Win a $50 Bistro gift certificate in our Julia Child “Courage of Your Convictions in the Kitchen” Contest!

“When you flip anything, you just have to have the courage of your convictions.” — Julia Child

It’s one of the most legendary incidents in the history of The French Chef: Julia Child was attempting to flip a potato pancake to cook it on the other side, and the flip didn’t quite work and the pancake broke. Having just said that flipping anything required “the courage of your convictions,” she attributed the failure to precisely that lack. But, she added quickly, all was not lost; you can always push the pancake back together again, because if you’re alone in the kitchen, who’s going to see? (The moment is immortalized by the video above, in which a devoted YouTuber compares Julia’s original presentation to Meryl Streep’s reenactment in the film Julie & Julia and finds Meryl wanting. It’s still funny.)

It occurred to us while planning our Julia Project three years ago, and our Julia Child 100th Birthday Dinner this year, that those wise words of Julia’s still apply today. Julia’s approach to cooking was all about using the courage of your convictions. Taking risks, trying new things–and, sometimes, figuring out a way to salvage success from disaster. She understood that, especially if you’re the average home chef, if you have a cooking snafu you don’t always have the time or money to start over–and if you never try anything different, you never grow or develop. If you’ve ever turned on a stove, you know that’s true.

When in your life have you most needed the courage of your convictions in the kitchen? Tell us about it and you could win a $50 Bistro gift certificate! For example…

–You had trouble with an important dinner for guests, and had to think on your feet to save it. You did, and received loads of compliments.

–You tried a tricky new recipe you weren’t sure you could pull off, but you did.

–You thought up a variation on a tried-and-true recipe that you had no guarantee would work, and maybe even heard doubts from others: “You really think that’s going to come out?” You experimented with it anyway, and it was wonderful.

–You had to improvise a meal with what happened to be available in the house at the time–something edible–and not only succeeded, but got praise.

–You shocked your friends, family, and even yourself by proving, simply, that you could learn to cook.

–You embarked on an adventure at the dining table (yours or someone else’s) by trying a food, a dish, a combination of dishes you weren’t sure you were going to like, but went for it anyway–and found it delicious.

Write your story in 500 words or fewer, and email it to ruth@bistro185.com by Tuesday, August 14 (be sure to put “Julia Child Contest Entry” in the header). If we choose your story as the best example of exhibiting the “Courage of Your Convictions in the Kitchen,” you’ll be our winner!

Celebrate Julia Child’s 100th birthday with us!

Wednesday, August 15, will be the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birthday. What a remarkable woman she was! She enjoyed an interesting career, married later in life than most women did in her era, moved with her husband when he took a new job in an unfamiliar place, and, feeling bored, found herself casting about for something to occupy her time there. She found it, in her love of great food and the fascinating culture that surrounded her. She taught Americans how to cook French…eliminating the scary, inhibiting aspects of a challenging cuisine through she sheer boldness of her personality, both in the pages of her cookbooks and, eventually, on our TVs. And not only did she help us find the courage of our convictions as she massaged chickens, flipped potato pancakes, and (sometimes) blowtorched cheese, she taught us all just how delicious it is to take a broader perspective on life. In the clip above, she displays her gift for culinary improvisation to David Letterman (who maybe isn’t as appreciative as he should be). Stove isn’t working? Make Beef Tartare Au Gratin!

We had a ball celebrating Julia’s unique contributions to American cuisine in the summer of 2009 with our “Julia Project,” and at 6:30 p.m. on August 15 we’re bringing back the spirit of Julia for one more special night. Our Julia Child’s 100th Birthday Wine Dinner won’t include Beef Tartare Au Gratin, but it will include these spectacular dishes from her repertoire:

First Course
Potage Parmentiere (Potato and Leek Soup)
Black Truffle Pearls
Wine: Villa Pozzi Pinot Grigio

Second Course
Menage Trois Le Canard (Duck 3-Way)
Wine: DuBoeuf Beaujolais-Villages

Third Course
Boeuf Bourguignon
Bacon Lardons
Pearl Onions
Shiitake Mushrooms
Wine: Hob Nob Cabernet

Fourth Course
Fruits de Mer en Croute
Sauce Homard
(Seafood with Lobster Sauce in Puff Pastry)
Wine: Josh Cellars Chardonnay

Fifth Course
Mousse au Chocolat
Wine: Cristalino Brut Rose Cava

The cost of our dinner will be $80 per person, plus tax and gratuity. To get you in the mood, here’s a real gem of a video in which Julia gets serious with beef in a dish we’ll be featuring. It’s the very first episode of The French Chef, in which she shows us how to make Boeuf Bourguignon. (Note she explains how to peel the pearl onions. Isn’t it nice that today you can buy them peeled in a bag from the supermarket freezer?) Enjoy…then call 216.481.9635 and make your reservations for an evening you won’t forget!

