As the long weekend (and unofficial summer) begin…

…we hope all our Bistro friends will come join us soon for lunch or dinner, good friends and relaxing times, whether out on the patio or inside. We’ve got plenty for you to enjoy in the warm-weather season, so watch this space!

For example, we’ve added two new specials to tempt you in the door: Seafood Etouffee with Tempura Soft Shell Crab, Shrimp, Mussels and Clams and Rustic Italian Chicken and Pasta with Artichoke Hearts, Olives, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Roasted Garlic, and Shallots Tossed with Pappardelle Pasta. Mouth watering yet? Come in and enjoy!

Also, on Tuesday, May 31, at 5 p.m., we’re pleased to be part of the LGBT Restaurant Tour. This evening will benefit the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center of Greater Cleveland. Call 216.481.9635 to make your reservation and have a fantastic dinner with us!

Menu for Sake Dinner is ready!

You already know what we have planned for the Vegan Sake Dinner — so what’s in store for the non-vegan version on Wednesday, May 25? We can tell you now:

First Course
Seared Day Boat Scallop
House-Cured Pork Belly
Sauteed Shiitake Mushroom Cap
Ginger Plum Sauce

Second Course
Roasted Asian Duck with Miso-Orange Sauce
Black Forbidden Rice

Third Course
Sesame Ahi Tuna
Pickled Ginger
Asian Greens

Fourth Course
Roast Pork and Crab Dumpling Soup

Fifth Course
Cold Soba Noodles with Sweet and Spicy Chili Sauce
Tempura Shrimp
Tempura Green Beans

Sixth Course
Green Tea Ice Cream with Fresh Berries

This dinner starts at 6:30 p.m. sharp and the cost is $75 per person plus tax and gratuity. Keep your eyes here for future information on which sakes we’ll pair with which courses. In the meantime, make your prepaid reservation at 216.481.9635 and get ready for a true Asian gourmet experience!

A toast to another top-notch Champagne Dinner!

Hi! The Tenant is back, and, along with Ruth and Marc, hoping you have had a wonderful holiday season so far. They have asked me to remind you that they’ll be open tonight for New Year’s Eve and open tomorrow night, New Year’s Day, for dinner, so you can put a nice cap on your holiday season fun. Are your out-of-town guests heading for home soon? Bring them to the Bistro for a nice New Year’s dinner. Then kick back, relax, and enjoy life returning to normal!

Now, about the Champagne Dinner last Tuesday…I’m not shy to tell you, after having suffered from a dragging-on illness last winter that kept me from being able to attend last year’s Champagne Dinner, I was really looking forward to this one. I had seen the pictures of last year’s, and they were mouthwatering enough to make my soul ache. So this was a Bistro dinner not to be missed for me — and apparently also not for a lot of other people, as the entire “restaurant side” of the Bistro was filled with this sellout dinner group. If you couldn’t make it, though, or didn’t reserve soon enough to get a spot, at least you’ll know what you missed. (This review might even give you a few ideas if you’re still looking for a good champagne to uncork tonight.)

The first course took no time setting the tone for an incredible meal. The Herbed Crêpe with Salmon Caviar, House-Cured Gravlax, Crème Fraiche and Poached Asparagus kicked things off excellently. It was an amazing combination of gentle, paper-thin crêpe, savory gravlax, slightly salty caviar, and dairy-fresh cream. The asparagus was just unbelievable in flavor…it tasted as fresh as if it had been picked off the roof in springtime. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that fresh-tasting a vegetable out of season. The champagne with this course was also especially fine, Lamarca Prosecco. An Italian wine produced champenoise style every few months, and subjected to a panel review before being released (!), it has a just slightly sweet touch, but not excessively so. Not only that, but it’s an incredible deal, usually available for between $13 and $15 a bottle. Our wine rep of the evening, Greg Webster of Wine Trends, also advised us that it makes great mimosas, so if you’d rather have New Year’s brunch than a New Year’s toast, it’s a fine choice for that as well.

