Italian Regional Wine Dinner: Molto bene!

Hello, this is The Tenant again, with a review of last night’s Italian Regional Wine Dinner. Ruth and her crew may just have topped themselves this time, as far as I’m concerned. This was possibly the best-paced wine dinner the Bistro has presented yet, with an excellent selection of courses beautifully executed — and those who know more about wine than I admittedly do also said the wines were paired perfectly to each course.

Last night’s wines were presented by Jim Dunlevy of Barrel Aged Wine in Concord, Ohio, a direct importer of artisan wines from small Italian regional wineries. He readily shared with us his expertise on these wines, most of which are produced and imported in very small quantities.

The feast began with individual antipasto plates filled with every variety of traditional Italian appetizer, from mozzarella rolls to sliced meats to Italian-style tuna salad, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Slender breadsticks also graced every table and made fine palate cleansers between courses and wines. The antipasto platters were served with 2007 Nicolis Valpolicella Classico DOC, from the region north of Verona and east of Lake Garda, a red wine made with the same varietals found in Amarone and Reciotto. This was a smooth and easily drinkable wine that was a perfect accompaniment to the antipasto.

Next came Tortellini en Brodo, or wild-mushroom tortellini in a very clear, lovely broth. Accompanying this course was 2005 Pavia Bricca Blina Barbera D’Asti DOC. This red wine, a great pasta accompaniment, is very rich and full-bodied, no doubt due to the 11-month-long rest it enjoys in stainless steel tanks following fermentation, to bring out all the flavor of the Barbera grapes the Pavia family has used exclusively in its five generations of winemaking.

The Pappardelle Pasta Bolognese and Natural Pan Sauce with Petit Veal Osso Bucco, with its tender fall-off-the-bone veal and spicy tomato-sauced pasta, had just the right match in the 2006 Poggerino Chianti Classico DOCG. Only 200 cases of this wine are imported into the United States each year; if you were at last night’s dinner you had the opportunity to order your own share, a wonderful idea if you love a wine with a heady bouquet that holds its own when teamed up with a rich meat dish.

Following this course was the delightful Caprese Salad in a Parmesan Basket, bright and fresh with a variety of greens, grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella slices and balsamic vinaigrette. The salad spilled from a basket made of 100 percent shredded Parmesan cheese — no flour, no filler — and crispy and tasty as could be. Its selected wine was 2007 Piero Busso Langhe Bianco DOC, a spirited 50-50 chardonnay-sauvignon blended white that is also fermented in stainless steel, and imported to this country exclusively by Barrel Aged Wine (only 3,000 bottles are produced each year). As we learned, it’s an ideal wine for salad or for drinking on its own.

So many Bistro patrons especially appreciate Chef Ruth’s touch with a scallop, and that was once again on display last night in the Seared Scallop with Black Truffle Soft Polenta and Asparagus. Each scallop, perfectly cooked, sat on a bed of baby-soft polenta, surrounded by crisp green asparagus slices. The 2005 Palagetto Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, fermented and aged in oak for more than a year, tasted just right alongside.

The ideal finish to the evening came in the form of a Ricotta Mascarpone Crêpe with Zabaglione and Fresh Berries. The zabaglione, flavorful with lemon zest and Limoncello, was delightful and the little added treats on the plate (such as mocha custard in a chocolate cup, topped with a berry) made dessert even more special. So did the wine served with it, 2007 CA’D GAL Moscato Di Asti. The bright, crisp, fruity taste of this white makes it yet another wine that’s very easy to enjoy on its own as well as with a dessert. This one is produced in only a 1,000-case quantity each year and only 100 of those cases per year make it to the USA, so once again this was an opportunity to sample a wine not easily obtained in this country.

It was a special night, full of interesting information, magnificent flavors and experiences, and many delights for anyone who loves well-prepared food and lovingly created small-batch Italian wines. Kudos once again to Chef Ruth and her crew, Jim Dunlevy and the entire Bistro 185 staff for another memorable evening!

If you missed out, the video below will give you a little taste of this very enjoyable evening — and maybe encourage you to sign up for the next wine dinner February 15! Details to come!

Mind if we smoke?