Wow! Asian Vegan Dinner was just what the doctor ordered

Hello, this is the Tenant again. I haven’t been fully myself since about the middle of last Friday night–had a combination of flu and cold and some such thing, bad enough to dampen my appetite (which doesn’t happen often). Well, I can tell you what brought it back: Vegan Night at the Bistro.

I was hesitant to sign up for dinner this time because I was afraid with my appetite, I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. But by Thursday evening I was feeling just better enough that I took a chance. Maybe it was that irresistible scent of ginger and lemongrass wafting up from the kitchen that turned the tide for me–I’m a sucker for Asian food. Whatever it was, I’m glad I did. This time I asked Ruth if she could prepare me a “to go” to take to my apartment and eat there, and although I did take pictures of it, I’m not really pleased with them so I’m skipping the visuals this time. If you weren’t there, you’re just going to have to take my word for it, but believe me, this one was delicious.

Things started off wonderfully with the Lemongrass-Ginger-Miso Soup with Shiitake Mushroom Wontons. Few things taste better when you’re not quite up to snuff than soup, and this hot, fragrant soup hit just the right note with its miso broth, delicate mushroom-stuffed wontons, bright asparagus spears and slices of lotus root. It just felt good right down to the toes.

The Panko-Nori and Sesame-Crusted Eggplant Cutlets were crisp and tasty, lying on their bed of jasmine rice mixed with sauteed Asian veggies and topped with the Edamame–Mint Sauce (which looked rather like bright green wasabi paste; thank goodness it doesn’t have any of the heat of wasabi paste!). One bite of this and I felt as if I were at a fantastic Chinese restaurant instead of in my apartment. Amazing! Not only did it restore my appetite, I felt as if I could’ve eaten another plateful.

Finally, there was the Coconut–Mint Panna Cotta with Fresh Berry Garnish. Mm-mm. I love coconut and I love berries, so this was ideal for me as well, and even a bit comforting with its cool puddinglike texture made tangy by rich berry sauce.

No doubt about it–this vegan dinner was good for what ailed me. Thanks, Ruth and Jakub! Looking forward to what you come up with next!

A glimpse of tonight’s Vegan Dinner, Asian-style

A few shots of preparations for tonight’s Vegan Dinner…

Panko-Nori and Sesame-Crusted Eggplant Cutlets…

Shiitake Mushroom Wontons for the Lemongrass-Ginger-Miso Soup…

Coconut Panna Cottas…

Fresh berries waiting to garnish the Panna Cottas…

…And Chef Jakub is chopping ginger and Asian veggies for the Saute.

Weather warning: it’s looking pretty blizzardy out where we are right now. We’re getting lake-effect snow, so if you’re coming out for dinner, bundle up, leave well before your reservation time, and most of all, drive safely! We look forward to giving you a terrific dinner! (Also, if you write a vegan or vegetarian blog and enjoy your meal, please let us know you blogged about it–we’ll send you some link love and help other vegans and vegetarians find you!) See you soon!

Learn to cook Bistro-style with Chef Todd

Happy New Year! Maybe you’re the kind of person who makes resolutions, and one you’ve made this year is to learn how to cook better. Or maybe you’ve had some great meals at the Bistro and would just like to experience what it’d be like to be able to make a meal or two like that yourself. To feel the pride when you hear a significant other, family or friends speak those magic words: “You cooked this? It’s incredible!”

Well, it’s possible for you to do precisely that. The Bistro’s Chef Todd Mueller is returning to Sur la Table Eton, on Chagrin Boulevard in Beachwood, to teach you how to create a full menu of the kind of dishes that will warm you on cold winter nights like these. In his “Warming Winter Bistro Dinner” class from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, January 15, he’ll guide you through the steps of making the meal as well as provide helpful cooking hints to increase your kitchen savvy.

Cost of Chef Todd’s class is $79 per person. Register here or reserve your spot by calling Sur la Table at 800.243.0852, and learn a few tips as to why Bistro fare tastes so special.

French Wine Dinner: Oo la la, it was delicious!

