“OPA!” dinner was something to cheer about!

OK, The Tenant is a little embarrassed. Something happened to me and I forgot the “OPA!” dinner was Wednesday of this week, not Thursday. Where my head went, I don’t know. Luckily, however, I didn’t miss it, because it would have been a shame to miss out on all this divine Greek cuisine and wine. If you were there too, you know that spirits were high at this dinner and for a good reason: it not only had those components, but an extra touch of Greek ambiance provided by both traditional and nontraditional Greek music on the stringed instrument known as the bouzouki. It was enough to make anyone wish the Bistro was big enough to accommodate a dance floor!

Things started out on a classic note with the serving of Lamb Keftede with Tzatziki Sauce, sitting on a bed of greens. Keftedes are Greek meatballs, made with bulgur, and ground lamb is a traditional meat used in them. These keftedes had a delightfully crunchy fried outside and tender, meaty, spicy interior with a hint of mint. The yogurt sauce atop them was a cool and tasty complement. This course was paired with Nemea ’05, a light-bodied red wine with touches of plum and cherry.

Next came a frequent feature of Greek cuisine, a fish course. This one was presented as Sea Bass in the Style of Corfu, which meant we received a perfectly cooked slice of sea bass surrounded by the most tender and buttery roasted vegetables you can imagine. Artichokes, tiny potatoes, and Greek olives were accented with lemon, rosemary, and garlic cloves roasted to pure sweetness. The wine partner for this one was Moschofilero ’09, a white wine made from an aromatic Greek grape that I found smooth and airy, a good wine for the fish.

The salad course followed, and this salad was definitely not the same old mix of greens. The Greek Village Salad was a mixture of marinated chunks and slices of cucumber, red and yellow pepper, grape tomatoes, feta cheese and Greek olives. Each serving was topped with a dolmade, the classic Greek cabbage-roll-like concoction of rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice, and accompanied by a slice of freshly baked and grilled pita bread. The astringent, slightly minty salad was a refreshing change of pace, especially with the Santorini ’06, a dry and fragrant wine made from grapes described to us as being especially suited for the volcanic, ashy soil, hot sun and breeze off the Aegean Sea where they are grown. You can even taste a hint of the soil’s ashiness and minerality in the wine, if you pay close attention.

The next dish was one of the more familiar Greek dishes: spanakopita, the traditional phyllo-dough creation filled with feta cheese and spinach. Chef Ruth added a special touch to this one, though, by including chicken in the filling and saucing it with a dill-lemon beurre blanc that was simply heavenly. It was savory and yet slightly sweet, just perfect. The wine alongside was a Merlot-Xinomavro blend, a marriage of familiar Merlot with one of Greece’s principal red wine grapes that makes for a wine with a deep, full body and a great deal of warmth.

Course number five was Shrimp Santorini: a concoction of two plump, spicy shrimp in a sauce of tomatoes, feta cheese, peppers and onions topping a tender bed of orzo, the small ricelike pasta. This was an especially savory and amazing combination with a slight licorice or anise hint from the ouzo blended into the sauce. The traditional Greek liqueur gave it just the tiniest kick. Our wine for this course was Naoussa ’04, from the same Macedonian region as Xinomavro, another red but lighter than the Merlot-Xinomavro blend.

The evening came to a finish with a dessert course that reflected Chef Ruth’s sense of imagination. It has often seemed to me that all Greek desserts consist of only three different ingredients: wheat (as phyllo dough or shredded wheat), nuts, and honey, but this presentation was just a little different. The Phyllo Nests with Fresh Berries and Honey-Infused Crème Fraîche were a nice variation on the traditional, as was the very tiny — and very delicious — Caramelized Pistachio, Walnut, and Almond Tartlet in a miniature phyllo cup. With this course came Metaxa Brandy, which provides a warm glow indeed to finish off the meal.