Chef Ruth really got to show off one of her favorite kinds of dishes to prepare in the second course, Duck Three Ways. I’ve heard her and Marc describe this kind of dish to me before, but I’ve never actually had the chance to enjoy it. At center plate: tender, rosy, gently fat-ringed slices of seared duck breast, topped with a delicious mango chutney. At one side, a hearty slice of duck pâté, rich with nuts and savory spice, dressed with a dollop of French grainy mustard. (I love the Bistro’s pâtés. One of my sisters and I have joked that if the liverwurst sandwiches our mother used to pack for our school lunches had only been made like this, we would have enjoyed them much more.) On the other side of the duck breast, a duck confit — tender leg of duck cooked in its own fat to fall-off-the-bone tenderness, then crisped and caramelized in a balsamic ginger glaze. Sounds good just reading about it, no? Oh, it is. The champagne for this course was Domaine des Baumard Brut Cremant Carte Turquoise, a Loire Valley pick that is drier than the Lamarca and well suited to this sweeter dish. It is also not a pricey selection, either!

It was time for the salad course, but this was honestly like no salad I’ve ever had before; it was on another plane. Marc had told me earlier that the basis of this Caesar salad was grilled Romaine lettuce. “Grilled?” I asked. I’ve heard of and enjoyed many kinds of vegetables being grilled, even fruits, to caramelize them and add a crispy texture, but this was the first time I’d ever heard of anyone grilling salad lettuce. Well, they grilled it, and it’s absolutely incredible. Each serving of salad consisted of grilled Romaine leaves topped with Caesar dressing and a shower of Parmesan shavings; four escargot shells, each containing a former resident sautéed to perfection in butter, garlic, and parsley (we had to tease the little devils out with canapé toothpicks); thin, grilled slices of baguette; and garlic cloves roasted until sweet and soft enough to spread on the baguette slices. Remove an escargot from its shell, place it atop the baguette slice smeared with garlic, and take a bite…ahh, perfection! Oh, and then take a sip from your glass of Casteller Cava Penedes, a Spanish sparkler even drier than the second champagne, but still lovely and not so astringent as to get puckery. It just danced on my tongue.

Course number four was a tender, savory chop from Australian aged rack of lamb, cooked perfectly with a crackly skin outside, topped with a rosemary-mint demi-glace that went just as well with the unbelievable Potatoes Anna as with the meat itself. The paper-thin-sliced potatoes were creamy and baked just enough to form the perfect crispy brown crust on top. The champagne for this course was a Laetitia Brut Cuvée, a blended sparkling white that was probably the driest of all we enjoyed. I’m not any more crazy about extreme dryness in wine than I am in too much sweetness, but this one didn’t go overboard and I liked it as much as the others.

Then came course five. To my mind, they were all great, but this was the one that had people around me moaning with pleasure and saying it just has to go on the specials menu. The Seafood Waffle Topped with Lobster-Shrimp-Crab Imperial sounds simple, and it is — but oh, how good! Each serving included one quarter of a round Belgian waffle made with a savory herbed batter; an absolutely huge, split, freshwater flame-grilled scampi shrimp; and a butter-soaked cream sauce studded generously with tender chunks of lobster, Laughing Bird shrimp, and crab. You may recall that a while ago Marc and Ruth explained that Laughing Bird is a brand of Caribbean white shrimp farmed in Belize, raised in filtered sea water, fed a vegetarian diet, never treated with additives or sulfites, and sold fresh. The end result is a shrimp that’s wonderfully succulent and sweet. As for the scampi shrimp, it was so big, plump, and sweet that some of my fellow diners mistook it for a lobster tail. It was that delicious! Along with it we were served Champagne Delamotte, a “capital-C Champagne” in that it’s from the actual region. It was a nicely dry complement to the rich, creamy, buttery seafood dish.

The meal came to a simple but delightful conclusion with a heavenly Chocolate Lava Cake (with the classic crusty exterior/liquid interior) on a bed of strawberry coulis, garnished with blackberries and topped with a generous snowfall of powdered sugar. With it, the only rose wine of the evening, Patrick Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon, also the only one we were served in coupes rather than flutes. It was the fruitiest wine of the evening, but still not excessively sweet…just right.

