“Hello Summer” Vegan Dinner refreshing and delightful

The vegan dining was perfectly suited to the season with last night’s “Hello Summer” 3-for-$30 special. Yes, The Tenant has enjoyed yet another meatless and everything-else-animal-less meal at the Bistro’s talented hands.

First on the menu was Wild Field Greens Salad with Blueberries, Strawberries, Sunflower Seeds and Toasted Almonds with Blueberry Vinaigrette. This was the ideal refreshing summer salad, with a variety of crisp greens mixed with the freshest blueberries and sliced strawberries, scattered with sunflower seeds and toasted almond slivers. The blueberry vinaigrette was a fantastic complement and this salad set the stage for an excellent meal.

The main entree, Gardein “Chicken” Scallopini atop Asparagus, Pea, Meyer Lemon and Basil Risotto, arrived looking utterly irresistible, and indeed it was. The gardein, as usual, was a terrific analog for chicken, breaded and topped with a little garnish of frizzled onions that made it even tastier. The risotto was a dream: creamy and rich with the flavor of fresh asparagus, carrot strips, basil and the light kiss of Meyer lemon throughout. As it happened, my friend Mary was in the Bistro last night and she had to have a taste of the risotto, even though she’s not any more of a vegan than I am. She pronounced it delicious, which I thought she would. I guess this means she’s really going to love the risotto that arrives with the scallops at next week’s white wine dinner! I know I will!

To top it all off, the dessert, Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble, arrived bringing more summery flavors. This was a sweet and pungently tart mixture of strawberries and rhubarb under a crumbly sweet crust, topped with whipped almond milk and a garnish of fresh rooftop mint. Yum!

The 3-for-$30 was a feast for vegans, as well as a bit of a preview of the delights available at next week’s “Hello Summer” White Wine Dinner. If you are not vegan, or not strictly so, sign up for this one before it’s too late! With the combination of carefully selected white wines and Chef Ruth’s cuisine, it’s sure to be a satisfying way to kick off summertime. Hope to see you there!

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Vegan Irish 3-for-$30 makes eyes (and taste buds) smile

The Tenant has experienced yet another 3-for-$30 Vegan Dinner, and this one was every bit as tasty as last week’s Irish Spirits Dinner–and also just as filling!

The starter, Caramelized Onion, Cabbage, and Vegan Bacon Tart, arrived at the bar as a crusty square of pure delight, sitting in a tasty sauce and sprigged with dill. I love caramelized onions, and I love bacon, so this one had to be a winner, assuming the vegan bacon tasted anything like the real thing (it did). To give you some idea of how good it looked, I had folks sitting alongside me at the bar who inquired about it and wanted to know if they might be able to order it separately! I couldn’t blame them, either, because the flavor was as terrific as its looks.

Vegan Irish Stew

The main course, Irish Stew with Vegetables and Gardein on a Bed of Red Bliss Potato Mash with Spring Onions, was not any less stellar. As you can see–so tempting that I forgot to photograph it before starting to eat it! The sauce on this one had an incredibly rich flavor, so savory and full of depth, and the vegetables–which included onions, carrots and blue potatoes, amongst others–were just fantastic. It was studded with big chunks of lightly breaded gardein that had the same chickeny texture and flavor as I’d experienced with the Hungarian-style schnitzel dish. And as if all that weren’t enough, it was sitting on top of those incredible Red Bliss mashers. Heaven!

By the time I finished the tart and the stew I was already feeling pretty stuffed, but there was still dessert to go: Chocolate Mousse Infused with Irish Whiskey. Wow. This mousse was every bit as chocolaty-flavorful and tasty as the Baileys mousse last week, and accented with a big, fat, succulent strawberry of the kind you especially appreciate in the off season. A spray of foamy whipped almond milk on top added a nice topping.

It may be time to put away the shillelaghs and shamrocks for another year as we hope and wait for true springlike weather to arrive (it certainly wasn’t happening last night–looked more like Christmas than the end of March, grumble grumble), but this month’s Vegan 3-for-$30 proved that you don’t need corned beef to enjoy a fine repast worthy of the Auld Sod. Be on the lookout for the announcement of April’s Vegan Dinner–it’s bound to be just as delicious!