We don’t think you will. In fact, we think you’ll thank us for smoking.

You’ll thank Marc for smoking, anyway. Since he got his big opportunity to smoke as much as he wanted at our house, he’s become quite the heavy smoker. Lately, he just can’t seem to quit smoking. Yeah, go figure, it’s a new year and everyone else is making resolutions to quit smoking — and this guy resolves to smoke more. In the past week, especially, Marc has been smoking like crazy.

Meat, that is. (What, you thought we were talking about smoking something else?)

He’s been smoking beef brisket (and if you’ve ever had our brisket, you’ll be delighted to hear that), he’s been smoking ribs, he’s been smoking pork chops, he’s been smoking sausage and he’s been smoking turkey. Now, you can benefit from all his smoking, in the form of this wonderful Choucroûte: an Alsatian smoked meat platter.

Meat platters like this are the quintessential bistro dish in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, so influenced in the kitchen by Germany: great quantities of smoked meat, roasted to a turn, served with boiled potatoes, sauerkraut and flavorful mustards. This is our version. You get a plateful of smoked ribs, sausage, turkey and a pork chop. On the side, boiled baby potatoes and plenty of sauerkraut, made with Ruth’s special recipe that combines a touch of sugar and bacon to render the shredded cabbage sweet-tart-savory, not sour. The whole thing comes accompanied by two mustards — a hearty grainy mustard and a mellow honey mustard — and we suggest you ask for some bread as well, because you’re going to want some to soak up the sauce and juices. Order up a beer with this, and — ach du Lieber! — you can’t get a more heartwarming or satisfying winter’s meal. It’s on our specials menu this week; you need to get in here and taste it!

If for some reason that doesn’t ring your bell, though, we still have plenty of other delights with which to tempt you. Such as veal osso bucco; roasted half duck with cherry port sauce; long bone double cut pork chops wrapped in bacon and stuffed with prosciutto, Gruyère and apple with port and dried plum ginger sauce; slow braised lamb shank with rosemary-mint demiglace; a spicy jambalaya; four-cheese mac and cheese with smoked chicken and black truffle; Portuguese fisherman’s stew; mahi mahi with raspberry-chipotle glaze…

Come on by and fill your stomach and your soul with a lovingly prepared dish this week. Because at Bistro 185, we smoke ’em if we got ’em.

Wine pairings for our Italian Regional Wine Dinner

This time we’re going to go one better in telling you about what’s in store for our upcoming wine dinner by listing each course with the wine we’re pairing it with. Here’s our lineup for the Italian Regional Wine Dinner January 26:

Individual Antipasto — 2007 Valpolicella DOC Classico

Tortellini en Brodo — 2005 Barbera D’Asti Bricco Blina DOCG

Veal Osso Bucco with Pappardelle Pasta and Natural Pan Sauce — 2006 Chianti Classico DOCG

Caprese Salad — 2007 Langhe Bianco “Sauvignon Blanc — Chardonnay” Bianco

Seared Scallop on Black Truffle Soft Polenta and Asparagus — 2005 Vernaccia Di San Gimignano Riserva DOCG

Ricotta Mascarpone Crêpe with Zabaglione and Fresh Berries — 2007 Moscato D’Asti Lumine DOCG

With a lineup like that, you won’t want to miss this one. Call 216.481.9635 and make your reservation now!

Ruth Levine Events caters a wedding

In early September, Ruth had the opportunity to create a very special catered menu for a highly special occasion: the wedding of our son Ari.

She wanted to create a wedding feast that would reflect the South American heritage of his bride, Ursula. With that type of cuisine in mind, here was the menu she devised:

Baby Lamb Chops with Curry Mojo Glaze

Seviche on Spoon

Tequeños

Chilean Sea Bass with Platano Maduro Frito (Fried Sweet Plantains)

Arepa with Roasted Corn Salsa

Mache and Baby Sprouts and Greens with Brunois of Mango, Papaya, Strawberry and Corn Nuts with Broken Sherry Vinaigrette

Black Bean, Goat Cheese, Roasted Pablano and Jalapeño in Saffron Ravioli with Spicy Tomato and Crème Fraiche Sauce and Annatto Oil Drizzle