As the Tenant sits down to review yet another special Bistro dinner, she is reminded of the first time she ever sat down to a classic French meal: when she was in high school French Club, dining with her classmates at a lovely old French restaurant in Shaker Heights with the not-very-French-sounding name of The Wagon Wheel. Perhaps some of you are old enough to remember it. I recall the name as the subject of much joking at the time; we were from Lake County and lived close enough to Geneva-on-the-Lake that the most familiar restaurant to us with the name “Wagon Wheel” was a burgers-pizza-and-beer joint near the beach. Classmates who heard the name of the restaurant we had selected for our club dinner thought we were going to the one in Geneva, and joked that the only French food we’d find there would be “French fries.”

I tell this story only because sometimes things come full circle in the most amazing way. One of the courses we dined upon that evening in Shaker–the Wagon Wheel there turned out to be very French–was Coquilles St. Jacques, baked in a scallop shell. It was amazing. And, as it happened, some time ago I was in the Bistro, and happened to overhear that the recipe for the Bistro’s own version of that dish, one of its most popular starters, was influenced by none other than…the old Wagon Wheel. What a coincidence!

While Coquilles St. Jacques was not on the menu at Wednesday’s French Wine Dinner, it certainly carried on in the tradition of that long-ago French meal I so enjoyed…while introducing me to at least one type of cuisine I had not yet experienced. And it was all paired with very enjoyable wines provided by Heidelberg Distributing Co. of Independence.

Our first wine at this dinner was an aperitif: Cremant de Loire, a truly charming sparkling wine that started things off well indeed. From there, we made a little trip back to the Bistro’s Julia Project with one of its very popular dishes from that era: Potage Parmentier, or Potato-Leek Soup. Dressed with frizzled onion and a sprinkling of chive oil, t was heartwarming and rich and full of flavor as ever, an ideal first course. It was also well paired with Chateau L’Hoste Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc 2008, a soft, light, slightly buttery wine, dry without being extremely astringent or puckery.

For our second course, we were served something brand-new to me, but which Marc (who prepared this particular dish) and Ruth explained is a classic type of French lunch: Cured Salmon in a Jar. We were each served a large, shallow jar and a plate of toasty baguette slices. Inside the jar, under a bay leaf, we found tender morsels of salmon that had been cured in oil for five hours, flavored by slices of potato, onions, olives, carrots, lemons, peppercorns, rosemary and thyme. As Ruth explained, these could be placed on the toasts and eaten, or enjoyed straight from the jar. I found it really tasty. I wouldn’t mind having a jar of this combination in my fridge all the time! The wine for this course was Domaine du Pere Caboche Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, a blend of white grapes from the  Southern Rhone region that was a bit drier and just as pleasant as the Sauvignon Blanc.

Our third course was as rich and rewarding as could possibly be: Coq au Vin with Fingerling Potatoes. Ruth explained that this dish was prepared by browning the skin of the chicken first in olive oil, then marinating it overnight in a petit Syrah before being finished with mushrooms, roasted garlic, pearl onions and the potatoes. It must have been this treatment that made it fall-off-the bone tender and yet at the same time gave the skin such a crispy, smoky flavor and made the sauce so hearty; the vegetables with it were equally sumptuous. It was served with Michel Chapoutier Crozes Petit Rouge 2008, a Syrah from the Rhone that was a perfect match.

After all that richness, a salad course was just what we needed, and this one, a French Green Salad with Brie and Pear Beggar’s Purse in a Balsamic Reduction, was a fine choice. The salad was accented with spears of white asparagus, and the little phyllo-dough purses of cheese and pears tasted marvelous with it; they provided a warm, flaky contrast to the cool lettuce and tart dressing. So did the wine, Simmonet Saint-Bris Sauvignon Blanc Burgundy 2009. This is a fresh and fruity stainless steel-fermented wine from the only place in Burgundy allowed to produce Sauvignon Blanc.

To conclude this tres elegant meal, we were served an Apple-Apricot-Marzipan Tart with Soft Whipped Creme. My German side has a passion for marzipan (especially around Christmastime), and this marzipan tasted wonderful with the paper-thin slivers of fruit, crispy golden crust and gentle glaze. The dessert wine, an oak-aged Chateau Rieussec Sauterne, was also quite special. A sweet ending to an evening that brought me back in time to my first experience with French cuisine, and made me feel all the more determined to visit someday and experience the country’s cooking firsthand.

This dinner brought November to an end and provided a promising preview of some of the special things the Bistro has in store for December. With two wine tastings, a French Canadian beer dinner, a Champagne Dinner and special plans afoot for those who make reservations for New Year’s Eve, there’s something to please everyone. Make your plans (and your reservations) now!