Vegan Thanksgiving Wine Dinner: No turkeys admitted!

The Tenant has decided that given how long it took to post her last dinner review, she’d better be quick with her review of this one — hate to keep the fans waiting! Of course, better than reading a review of this feast was actually being there to enjoy it.

First, let it be said: I’ve always been a meat eater. Even the idea of going vegetarian or vegan never appealed to me greatly, in part because I imagined condemning myself to a life of tofu this, tofu that, and, well, tofu tofu tofu. Am I getting the message across that I have never really been into tofu? Okay. But since Chef Jakub started helming the Vegan Dinner Series here at the Bistro, my horizons on the world of vegan options have been considerably broadened. Yes, I asked for my Masamaun Curry with chicken. But my first experience with Gardein (in the form of schnitzel) was a real revelation. So I was looking forward to seeing what Chef Ruth and Chef Jakub would be cooking up for this banquet.

First, the Bistro is delighted that this dinner received such a terrific reception. Nearly all the “restaurant side” of the Bistro was full of guests for this dinner, which may make it the biggest special dinner yet. Obviously, the vegan community in the Cleveland area is hungry for this kind of restaurant option and if you cook it, they will come!

Dinner began with a wine aperitif, Peter Lehmann Layers. This wine from Australia’s Barossa Valley blends five different types of grape to create a dry white wine with a complexity of flavors. It was fitting preparation for our first course, Chestnut Soup, which arrived at the table streaked with vegan yogurt and garnished with a frizzle of fried leeks and just a dab of black truffle paste. I love chestnut soup, and this one was fabulous! It derives its creaminess from almond milk, and if you want to know how to whip up a batch for your own Thanksgiving feast at home, keep an eye on the food section in next week’s News-Herald, as we’re sharing the recipe with them. The accompanying wine, Marimar Estate Chardonnay Acero, is a Sonoma County white, steel fermented without a touch of oak, dry, bright and crisp on the tongue.

Now for the “meat” of the meal, which was, of course, not meat, but Spiced Apple Cider-Glazed Supreme of Gardein. The Gardein “cut,” bathed in the slightly tart, slightly sweet glaze, sat atop an herbed polenta cake mixed with vegan sausage and dressed with sautéed shoestrings of zucchini, yellow squash and carrot. The combined effect of the very chicken-like gardein, the gentle glaze, the polenta and vegetables, and the savory sausage was just fantastic and said “fall feast” in every sense of the word. It was served with Flora Springs Soliloquy, a Napa white that served as a fine complement.

This point of the meal was perfect for a salad course, and the Field Greens with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Pomegranate Seeds and Oranges dressed in Blood Orange Vinaigrette fit the bill. It combined sweetness, tartness and crunch to make the perfect salad. In an unusual twist, this course was served with a red wine, Peter Lehmann Layers Red, but it worked. This Layers wine is also a five-grape blend, with a big fruity bouquet and, I thought, a little chocolaty hint in it. Whatever the flavors, they combined really well with the salad.

Course number four was Quinoa and Apple-Stuffed Acorn Squash, slices of roasted acorn squash glazed with agave syrup and fitted out in the middle with little quinoa timbales including chopped green apple and big fat pecans. Well, I have now learned that quinoa, which happens to be a high-protein, high-fiber, gluten-free food, is as delicious as any rice or pasta, and lower on the glycemic index to boot. This is good to know! Maybe I should be eating more quinoa and fewer complex carbs. For this dish, the wine was Green Truck Organic Petite Sirah, a Syrah-Merlot blend, peppery and fruity.

Last came a very elegantly plated dessert that tasted as good as it looked: a Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Cranberry Coulis. This variation on the traditional panna cotta, sauced with tart cinnamon-spiked cranberries, topped with a foam of almond milk, and garnished with mint leaves, was as satisfying as any traditional pumpkin pie. Alongside, we had tiny glasses of Hobbs Dessert Grenache, a rich, sweet red dessert wine with an intense flavor that comes from the grapes being partly dried out before pressing. It was the perfect conclusion to a most satisfying meal.