The verdict: if you missed this dinner, oh dear…too bad, because you missed out on some amazing dishes and champagnes whose goodness is hard to express in mere words! You can, however, console yourself a bit by making a New Year’s resolution not to miss the next Bistro special dinner. This one’s going to be a post-Valentine’s Day fête that just might make an excellent gift for that special someone…the Chocolate Dinner, Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Don’t wait until the last minute, because this one is likely to be another sellout…call now at 216.481.9635 and make your reservations! Happy New Year!

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this blog confused the scampi shrimp with the Laughing Bird shrimp, which actually stay small but are especially sweet and tasty and were included in the seafood sauce.

Champagne Dinner menu is set!

Get your tastebuds prepared, because the menu and list of accompanying champagnes for our December 28 Champagne Dinner is ready!

First Course
Herbed Crepe with Salmon Caviar and Lemon-Tarragon Sabayon
House Cured Gravlax with Creme Fraiche
Poached Asparagus
Champagne: Lamarca Prosseco

Second Course
Duck 3 Ways: Seared Duck Breast, Duck Pate, Duck Confit
Champagne: Domaine des Baumard Brut Cremant Carte Turquoise

Third Course
Grilled Caesar Salad with Escargot and Slow-Roasted Garlic
Champagne: Casteller-Cava-Penedes

Fourth Course
Australian Aged Rack of Lamb with Rosemary-Mint Demi-Glace
Potatoes Anna
Champagne: Laetitia Brut Rose

Fifth Course
Seafood Waffle Topped with Lobster-Shrimp-Crab Imperial
Champagne: Champagne Delamotte

Sixth Course
Chocolate Lava Cake with Raspberry Coulis
Champagne: Paringa Sparkling Shiraz

If you’re a lover of fine food and great champagne, this is the ideal way to ring in the New Year early–away from the noise and crowds, in a nice, peaceful, civilized celebration. And wouldn’t it make the ideal holiday gift for someone special in your life?

Cost of the dinner is $75 plus tax and gratuity. We start at 6:30 sharp, serving up six courses of fabulous dishes and bountiful bubbly. Make your reservation at 216.481.9635 today!

“Bottle Shock”: a fun tongue-teaser


Hi — it’s The Tenant again, here to give you another review of an exciting event at the Bistro. This time around it was the “Bottle Shock” Wine Tasting, a variation on the legendary 1976 “Judgment of Paris” wine competition that inspired the movie Bottle Shock. The film tells the true story of how a British sommelier surprised a group of Parisian oenophiles by having them conduct a blind taste-test of a selection of wines. The tasting proved to their discriminating palates that California’s best wine could indeed stand up against France’s for quality. In the Bistro 185 version of Bottle Shock, tasters were presented with six different wines and asked to guess whether each was from France or California and to attempt to “name that varietal.” At the end, the names and vintages of each wine were revealed so we could tell how close our guesses had been.

As I’ve mentioned before, I really am not a connoisseur of wine, so I participated in this tasting more for the fun and the opportunity to expose myself to some new tastes than anything else. It was also interesting to try to see whether I’d become any good at distinguishing French wines from California wines merely from my experience at Bistro wine dinners!

The tasting began with a white wine that to me seemed fruity, but not especially or cloyingly sweet. I took a guess on its being a California wine, but which grape it was I could not tell. My companion Mary, who knows far more than I do, took a guess that it was a Chardonnay. The second wine, also a white, seemed less fruity, drier and crisper — very clean, almost without any strong flavor at all. I wasn’t sure about this one, but I put down France as the origin just for a guess. I never did guess a varietal at all.

The third wine was a red with a strong bouquet and a very spicy spectrum of flavors. I guessed this one for a California, possibly a red Zinfandel. (I was remembering a friend of mine from the Bay Area who ordered it once when we were together at a bar, laughing at the tendency of the rest of the country to drink white Zin, which she regarded as a joke — which, I suppose, to serious wine drinkers, it is.) Wine number four was also a red, with a very smooth kind of velvety texture; I guessed it for, possibly, a French Merlot. Number five, a red for which a fresh bottle was opened just before my pour and which emerged very foamy at first, seemed to have a lighter flavor than some of the other reds; I had no idea what the origin or grape might be, so I guessed at a French Syrah. The last wine, another red, was another wine that seemed to have a certain smoothness of flavor and a flowery, fruity bouquet. I put this one down as possibly another California, but couldn’t think of what grape it might be.

