Our rooftop garden is blooming with flavor!

Summer is now in full swing, and it’s a Cleveland locavore’s favorite time of year. By “locavore,” of course, we mean someone who tries to eat locally produced food, over food shipped in from outside his or her home region, as much as possible. In this part of the country, our growing season is limited by the weather, so we’re all the more appreciative of the short period of time each year when we can truly enjoy eating local produce.

Here at the Bistro, our effort to source food as close to our restaurant as possible includes growing our own — right here on the rooftop! Each spring we put in new plants and welcome back perennials, creating a garden full of fresh delights to add to our menu all summer long.

We’re sharing some of our early bounty with you already, in the form of arugula and fresh herbs. Chives, German thyme, rosemary, mint and sweet basil are among our offerings, part of which you can see here:

We’ve also put in some green beans and some yellow squash. The squash is really growing at an amazing pace, as you can see:

We also have tomatillos in this year — a staple of Mexican and other Latin American cuisine:

Of course, what just about every Clevelander loves about summer is the opportunity to quit settling for those mealy-textured pink supermarket tomatoes and enjoy fresh, ripe, red ones right off an Ohio vine — tomatoes grown for flavor rather than for shipping well! Obviously at Bistro 185 we’re no exception, and once again we’ve put in lots of tomato plants on the rooftop:

We like to grow several tomato varieties — from those that produce fruit early to those that last later into the season, as well as types that are especially suited to particular uses, whether fresh for salads or cooked in sauces. And our efforts are beginning to show rewards:

Mmm, you can almost taste them now, can’t you? One of our favorite things to do this time of year is head up to the garden with a knife and a shaker of salt, just to taste how fresh and flavorful our tomatoes are with nothing but that small enhancement. Amazing.

What all this means for you, of course, is that when you come to the Bistro, you’re going to have some incredible local produce on your plate very soon. Whether it’s fresh tomatoes in your caprese salad, rooftop squash in your ratatouille or risotto, spears of rosemary flavoring your lamb shanks, or a pasta sauce with the kind of flavor that only comes from tomatoes that haven’t taken a long trip from California to your table, you’re in for some great summertime eating. These herbs and veggies will be making a very short trip to you: down a flight of stairs and through a hall! Sure beats a cross-country trip when it comes to flavor!

Yes, the rooftop here at the Bistro is a wonderful place this time of year, and for more reasons than one. We’ve oftentimes had patrons ask if they can be seated on our rooftop deck during the warm months, and as a result, this summer we are opening our rooftop garden for private, catered parties. We will cater a special wine dinner for your group of eight on an evening you choose in advance. Our garden is a wonderful place to be on a warm summer night, and it just may be the ideal spot for that small get-together you have in mind. Whether it’s a birthday, a graduation, an engagement, an anniversary or just an opportunity to celebrate our all-too-short summer season, all you need to do is call 216.481.9635 to get Chef Ruth started on planning a menu that’s just right for summer dining al fresco.

Summer will only be with us for a little while. Make the most of it by stopping by and enjoying the bounty of our rooftop garden soon!

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!

Menu for Pacific Coast Highway Wine Dinner

The menus is ready for our Pacific Coast Highway Wine Dinner:

First Course
A Taste of Half Moon Bay
Roasted Oysters with Bacon and Spinach
Wine: ’06 Evergreen Vineyards Spruce Goose Pinot Gris

Second Course
San Francisco Chinatown
Asian-Inspired Medallions of Beef Tenderloin with a Hoisin Soy Glaze
Fried Rice
Wine: ’08 Michael Pozzan Russian River Chardonnay

Third Course
Cioppino (Fisherman’s Stew) with Alaskan Halibut, Mussels, Clams and Shrimp
Wine: Lady in Red Blend N-V

Fourth Course
Jicama, Carrot and Daikon Salad with Sesame Vinagrette
Wine: ’09 Montoya Pinot Noir

Fifth Course
L.A. à la Wolfgang Puck
Smoked Salmon Pizzette Topped with Crème Fraîche and Chives
Wine: ’06 Annabelle Cabernet

Sixth Course
Panacotta with a Mixed Berry Coulis
Wine: ’05 Normal Old Vine Zin Port

Cost of our dinner is $6o, plus tax and gratuity. Sign up for this California-style dining adventure by calling 216.481.9635.

This week’s Chef Todd Special: Seafood Crêpes

Todd Mueller has cooked up another winner for this week’s Chef Todd Special: Shallot, Chive and Garlic Crêpes with Crab, Shrimp, Spinach, Artichokes and Lobster Sauce. What a seafood delight awaits you! You get three crêpes folded around tender, succulent crab meat, topped with shrimp, surrounded by artichokes and sautéed spinach, and doused in a rich, creamy lobster sauce. Come on in and treat yourself!

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!

Behind the Dish: Corn and Shrimp Chowder with Tomatoes

Tonight’s James Beard special is another heartwarmer for wintertime. It gets its flavor not only from corn, shrimp and tomatoes, but from bacon and mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery). The mirepoix is sautéed in the bacon fat after the bacon is cooked; then potatoes, chicken stock, thyme, clam juice (or water or fish stock) and white wine are added, as well as corn on the cob. (The cobs get removed later and the corn scraped off and added to the chowder, sometimes with more corn added.) This mixture gets cooled down, fat skimmed, and then some of the solids are puréed so it has a part-creamy, part-chunky texture. Milk, salt and pepper are stirred in, and the bacon, shrimp, tomatoes and chives are added for the final minutes of simmering time.

To make this more of a main dish, we’ve also beefed it up a little by adding a combination of large and small shrimp; pearl onions; some green peas for color and flavor; and topping it off with a trio of crispy little corn-bacon fritters.

A bowl of this chowder will bring warmth to your evening for sure. Don’t forget to ask for bread!

Behind the Dish: Smoked Salmon Napoleon

Tonight’s Julia Project dish is the creation of the award-winning chef Charlie Trotter, who shared with Julia an idea for an appetizer that Bistro 185 is turning into a full-fledged entree. Everyone’s heard of a Napoleon pastry, right?: layers and layers of delicate puff pastry sandwiching layers of sweet pastry cream, sometimes jam, sometimes both. (In some places it’s called a mille-feuille, mille foglie or vanilla slice.) Well, Smoked Salmon Napoleon takes that same principle and applies it to layers of smoked salmon. And it’s an ideal concept for us here at the Bistro, given that we smoke our own salmon.

The thinly sliced smoked salmon is layered with papaya that’s been pickled in hot pepper, sake, vinegar, cloves, mustard, cinnamon, bay leaf and allspice, as well as an avocado-tomato salsa made with chives and lemon juice. A green herbal sauce made from herb juice and herb oil containing parsley, watercress and tarragon, seasoned with salt and pepper, brings the whole creation together. Charlie serves his Napoleons with herbed potato tuiles; we’ll be serving ours with thin, freshly fried waffle potato chips, as well as another treat: salmon ravioli.

Get ready for a combination of flavors you’ve probably never experienced before — but will really enjoy!