Everyone seemed to be truly getting into the spirit of this event and enjoying the special atmosphere provided by the musical stylings of Abe “Dr. Bouzouki” Anderson, who has been playing the instrument since he was 11 years old. The good doctor, born in Australia but now living in Euclid, boasts quite the repertoire, much of which we had the opportunity to enjoy. In addition to the songs you expect to hear from a Greek musician — “Zorba the Greek,” “Never on Sunday” and such — he plays a mean Hava Nagila, and can segue from that to “Turkey in the Straw” without missing a beat. From The Godfather to Fiddler on the Roof, he seems to do it all! To hear him in action, check out his YouTube channel, or go see him with his band, Orion Express. He regularly plays the Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Festival on Mayfield Road in August, so if this dinner whetted your appetite for more Greek food and music, you can go there to hear more of him as part of a group. He seemed to have as good a time playing for us as we did listening to his music.

Once again, the Bistro served up a dinner unlike all the rest, with a selection of flavors to which we could respond only one way: “OPA!” Which, as Dr. Bouzouki helpfully pointed out to us, is Greek for “Yee-ha!” Don’t miss what’s on tap for May: watch this space for more information on the Sake Dinner!

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For goodness: Sake Dinner

The Tenant here, with a review of the Bistro’s Sake Dinner last week (if you haven’t yet, check out the video in the previous blog post). As I think I mentioned earlier, I particularly love Asian food, so I knew this special dinner was going to be a standout for me. When Ruth and her team put their talents to this kind of cuisine, it’s always something fantastic, as I remember from last year’s sake dinner. This one was every bit as wonderful.

The courses started off with Seared Day Boat Scallop with Golden Trout Caviar atop Forbidden Black Jasmine Rice with Chinese Sausage and Ginger Beurre Blanc. Again I repeat, if you’re a person who loves scallops but can’t stand the way some chefs turn them into overcooked, rubbery little hockey pucks, you must try them the way Ruth cooks them. They’re always cooked to perfect doneness and then caramelized on the outside just enough to give them a little bit of crispy brown crust to contrast with the tender inside. This one, wearing its gold caviar crown, sat like a king atop a mountain of black rice mixed with tiny chunks of Chinese sausage. The rice had a dense, nutty flavor, and the ginger beurre blanc provided a nice touch of sweetness and just a subtle hint of citrus. The sake served with this course was a very enjoyable Murai Family Tanrei Junmai. As I was last year, I continue to be impressed and dazzled by how many different varieties of sake exist. Yes, I used to think sake was sake; that it was all the same! Obviously, I know better now!

Our second course was a triple treat: Pistachio-Crusted Chicken Tonkatsu with Curry Aioli, Grilled Korean Beef Lettuce Wrap and Sesame Japanese Eggplant. With three items as delicious as these on one plate, it was hard to know which to eat first. I decided on the lettuce wrap, which was a pick-up-and-eat street-food kind of entree. The marinated beef sits in the lettuce leaves with a sprig of green onion and a little marinade dressing, and you just hold it all together and eat it! It was absolutely delicious, with just a touch of mint as a refreshing contrast to the spice. Speaking of spice, the chicken delivered delightfully, thanks to the curry aioli. It was a winning combination of nutty, crispy, and a little hot and tangy. And then there was the sauteed eggplant, tender and flavorful. The accompanying sake was Momokawa Junmai Pearl, which, true to its name, was a cloudy, milky-looking “pearl”-style sake with a lot of “kick.”

Third on our Asian excursion were little pots of Shrimp Scallion Dumpling Soup. The savory broth of this soup contained another triple delight: strips of tender pork in the won ton soup tradition, delicate baby shrimp, and a dainty, positively melt-in-your-mouth dumpling. It was rich in flavor and tasty to the last drop, as were the heady sakes served along with it: G-Joy and Moonstone Asian Pear Sake.