Vegetarian or vegan? Join us Tuesday for an early Thanksgiving!

Today we’re giving a shout-out to Roxetta, who writes the Cleveland-based vegetarian blog Vegetarians Taste Better. She’s blogged a delightful piece about our Vegan Dinner Series you can read here. We’re glad you’ve been enjoying them, Roxetta, and we’re looking forward to the next one just as much as you are!

If you’re vegetarian or vegan (or even if you’d just like to give it a try) and haven’t yet signed up for our latest Vegan Thanksgiving feast this coming Tuesday, call 216.481.9635 and ensure your place at our table. We’ll be happy to have you!

All Bistro fans, especially wine lovers: keep watching this space for upcoming information on wine-related events in December and other things you should know about. Also, keep in mind that as you plan get-togethers during the holiday season, Bistro 185 will be pleased to serve your group that special lunch or dinner. You can even have Chef Ruth specially cater an event for you through Ruth Levine Events. Pick up the phone and book now!

Enjoy our 3-for-$30 menu during Cleveland Restaurant Week!

It’s Cleveland Restaurant Week, and Ruth is especially excited because she’s just been elected to the board of Cleveland Independents, the group that sponsors this annual opportunity for you to sample our unique, locally based restaurants at special prices.

If you’re a loyal Bistro 185 guest, you already know what we can do, and we hope you’ll plan to join us during Restaurant Week for more. If you’ve never visited before and are thinking of giving us a try, we’re eager to have you stop by and sample the pleasures of dinner with us.

Plan now to come in Monday through Friday (through November 11) and choose your three-course feast by selecting one from each category:

Salads and Starters
Soup of the Day
Chicken and Vegetable Pot Stickers
Field Greens Salad
House Tempura Vegetables

Entrees
Chicken Parmesan with Pasta Marinara
Slab St. Louis Ribs, House Fries and Slaw
Medallions of Beef Filet, Hollandaise Sauce, Mashers and House Tempura Vegetables
Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna with Sesame Peanut Noodles
Sautéed Walleye with Hollandaise Sauce, Mashers and House Tempura Vegetables
Pan-Roasted Salmon with Pecan Butter, Sweet Mash and House Tempura Vegetables
Jambalaya with Andouille Sausage and Chicken, Topped with Rice and Black Beans

Dessert
Key Lime Pie
Coconut Cream Pie
House-Made Ice Cream
Chocolate Crème Brulee
Warm Chocolate Molten Cake

Please note that entrees are not available for sharing and there are no substitutions; price also does not include beverages, tax or gratuity. The $3-for-$30 menu is available dine-in only.

If it’s been a while since you had a nice night out and you want to support the local economy when you plan that occasion…if you’re tired of the chain restaurant experience, but afraid that any “tab for two” at a one-of-a-kind place will end up in the three figures…or you just want to get together with some friends over a truly first-class meal without breaking the bank…you owe it to yourself to come to the Bistro and see how far we can stretch your $30! We know you’ll come back!

“True Blood” Dinner a toothsome treat!

Well, this Tenant has sure had her hands full (not to mention her stomach) attending all these amazing Bistro events this fall, but they’re all so good that doing so is inevitably a pleasure. This year’s new edition of Chef Ruth’s “True Blood” dinner was certainly no exception. Once again, she amazed us all with the concoctions cooked up for this repast. Let’s review!

Things got off to a pleasing start with our aperitif, Toffoli Pink Shadow Prosecco. This was a lovely Italian red sparkling wine with a light berry flavor that prepared us well for the first course, Rare Ahi Tuna on Organic Greens with Blood Orange and Pomegranate Vinaigrette. Not every dinner begins with a light dish, but this one did, and it was perfect. The tuna, of course, was fresh as could be and the vinaigrette added a spicy sweet-and-sour touch. The wine chosen for this course was Shingle Black Bubbles Sparkling Shiraz, yet another bubbly red. I’d never tasted such a light-bodied, sparkling Shiraz before, at least not that I can recall, so this fruity pleaser from Australia was a revelation.

Next came a dish that is usually served more casually in New Orleans, an Oyster Po’ Boy sandwich, breaded and fried oysters tucked into a long roll with a spicy remoulade sauce. This one was accompanied by a Red Cabbage Slaw with, I think, a touch of jicama added. Just delicious! I think I could have eaten about three of these sandwiches if I didn’t have three more courses to eat. Our drink for this course was Bacon Bloody Mary Shots, a tasty little vial of tomato juice combined with bacon-infused vodka and I’m not sure what else, but it was good.

