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!

Chef Todd Special this week: Bourbon Street Duck

Feeling a need to jazz up your week a bit? What better way than with a taste of New Orleans? Chef Todd has it in this week’s Chef Todd Special: Bourbon Street Duck in a Bourbon-Caramel Sauce with Praline Nut Clusters, served with a Sweet Potato Flan and some tempura veggies alongside. This dish should also be good for what ails you if you’re suffering from post-Kentucky Derby letdown, as a lot of its flavoring comes from a bottle of Old Grand-Dad. Who needs mint juleps when you’ve got roasted duck sauced with pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, bourbon and sugar? Try this dish and see what kind of sweet music it plays on your tastebuds.

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!

Beer Dinner Night Menu for April 14

We hope you’ll be all done with your taxes by Wednesday, April 14, because the Bistro 185 Beer Dinner, featuring beers from California’s North Coast Brewing Company, will be the perfect way to celebrate. Here’s the menu we have planned:

Cheese Fondue with Homemade Soft Bavarian Pretzel
Beer: Scrimshaw Pilsner

House Smoked Duck Jambalaya
Beer: Red Seal Pale Ale

Sausage, Kraut and Potato
Beer: Brother Thelonious Belgian Dubbel Style Ale

Watermelon, Tomato, Basil and Feta Salad
Beer: PranQster Belgian Style Golden Ale

Low Country Shrimp and Grits
Beer: Old Stock English Strong Ale

House Made Stout Ice Cream with Caramel and Fleur de Sel
Assorted Chef’s Whim Desserts
Beer: Old Rasputin Imperial Russian Stout

Our Beer Dinner is $50 per person plus tax and gratuity. If you haven’t made your reservations yet, what are you waiting for? Call 216.481.9635 and get ready to enjoy a hearty beer lover’s dinner!

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!

Review: Spanish Regional Wine Dinner

The Tenant’s back again…first, let me ask all of you who regularly come to these wonderful dinners: Where do you put it all? I always end up at the end of one of these Bistro 185 wine dinners feeling as if I am filled to the very top of my body with wonderful food, unable to fit in one bite or one drop more, and the rest of you are just sitting around sipping the rest of your wine, or ordering coffee…how do you do it??

If that gives you the impression that last night’s dinner was a winner, it should. It was a real feast of incredible food Spanish-style, paired with wines that fit the mood and the dishes beautifully.

I can’t say I’m a wine expert, but I enjoy tasting the different kinds offered and seeing how well they go with the courses, and it’s always an adventure.

First came the tapas. You got to see yesterday what the tapas trays looked like, and they were filled with delicious treats. From the olives, nuts and cheeses to the specially prepared items like the crabmeat-stuffed deviled eggs, the salt cod fritters (passed around separately) with garlic aioli, and the Spanish tortillas — alternating layers of tortilla and potato slices, served cold with more of the aioli — these were a great exploration of appetizers Spain-style. So were the gazpacho shooters: narrow little shot glasses of cold, spicy Spanish vegetable soup, each topped with a shrimp. The wine for this course was Ramon Bilbao Crianza 2006: a deep cherry-red wine with a fruity, smoky flavor. All the Ramon Bilbao wines are produced in the Rioja Alta wine region of Spain.

Next came a bowl of tiny sautéed clams, swimming in the chorizo broth you saw a picture of cooking up on the stove yesterday. The little clams absorbed the rich, spicy flavor of the sausage-filled broth, so delicious that after having picked the clams out of their shells with the clam fork to eat them, you needed to switch to your spoon to scoop up every flavorful drop of the chorizo sauce. The original plan was to serve this course with Ramon Bilbao Limited Edition 2006, but as it turns out the 2006 vintage isn’t ready yet, so we were supplied with the 2004 vintage instead, which made a fine accompaniment.

Next came the Chicken Marbella. How did it taste on top of Yukon Gold mashers? Absolutely delicious! Because this was Spanish food, many of the dishes were spicy and pungent, with a heat that lasted long on the tongue. But the astringency of the green olives in this dish was counteracted beautifully by the addition of prunes, which contributed a special sweetness and made for a nice change of pace. And the mashed potatoes did a wonderful job of soaking up the sauce! It was accompanied by Volteo Viura Sauv Blanc Viognier, a blended wine whose lighter, fresher, flowery-buttery flavor also provided a contrast to many of the heavier red wines on the menu. Volteo wines come from Castilla-LaMancha, the world’s largest vineyard.

By the time you’ve enjoyed appetizers and a few courses at a dinner like this, you’re ready for a light, refreshing salad course, and that’s just what the Orange and Fresh Fennel Salad provided. The organic honey and lemon vinaigrette was the perfect taste to go with the combination of greens, orange slices and slivers of fennel — a sweet, juicy, delight. The wine, too, was just right for it: Volteo Rosé Garnacha, full of fruity scents and crisp flavor.

Last, but certainly not least, of the main courses was the South African Lobster Tail, Sea Bass and Scallop in Saffron Broth with Timbale of Saffron Rice with Peas and Roasted Red Peppers. Mere words cannot describe the pure, smooth, buttery sublime flavor of this lobster tail. The sea bass, coated wonderfully with the saffron broth, tasted almost as rich, as did the scallop. I overheard another diner saying he had never in his life eaten such a well-prepared scallop. The rice was a nice addition as well; it served as a little starch to play off the richness of the seafood. The wine for this course was Cruz de Alba Crianza 2006, an unusual choice to my mind because it’s a heavier, redder wine than I’m used to thinking of as ideal for a seafood course, but it worked well. This wine is produced in one of Spain’s fastest developing wine regions, Ribera del Duero.

I must admit that by the time the dessert course came around, I didn’t have much room left for both the desserts and the Drysac Sherry served with them (although it was very good). The treats assembled for us on this plate were a rich, eggy Spanish flan, blanketed in caramel; an almond cake deep with flavor, topped with sliced almonds; a tiny chocolate mousse in a chocolate cup, with a strong mocha-coffee flavor; and a deep, dark, rich chocolate truffle that just melted in your mouth and flooded it with heavenly chocolate flavor. What a way to end our mini-visit to Spain! Hats off to Chef Ruth Levine and her staff for making this another wine dinner to remember.

If all this doesn’t persuade you that the next Bistro 185 Wine Dinner, set for December 15, is not to be missed, I don’t know what will! Watch this space for more details.