A contrast to the dishes served hot was the fourth course, Cold Soba Noodles with Sweet and Spicy Chili Sauce. This one needed no heat from the stove, because the fire was right in the chilies that flavor it; the noodles were pleasingly spicy and tongue-awakening without numbing your palate. I had fun using my chopsticks to wind up and eat the noodles the same way I used to see my Uncle Frank eat his spaghetti–I guess that despite my love of Asian food, I’m an Italian at heart! The chopsticks were also useful for picking up the scattering of edamame beans that lay at the base of each mountain of noodles. At the peak of that mountain: one heavenly shrimp, just barely coated in tempura batter and fried, greaseless and light as a feather. A full-bodied Murai Family Nigori Genshu sake accompanied this dish.

The last of the savory courses was a treat for sushi lovers, with slices of Yuzu Ahi Tuna Sashimi Style taking the center of the plate. These ruby-red, utterly fresh slices of tuna were coated with a crust of black and golden sesame seeds, and accompanied by a bed of thinly shredded Daikon-Carrot Salad with Ginger Miso Dressing and paper-thin slices of pickled ginger. The contrasts of cool fresh fish, crunchy seeds and spicy-sweet ginger with the refreshing, lightly dressed slaw made for a perfect combination with the Choya Umeshu Sake. As distributor representative Greg Webster explained to us, this sake, made with a fruit known in Japan as umeshu but often referred to by Westerners as a “plum” (you can see it sitting right at the bottom of the container), is the third most popular alcoholic beverage in Japan, after beer and vodka. From its slightly sweet, intense flavor, I could understand why.

The evening ended with a perfect dessert course. Each plate contained a tiny scoop of lychee ice cream in a chocolate cup, a delightfully creamy custard tartlet encased in a flaky-light crust, and a variety of melon balls (and a lychee) that had been marinated in sake. The sake served with dessert was Choya Ume Blanc, a refreshing and mildly sweet ice-wine-like drink, and Choya Sake Jumani, which I think I’d have to choose as my favorite among the sakes for its unique flavor with a hint of lime essence. The perfect ending to an incredible meal!

I had the pleasure of sharing a table for this dinner with the proud mother of Chef Todd Mueller, and we had a fine evening indeed. As you might expect, she’s not exactly modest about her son’s accomplishments in the kitchen, but with a son who cooks the way hers does, she doesn’t need to be! This dinner was another triumph for Chefs Ruth, Todd and the whole Bistro crew. Whether eaten with chopsticks, knife and fork, or a little of both, it was sensational!

If this description has helped whet your appetite for a Bistro special dinner, and especially if you like Southwestern, Mexican and Latin American flavors, you’ll want to make your reservation quickly for the August 25 dinner. It will be a fiesta of tequilas, served with appropriate accompanying dishes. Look for the menu to appear here soon!

Join us for our Sake Dinner July 28

Whether you’ve already experienced the pleasures of a sake dinner at Bistro 185, or you’ve never tasted sake before, our July 28 “Sake To Me II” Dinner is an evening you shouldn’t miss — especially if you’re a fan of Asian-inspired cuisine. We’re planning a delightful evening of six courses perfectly paired with a selection of six sake wines that is sure to leave your tastebuds delighted. Here’s the menu:

First Course
Seared Day Boat Scallop with Golden Trout Caviar
Forbidden Black Jasmine Rice with Chinese Sausage
Ginger Beurre Blanc
Murai Family Pearl Genshu Sake

Second Course
Pistachio-Crusted Chicken Tonkatsu with Curry Aioli
Grilled Korean Beef Lettuce Wrap
Sesame Japanese Eggplant
Moonstone Asian Pear Sake

Third Course
Scallion Dumpling Soup
Choya Umensu Sake

Fourth Course
Soba Noodles with Sweet and Spicy Chili Sauce
Tempura Shrimp
Moonstone Raspberry Sake

Fifth Course
Yuzu Ahi Tuna — Sashimi Style
Daikon-Carrot Salad with Ginger Miso Dressing
Moonstone Plum Sake

Sixth Course
Lychee Ice Cream
Sake-Marinated Assorted Melons
Custard Tartlet
Murri-Sugidama Sake

Cost of our Sake Dinner is $65, excluding tax and gratuity. Our Russian Champagne and Vodka Dinner sold out, so be sure to make reservations for this one early to secure your place. Call 216.481.9635, and accompany us on a culinary journey to Asia that you’ll never forget!