So, that’s the story. If you’re vegan or vegetarian and you live anywhere near Bistro 185, you owe it to yourself to sign up to be there the next time a dinner like this one is in the planning — or at least keep an eye out to see when the next Vegan Night is coming up. This is one experience where you won’t have to wonder or ask whether all of your meal was prepared vegan — you’ll know. (Trust me, they’re very careful about this!) If you’re normally an omnivore, get ready for a surprise as you learn exactly how varied, interesting, and refined vegan cuisine can be in experienced hands. Bistro 185 served up the kind of Thanksgiving feast even a turkey could love.

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!

Pacific Coast Highway Wine Dinner: a refreshing trip!

The video for the Bistro’s Pacific Coast Highway Wine Dinner is ready for your review. As The Tenant, I again had a wonderful time sampling the food and wines the latest special event had to offer, courtesy of chefs Ruth Levine, Todd Mueller and Phyllis Prybor.

Things started off deliciously with “A Taste of Half Moon Bay”: Roasted Oysters with Bacon and Spinach. The oysters were plump and lightly briny with garlicky spinach in their pearly shells, and is there anything that doesn’t taste good with bacon? The accompanying wine was ’06 Evergreen Vineyards Spruce Goose Pinot Gris, from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, a light and fruity contrast.

Next it was off to “San Francisco Chinatown” with Asian-Inspired Medallions of Beef Tenderloin in a Hoisin-Soy Glaze and Fried Rice. Being the lover of Asian food that I am, I’d have to choose this as my favorite course. The ’06 Annabelle Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley served with it was lighter than I expected it to be, especially given its heady bouquet, which is fine with me. I thought it was just right for the food.

The third course was a true coastal cuisine classic: Cioppino, or Fisherman’s Stew, with Sourdough Toast in the San Francisco tradition. The tomato broth was rich with Alaskan halibut, mussels, clams, and shrimp. Our wine for this course was ’08 Michael Pozzan Russian River Chardonnay, which I found to be strong, heady, buttery rich yet dry, and nicely counteractive to the spiciness of the stew.

A crisp and cool salad course came next: Jicama-Carrot-Daikon Salad Brunoise of Melons in a Sesame Vinaigrette. It was an absolutely delicious slaw, dressed just right, and while I wouldn’t have expected it to be paired with a red, the red chosen for it really was a good choice: Kestrel Vintners Lady in Red from Yakima Valley, a smooth blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah.

Course number five was “L.A. à la Wolfgang Puck,” a tribute to Southern California cuisine and its light, fresh flavors: a Smoked Salmon & Arugula Pizzette Topped with Crème Fraîche and Chives. The bounty of the rooftop garden was already making itself known in this one! A more full-bodied wine arrived with this one: an ’09 Montoya Pinot Noir, with lots of depth and fruitiness.

Last but never least, the dessert course for this evening was a Panna Cotta with Mixed Berry Coulis. I’d never had a panna cotta before, and this dish, a kind of Italian pudding made with cream, milk, sugar, gelatin and a hint of lemon zest, was just delightful, especially topped by the zesty berry sauce. Combined with the tiny glasses of ’05 Norman Old Vine Zin Port, it made a fitting finish to the meal.

It was a great evening, and over the course of it the Bistro even celebrated a birthday or two. If this sounds like your kind of fun but you have yet to join us, be sure to sign up for “From Russia with Love,” a feast that will feature Russian champagnes and vodkas with each course, on June 23. You’ll love the food and you’ll learn a lot about what you drink — as well as having the opportunity to purchase some yourself. Don’t miss out!