The third course was the True Blood Tenderloin, a lovely red slab of rare beef sauced and stabbed through the middle with the only thing you can stab anything with on “True Blood” night: a tiny wooden stake. Alongside was a little lagniappe not mentioned on the original menu: a mound of Louisiana-style “Bloody Red Beans and Rice.” Perfect! The meat was soft as velvet and full of flavor, and the red beans and rice added a touch of spice to the plate. The Sly Dog Cabernet served alongside, from Lake County, California, was just right: a smooth complement without being too heavy.

The final savory dish really brought the bayou-style spice to this meal: Creole Shrimp and Grits. The perfectly cooked shrimp lay on the fluffy grits in a pool of rich tomato sauce flavored with onion, peppers, spices and andouille sausage chunks. My dinner partners could not stop raving about this one. They want to see it on the regular menu, and I can’t blame them. Again, the wine served with this course was not particularly heavy: Howling Moon Old Vine Zinfandel, a California red, was more spicy than weighty.

For dessert, we enjoyed three very different kinds of deliciousness. First was the unbelievable Pecan Pie, in which the taste of the huge, perfectly toasted nuts shone through in the ideal balance of sweet and nutty. Next was the scoop of Sweet Potato Ice Cream, full of that delicious fall flavor, not unlike pumpkin in many ways, just a delight. Then there was that yummy little lagniappe with the pink topping: a chocolate cup topped with whipped cream flavored with cinnamon red-hot candies. Ruth called these “Red Devils.” I adore cinnamon red hots, so I loved this. Delicious cranberry drizzle snaked all around the plate and made everything taste even better. To drink, we enjoyed tiny glasses of Blood Orange Chocolate Sabra, which has to be one of the most delicious liqueurs ever made.

One thing’s for sure: when Ruth and Marc invite you to the Bistro for a “bite,” you go home happy. “True Blood, Season 2” did good things to everyone, and even kept with that Louisiana tradition of including a little something extra and unexpected to delight us. Are they already thinking about new ways to go for our jugular next year? Guess we’ll have to wait and see!

A delicious “Taste of Fall” vegan-style

Whew! What with all that’s going on at the Bistro this fall, it’s all a Tenant like me can do to keep up with events. (Not to mention eating all this food…oh well, it’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it, right?) I’m happy to report that last night’s Vegan Dinner, “A Taste of Fall,” continued in the tradition of the series. An ideal series of seasonal dishes for sure!

Things got rolling with the Fried Green Tomato and Arugula Salad with Green Goddess Dressing. Not being a native of the South, I’d never tried fried green tomatoes before, but I’m glad I did, because they tasted crispy and delicious on this salad, along with the arugula and more traditional cherry tomatoes. The Green Goddess dressing–an old classic that traditionally includes mayonnaise and sour cream–was an ideal accompaniment in my opinion, too. Obviously, this version didn’t contain mayonnaise, sour cream or anything else that would have required use of an egg or dairy product, but it tasted just as fine as the Green Goddess dressing I remember. And the little corn muffin served alongside was a delightful bonus!

On to the main course: Crispy “Chicken” (Gardein) Marsala with Shiitake Mushrooms and Vegan Gnocchi with Roasted Root Fall Vegetables. If it looks delicious, let me assure you it is. I’ve said before that, being an admitted meat eater, I’m impressed when vegan cuisine can truly provide anything that seems truly analogous to meat, and to me, gardein fills the bill by bringing the old cliche “tastes like chicken” to life. And it tastes even better when breaded and sauced with a rich, savory marsala-and-shiitake-mushroom sauce. The gnocchi, chunks of root veggies such as sweet potato, and fried strings of onion didn’t hurt any, either. (Oh, and once again my friend Mary happened to be visiting, and I gave her a gnocchi to try. She loved it. She’s skeptical about this vegan stuff, yet whenever she catches me on Vegan Night, she seems to end up trying some of what I’m eating and really liking it.)

To crown the proceedings, what better than a Pumpkin Creme Brulee for dessert? Mine arrived garnished with a plump slivered strawberry and a dollop of almond-milk-and-tapioca “whipped cream” (not appearing in your picture), and as the caramel glaze on top cracked under my spoon the same way a thin glaze of ice gives way atop a frozen pond, I knew what lay underneath was going to be rich and delicious. It was. Seems as if this might be a good recipe to share for Thanksgiving season. Just saying!

Speaking of Thanksgiving, even I don’t yet know what Chefs Ruth and Jakub have planned for vegan dining delight next month, but after this dinner, I certainly am more than curious! Watch this space to see!