Review: “Spring Into Whites” Wine Dinner

The Tenant is back, to tell you that the Bistro 185 “Spring Into Whites” Wine Dinner was a real spring fling! This special dinner featuring nothing but white wines was a fine introduction to the season we look forward to here in Cleveland so much.

The first course, Sea Bass Veronique, featured a slice of tender pan-roasted sea bass atop a tiny slightly sweet, light-as-air polenta-mascarpone cheese cake. The Veronique was topped with a chive beurre blanc accented with green and red grapes. The gentle, subtle flavors of this dish were enhanced by the Scharffenberger Brut sparkling wine, a blend of two-thirds Pinot Noir and one-third Chardonnay, equally light and soft in flavor as this dish.

Lollipop Lamb Chop Milanese was the second course: a pair of lollipop-style lamb chops in spicy breading atop a cake of orzo risotto and accompanied by a sweet peach-ginger chutney that was an ideal complement for the flavors of the lamb. The Conundrum White Blend served with this course, an intriguing blend of California white grapes, had a sweet overall touch that combined well with the chutney.

Next came the salad course, with something special indeed: Grilled Pineapple Carpaccio with Fresh Raspberries and Arugula, drizzled with a champagne vinaigrette. Grilling the thinly sliced pineapple really caramelizes it and brings all its sugars to the fore, and it made for a delicious salad, with a wine — Yalumba Viognier — that made for a beautiful and light companion.

The fourth course brought richer and spicier flavors: Chicken Wellington with Shiitake Mushrooms and Spinach in an Herb Crêpe Beggars’ Purse, tied with a ribbon of leek and seated in a creamy roasted red pepper and basil sauce. It was a dish of contrasts: the creamy, tender chicken and the spicy pepper sauce. The Cloudline Pinot Gris, a fruity but drier wine than many of the preceding wines, worked well with this dish.

Course number five had an Asian touch, with Thai Seafood Coconut-Mango Curry. This was another opportunity to enjoy one of Chef Ruth’s perfectly seared grilled scallops, topped with a perfect shrimp and dressed in a curry sauce rich with mangoes, coconut, red pepper, corn and Thai basil. The wine for this dish was Valley of the Moon Chardonnay, a 100% Chardonnay that was very enjoyable.

The delicious conclusion to it all was a dessert that continued the Asian theme: Phyllo Wrapped Roasted Banana and Caramel, along with an assortment of “chef’s whim” delights. The banana was heavenly sweet and delightful; the “chef’s whims” consisted of tiny lemon tarts topped with a raspberry and mini-mocha mousses in tiny chocolate cups. The wine for this course was Von Wilhelm Haus Riesling Beerenauslese, a very appropriate wine with a nice hint of sweetness.

Much thanks to Vintage Wine Distributors and Jonathan, their representative, who joined us and helped me, especially, learn more about the wines we enjoyed.

If you have yet to make it to a Bistro 185 Wine Dinner, but your mouth waters when you read about this and the others (and watch the video!), you should take advantage of your next opportunity to enjoy one — Wednesday, April 28. We’ll be announcing our menu and wines soon, so keep an eye out here for it!

This week’s Chef Todd Special: Meyer Lemon Chicken Française

If you’re a chicken dish lover, you owe it to yourself to try Chef Todd’s new special for this week, Meyer Lemon Chicken Française. It’s chicken battered in seasoned flour using a Dijon-mustard egg wash, pan-seared and topped with a sauce of Meyer lemon juice, shallots, chicken stock and butter. The tender, lightly breaded chicken cutlets are served with a cherry tomato salad tossed in a balsamic glaze with garlic and shallots, as well as crispy smashed fried potatoes to help soak up all that delicious buttery lemon sauce. (You should ask for bread too, though…in case there’s any sauce left on your plate.) Altogether, it’s delicious!