Night at the Oscars: Moonstruck and Baby Osso Bucco

Sick of the Cleveland winter? Feel like your life is going down the toilet? Well, snap out of it! Bistro 185 has the solution to your blues with our “Night at the Oscars” special for this Monday through Wednesday. Instead of honoring a Best Picture winner this time around, we’ve chosen a movie that picked up three other Academy Awards for 1987: Best Original Screenplay (John Patrick Shanley), Best Actress (Cher) and Best Supporting Actress (Olympia Dukakis), Moonstruck.

Of course, Moonstruck is all about the moon and the magic it can work on the lives of we humans down on Earth — especially on love Italian-American style. For centuries, full moons have been associated with insanity (it’s where the word “lunatic” comes from), and although we know the moon doesn’t really make you crazy, it does seem to have that effect on people in danger of falling in love. And as it so happens, there was a full moon Sunday…and there’ll be a near-full moon for the next three nights!

So why not take full advantage of this crazy time and enjoy our version of romance Italian-American style: Baby Osso Bucco over Pappardelle Pasta in a fennel, carrot and tomato sauce, garnished with onion straws? We think you’ll “love it awful”!


Behind the Dish: Navarin (French Lamb Ragôut)

James Beard’s Navarin is a French lamb ragôut, or stew — and it’s hearty and rich. It requires first browning and then braising lamb meat (his original recipe calls for shoulder or breast; we’re using leg) in beef broth while caramelizing turnips and onions in butter and sugar. After the lamb is done braising, the fat is skimmed from the broth, the broth is strained and the caramelized vegetables and other veggies are added, along with some spices, for the final simmering. The recipe calls for leeks, carrots, new potatoes and peas, spiced with cloves, salt and pepper; we’re adding purple potatoes and rutabagas with some parsley. This is a sure heartwarmer for cold weather; give it a try!

Behind the Dish: Halibut with Crab

Tonight’s James Beard special is halibut with a lump crab and artichoke velouté sauce (a stock-based white sauce). To prepare it, we made a shrimp stock from shrimp and lobster shells that were simmered with carrots, celery and onion, then strained and reduced the stock. We then made the basis for a white sauce and added the shrimp stock with a little black truffle paste and Parmesan cheese. We are serving the entree with a basil pesto torte. A truly elegant and delicious fish dish!

Behind the Dish: Braised Lamb Shanks with Tomatoes and Sausage

Here’s a secret: we’re swapping out the main element in a James Beard recipe tonight to bring you Lamb Shanks with Tomatoes and Sausage. Because, truth be told, his original recipe calls for veal shanks. However, we feel that the flavor will be even richer using lamb shanks — truly exceptional — so we’re subbing them for the veal.

The dish calls for braising the shanks in tomatoes and white wine, parsley and basil, then adding partially cooked sausages (we’re using Italian sausages) during the final cooking time, until they’re cooked all the way through. We’re serving our shanks, tomatoes and sausage with an assortment of fall root vegetables including parsnips, turnips, carrots, rutabagas, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and purple potatoes — and a little fennel and rosemary. Now that’s hearty — and the flavor is exquisite!

Warning to those who can’t resist dessert: we still have Cream Puffs with Chocolate Sauce available, and now you can choose them filled not only with ice cream, but with pastry cream. Either way, you will be amazed.

Behind the Dish: Sautéed Calves’ Liver with Shallots and Madeira

Disclaimer: In James Beard’s recipe for sautéed calves’ liver with shallots and Madeira, we’re improvising on one of the main elements. Oh, don’t worry, we’re not skipping the calves’ liver — but the dish really should be called Calves’ Liver with Shallots and Sherry (try saying that five times fast), because we’re subbing sherry for the Madeira.

It’s pretty simple: finely chopped shallots (red onions can sub in a pinch) are sautéed in butter and oil, then the floured calves’ liver is added and sautéed, then seasoned with pepper, sherry and parsley.

Our liver enjoys a bed of mashed potatoes and an accompaniment of shoestring vegetables — carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, slivered fennel and green onions. If you’re a liver fan but never had it served up this way before, this is your night!

Another option: if you missed last night’s Chicken Kiev but would like to try it, it’s back on the menu tonight.