent, savory flavor for this point of the meal. It was unlike anything else and positively delicious in its contrast. Speaking of contrast, it coexisted on the plate with a polenta cake whose texture and flavor was also perfect for the dish, as was its savory mustard sauce. The wine here was a switch from the original plan; the Heinz Eiffel Kabinette 2009, originally planned for the dessert course, was served with this one instead, and it was a wise choice. The German Riesling was just fruity enough to complement the dish without being too dessert-y sweet.

Finally, the dessert course featured two classic Austrian tortes: the Sacher, layers of chocolate sponge cake sandwiched together with apricot preserves and topped with dark chocolate ganache, and the Linzer, a tart of latticed almond pastry and raspberry jam. The two examples baked up by Bistro 185 were purely delicious. The wine that accompanied them, Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2007, was a really enjoyable, crisp, fruity Riesling perfect for dessert but also, like so many of the lighter wines at these dinners, something I’d be happy to drink on its own.

It was a pleasure to spend this dinner with the wine lovers of Bistro 185 and Greg Webster of Wine Trends, who provided the selections for the evening. If it sounded good to you, but you missed this particular dinner, don’t miss the next one, which is now planned for Thursday, May 27 (courses and wines to be announced). If you’re interested in wine tastings but would prefer to keep your emphasis on the wine, or would appreciate a less expensive way of trying new wines, sign up for one of the Bistro’s $10 “Light Tastings,” which feature hors d’oeuvres instead of a sit-down dinner, scheduled for next Monday, May 10, and Monday, May 24. Call 216.481.9635 and prepare for a wonderful wine-filled evening!

Rum-Painted Grouper is a great tropical taste!

Oh boy, this is another winner from Chef Todd! You’re going to love the combination of flavors in this dish. The grouper is painted with a glaze of rum, cloves, black peppercorns, soy and lemon, then grilled to perfection and placed atop a bed of macadamia-nut guacamole, rich with the flavors of fresh avocado and cilantro. It’s topped with grilled pineapple slices and a wedge of lime, and served alongside jasmine rice and sweet-potato tostones. It’s one of those terrific dishes that provides a magical contrast of flavors and sensations: hot and cold, sweet and spicy, all blending together and yet each standing out to be savored in turn. Not to be missed!

Menu for our Austrian Wine Dinner April 28

The menu for our Austrian Wine Dinner is ready. Prepare for a one-night-only European vacation like no other!

First Course

House Smoked Pork Tenderloin

Apple Gallette

Wine Pairing: Lois Gruner Veltliner 2007

Second Course

Austrian Schnitzel with Quail Egg and Anchovy

Meyer Lemon Sauce

Redskin Potato Mash

Wine Pairing: Red 2007 (50% Zweigelt, 35% Blaufran-Kisch, 15% St. Laurent)

Third Course

Ruby Red Grapefruit and Avocado Salad

White Wine Vinaigrette

Wine Pairing: Zweigelt Classic “Gelt” 2008

Fourth Course

Wild Forest Mushroom Ragu with Pappardelle Pasta

Wine Pairing: Blaufrankisch Classic “Frank” 2008

Fifth Course

Juniper Berry House-Smoked Trout with Mustard Sauce and Polenta Cake

Wine Pairing: Heinz Eiffel Spatlese 2009

Sixth Course: Dessert

Linzer Torte

Sacher Torte

Wine Pairing: Heinz Eiffel Kabinette 2009

Cost of our Austrian Wine Dinner is $60 per person, tax and gratuity additional. To join us for this fabulous meal, make your reservation at 216.481.9635 today!

A bright carnival of colors and flavors

JuliaProject922This Napoleon will conquer your palate. The layers of smoked salmon, pickled papaya, avocado-tomato salsa and potato chip, surrounded by salmon ravioli and drizzled in herb sauce, make for a dazzling combination of tastes. It’s herby, tart, tangy, spicy, buttery, sweet and savory, and possibly like no salmon dish you’ve ever had before. The light, bright colors invite you to celebrate a special meal. Definitely a good choice for the Project!

Here’s the beef…and it’s delicious

JuliaProject916This is what Filets of Beef in Pasilla Chile Sauce looks like when we’re done with it. Our chile sauce includes Cuban black beans, cooked in a sofrito of onions, tomato, garlic and peppers, added to the pasilla-poblano-chipotle combo that serves as the mail flavoring. After the seared beef medallions are cooked in this sauce, it’s topped with a fresh avocado salsa and queso fresco. To the left, you can see the ravioli, made with saffron pasta with a stuffing of goat cheese and black beans with a touch of roasted jalapeño and poblano chiles, topped with a creamy corn sauce. Garnished with grape tomatoes, a few plantain slices and a sprinkling of parsley, this is a truly incredible dish, a marriage of flavors from spicy to creamy to sweet that just dances on your tongue. Try it — you won’t forget it!

Behind the Dish: Filets of Beef in Pasilla Chile Sauce

Filets of Beef in Pasilla Chile Sauce is another of Julia’s cookbook recipes that comes to us by way of Robert del Grande, whom you can see making the dish in a video you’ll find at this link. It’s another one in which the use of chiles imparts a unique Southwestern flavor to a cut of meat. If it puts you in mind of Texas, that’s no accident.

The recipe first requires toasting the chiles — which, in our case, will be a combination of not only pasillas (narrow chiles with a mild to medium-hot, rich flavor) but poblanos and chipotles, to add flavor, depth and a little more heat. Then the chiles are added to a sauce made with plum tomatoes, white onions, garlic and chicken stock. Meanwhile, medallions of beef are seared, then added to the sauce to cook just a bit longer. The dish is finished off with some brown sugar, cilantro, cheese (the original recipe suggests Cotija cheese — a Mexican hard cow’s milk cheese — we will use a softer queso blanco) and either an avocado salsa or a guacamole.

For an extra-special touch, Bistro 185’s chile-flavored beef filets will be served with roasted poblano-black bean ravioli made with saffron pasta. These ravioli are very similar to the ones we prepared recently for the dinner to celebrate our son Ari’s wedding (more about that Sunday!) and we think they will be perfect for accompanying this dish.

If your mouth is watering, you know what to do: pick up the phone and call 216.481.9635. We’ll be delighted to see you tonight.