White Wine Dinner and Beer Dinner coming up!

Bistro 185 has not just one, but two special dinners on our schedule in the near future — one for wine lovers and another for beer aficionados. Whatever your taste (or if you like both) you’ll want to mark your calendar for these events!

“SPRING INTO WHITES” MARCH 24: Springtime is the time when our thoughts turn to wearing white (and not the snow on our boots!) and drinking white — those delightful white wines that so well complement the light, fresh flavors of spring. We’re celebrating with a “Spring Into Whites” White Wine Dinner on Wednesday, March 24 at 6:30 p.m., highlighting a variety of the finest in white wines.

Here’s the menu:

First Course
Sea Bass Veronique: Pan-Roasted Sea Bass with Chive Beurre Blanc and Green and Red Grapes
Wine: Scharffenberger Brut

Second Course
Lollipop Lamb Chop Milanese with Peach-Ginger Chutney
Wine: Conundrum White Blend

Third Course
Grilled Pineapple Carpaccio with Fresh Raspberries and Arugula Salad in a Champagne Vinaigrette
Wine: Yalumba Viognier

Fourth Course
Chicken Wellington with Shiitake Mushrooms and Spinach in an Herb-Crêpe Beggars’ Purse with Leek Ribbon, Creamy Roasted Red Pepper and Basil Sauce
Wine: Cloud 9 Pinot Gris

Fifth Course
Thai Seafood Coconut-Mango Curry
Wine: Filadonna Pinot Grigio

Dessert
Phyllo-Wrapped Roasted Banana and Caramel
Assorted Chef’s Whim
Wine: Valley of the Moon Chardonnay

Cost of our White Wine Dinner is $60 per person, gratuity and tax to be added. Call now to make your reservations at 216.481.9635 and get ready to “Spring Into Whites”!

If you need any further persuasion to join us, take a look at our latest wine dinner video and the accompanying review from our “Passport to Romance” event February 15.

NORTH COAST BREWING COMPANY BEER DINNER APRIL 14: One of the pioneers of microbrewing in 1988, North Coast Brewing Company of Fort Bragg, California is famous for its Red Seal Ale and many other craft beers that have won more than 70 awards in national and international competitions. Now, you can enjoy a variety of North Coast brews, selected to complement a six-course chef-driven menu, Wednesday, April 14 at 6:30 p.m. Cost of our beer dinner is $50 per person, gratuity and tax to be added. Seating is limited, so make your paid reservations now at 216.481.9635. We’ll be posting a menu soon!

Passport to Romance Wine Dinner

Enjoy the latest video from Bistro 185, our Passport to Romance Wine Dinner Monday night:

Hi! The Tenant is back again, to tell you the Passport to Romance Wine Dinner was a great opportunity for me to fall in love…with a variety of very special wines, all while being romanced by Chef Ruth’s wonderful cuisine. All who attended would likely agree with me that it was a match made in heaven!

We started out with a Seared Day Boat Scallop with Citrus Beurre Blanc surrounded by a Brunoise of Tropical Fruit. If you know how perfectly Ruth cooks scallops, I don’t need to tell you how delicious this was, but it was really special with the unusual and sweet tropical fruit treatment. The wine was Concerto Moscato D’Asti, a sparkling, delightfully fruity Italian wine that seemed tailored perfectly to the dish.

The second course, smoked duck breast atop a potato pancake and glazed with cherry sauce, was richer and the Robert Oatley Shiraz that accompanied it was a deep, full-bodied Australian red that stood up to the dish without overpowering it. Its black licorice notes beautifully echoed the anise flavoring in the cherry sauce.

Course three was a frisee and arugula salad topped by a corn-crusted fried oyster and dressed in a citrus vinaigrette. This light course, highlighted by the contrast between the crispy exterior and silky interior of the oyster, was just right for the Freixenet Elyssia Cava Brut, a dry sparkling Spanish white.