Mojito and Pineapple-Basil Sorbet

South African Mini Lobster Tail with Hollandaise Sauce and Tomato-Basil Concasse

Black Truffle Risotto with Herb Paste and Sautéed Shrimp

Cuban Black Beans and Rice for Table

Pan Cubano and Medianoche Breads

Guava Cheesecake

Dulce Con Leche Crêpes with Sautéed Apple

Croque en Bouche

Not all these dishes may be familiar to you, so here’s a glossary:

Seviche — raw fish marinated in lime or lemon juice, often with oil, onions, peppers and seasonings, and served especially as an appetizer

Tequeños — fried breadsticks formed by wrapping dough around queso blanco; a popular appetizer in Venezuela, especially at weddings

Arepa — a bread made of corn, originating in the northern Andes, similar to a tortilla

Mache — a salad green with a mild, lettuce-like flavor

Brunois — a very small dice

Annatto oil — a dark red-orange oil made by infusing an oil with annatto (achiote) seeds, used in South American cooking

Pan Cubano — A Cuban type of bread, with a distinctive taste created by its starter and enriched with lard that creates a smooth texture

Medianoche bread — A sweet, eggy type of bread roll, the type used to make a smaller version of the “Cuban sandwich” known as the “midnight special” (that’s another story)

Croque en bouche — a tower of tiny cream puffs, glued together by a caramel glaze and drizzled with the glaze (ours had a large cake as a base)

Here are some pictures, courtesy of our son Zachary:
Black Bean Ravioli with Tomato SalsaLobsterTail with Corn Pudding and Hollandaise SauceMojito and Basil-Pineapple SorbetBlack Truffle Risotto with ShrimpCroque en BoucheOne of the nicest things about this wedding was, of course, was that we got to enjoy playing the exalted role of Parents of the Groom. Here we are in a position you don’t often see us: relaxing and enjoying our own food, right along with everyone else.

Ruth and Marc at Ari's Wedding DinnerThe ceremony was held in our backyard in Pepper Pike, and the lovely late summer weather helped create a magical setting for the perfect wedding and a lovely and intimate wedding dinner.

If you have an event like a small, intimate wedding coming up in your future — or want to plan something special for the holidays (sorry we can’t provide weather like this for that!) — we invite you to find out what Ruth can do for you. Visit the Ruth Levine Events Web site and call 216.404.0500 or send her an email to set your plans in motion.

Behind the Dish: Lamb Shanks with Beans

Tonight’s James Beard dish is pretty basic on the surface: lamb shanks braised in red wine and beef stock with a bit of tomato paste, bay leaves and other herbs. But as usual, we at the Bistro like to change things up a bit, so we couldn’t just serve plain old white beans alongside: our beans are a bit dressed up with bacon, onions and shallots, and some fresh rosemary and thyme. You can really smell the perfume of the herbs coming off this dish and making the beans and the lamb even more flavorful.

But, of course, that’s not all. We’ve got a full lineup of other standards and specials to tempt you. Like a little spice? Has the great weather today made you feel like pretending for a while that you really do live someplace where it’s always warm like this? Go Jamaican tonight with a jerk barbecue mahi-mahi accompanied by tropical fruited rice, rich with bananas, papayas, pineapple and coconut. Or try something else on the specials that’s caught your fancy. For example, the Four-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese with Smoked Chicken and Black Truffle:

This is creamy, smoky, cheesy comfort of the best kind. Or maybe you’d prefer a “Petit Poulet” (chicken) wrapped in bacon with cornbread-andouille sausage stuffing and a cranberry-orange chutney. Or an Italian seafood cioppino, rich with South African lobster tail, scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams, crab leg, Italian sweet sausage and penne pasta in a spicy marinara broth, topped with tempura calamari.

Whatever you do, again, you want to keep one more course in mind, because, as always, there are some beauties in our dessert case. Some of the ones we have on hand right now: pumpkin pie topped with maple-brown sugar whipped cream; triple chocolate cheesecake; and fresh vanilla-bean ice cream. Oh, and did we mention we still have Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Pie?

It’s Saturday night, and it’s going to be a beautiful one. Come celebrate it at the Bistro!