The fourth course was a return to more robust flavor: beef filet with tomato confit and sautéed spinach on grilled garlic bruschetta. I cannot overstate the tenderness of this beef with its light, slightly sweet tomato sauce. The John Robert Eppler Napa Cabernet Sauvignon was the ideal “beef course” red wine, exuding a heady rich perfume that meets the nose long before its taste meets the tongue.

Ruth’s fifth course was a sweet little lobster pot pie in a tiny ramekin, in a rich cream sauce topped by phyllo pastry. The Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008 served as a great palate cleanser and appetite stimulator following the richness of the beef course, and was a fine complement to the creamy sauce. (Wine lovers may be surprised to learn that this New Zealand selection is sealed with a screw cap. Don’t let that fool you — it’s a high-quality wine and the cap ensures its freshness.)

At last came the dessert course, a magnificent orange crème brulée and assorted other desserts. The crème brulée was served in cups made from scooped-out orange halves, and it was so delicious it made me wish you could grow trees from which you could pick oranges and peel them to find a crème brulée filling inside! My other desserts included a chocolate truffle and a tasty kind of cake made with pears. The wine served with dessert was Château Tertre du Lys d’Or Sauternes, a sweet Bordeaux wine full of fruity and spicy flavor. Our wine experts for the evening, Scott Turman and Steve Tyree, assured us that this kind of wine truly gets better with age — you can keep it for decades and it will only become richer and more flavorful. “When you drink this,” they said, “you are drinking history.”

This was a truly rewarding evening for every lover of good food and wine. Kudos to Scott, Steve, Ruth and the entire terrific Bistro 185 staff for creating another magical dining experience!

Join us for the Passport to Romance Wine Dinner Feb. 15

Looking for a little love in your life? How about getting away from it all on a culinary trip for two…or maybe just for you? Join us at Bistro 185 for our Passport to Romance Wine Dinner the night after Valentine’s Day at 6:30 p.m., Monday, February 15. We’ve got a menu planned that’s sure to put the love back in your heart:

Seared Day Boat Scallop with Citrus Beurre Blanc
Brunoise of Tropical Fruit
Smoked Duck Breast
Cherry Sauce
Potato Pancake
Frisee and Arugula Salad with Corn Crusted Fried Oyster Citrus Vinaigrette
Beef Filet with Tomato Confit
Sautéed Spinach on Grilled Garlic Bruschetta
Lobster Pot Pie
Orange Crème Brulée
Assorted Chef’s Whim Mini Desserts

Each of these courses, naturally, will be paired with a selection of wine to be announced. The Passport to Romance Dinner is $70 per person, tax and gratuity additional. Make your reservations now at 216.481.9635, and come and get your love!

Our Veuve Clicquot Champagne Wine Dinner video

We hope you enjoy this video presentation of the courses featured in our Champagne Wine Dinner December 28:

We’ll let you know when and what we’re planning for our next wine dinner in the near future!

Behind the Dish: Gnocchi Verdi

Did you know that gnocchi, the famous form of Italian pasta, are sometimes referred to in Italy as malfatti — or “badly made”? James Beard himself says so in his cookbook Beard on Pasta. Why? Because “they are so delicate that when they are cooked they are quite uneven in shape. You have to skim them out of the water very, very carefully because of their fragility, but they well repay the care: they just melt on your tongue when you eat them.”

That’s the idea behind Gnocchi Verdi (“green gnocchi”), a type of gnocchi made out of spinach (that’s where the green comes from), ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, butter, eggs and flour, spiced up with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Kind of like a ravioli filling — only without the ravioli! The finished gnocchi are topped with a simple cream sauce of Parmesan cheese and butter.

We’re keeping pretty much to the original recipe for this one, with a touch of garlic added. When you try our Gnocchi Verdi, we don’t think you’ll find it malfatti at all — or, at least, your mouth won’t, anyway.