When we had each had a taste of every wine and marked down our judgments/guesses, the identity of each wine was revealed to us. Wine #1: 2009 Treasure Hunter Alexander Valley Chardonnay! Our flyers described it as having “a succulent nose of exotic crushed fruit and lemon custard. With an opulent mouthfeel, it still shows good acidity and green apple, honey, spice and heaps of tropical fruit.” Mary got that one right, and I correctly identified it as a California wine.

Number 2: 2008 Escale Chardonnay Vins de pays de Mediterranee, from France. “The nose is very aromatic with notes of peaches and hints of passion fruit. Rich and full on the palate with a long-lasting finish.” I had guessed it for French, at least, so when it came to telling the two wine regions apart, I was two for two!

Wine #3: 2008 Hoe Down Cabernet Sauvignon. Another correct guess of a California, even though I was off on the grape. “This Cabernet has flavors of fresh raspberries and silky blueberries that balance perfectly. It has velvety oak nuances and round tannins.”

On Wine #4, I was again off on the grape, but right on the country. It was 2007 Escale Cabernet Sauvignon vin de pays d’Oc. “A nose of red and dark fruits. On the palate there is a silky texture with flavors of cassis and blackberries with a very nice structure and complex finish.”

On Wine #5, I made my sole correct guess of varietal, even though I missed guessing the origin. It turned out to be 2007 Clayhouse Vineyard Syrah. “Driven by dark berry fruit flavors (blackberry and plum), complemented with hints of black pepper, dusty oak, and slightly floral notes. The fine-grained tannins make it rich and soft in the mouth, and it’s balanced with a tart acid backbone.”

Last of all, Wine #6 was a complete miss for me: 2007 Côtes du Rhône Villages. “Old vines give this wine finesse and elegance. A deep ruby color, sweet aromas of black cherries, raspberries, and licorice. Full-bodied and fine, delivers a long and complex finish.”

At the end of the evening, though, considering how little I know about wine, I was pretty impressed with myself. I had managed to correctly guess four out of the six wine origins, even if I was only 1 for 5 on varietals. Maybe I am learning something! Oh, and congratulations to Ginger, who won the competition for most correct guesses. Thanks also to Greg of Purple Feet Distributing and Richard of Père Jacques Wine Imports for walking us through this test of our noses and palates.

One more thing to note: wine aside, this tasting was made even more enjoyable by the panoply of amazing hors d’ouevres that emerged unceasingly from the kitchen throughout. Chef Ruth outdid herself with mini-bruschettas featuring tapenades of artichoke, olive and roasted red pepper, spanakopitas, Hawaiian meatballs, antipasto skewers, smoked whitefish in phyllo cups, mini-crabcakes, Brie and raspberry preserves rolled in phyllo dough, smoked duck breast on mini-potato pancakes, and corn fritters with “Bistro sauce.” Sheer heaven! All of which means, the next time you see a wine tasting advertised at the Bistro, you’d better sign up quickly. Whether you can tell a French from a California or a Chardonnay from a Pinot Gris, a good time is guaranteed for all!

Our hors d’oeuvre lineup for Wednesday’s wine tasting

If you haven’t yet made your reservation for our “Bottle Shocker” wine tasting this Wednesday, take a look at the lineup of hors d’oeuvres we’re planning on serving with our California and French wines. If you have, take a look and let your mouth start watering!

Brie and Raspberry Phyllo Cigars
Trio of Tapenades on Bruschetta
Smoked Whitefish Paté in Phyllo Cups
House Smoked Duck Breast on Mini Potato Cake
Mini Crab Cakes
Antipasto Skewer
Spinach and Feta in Pastry

Hmm…what was that number for reservations again? We thought you’d be asking. It’s 216.481.9635. Don’t miss out!

Oh, and you may have already read on our Web site or in our Facebook events about the special dinner we have planned for October. We’ll be giving some more special details on that here soon!

Chef Todd’s Special: Salmon Coulibiac

Well, Chef Todd’s special for the week turned out to be a salmon in a crust, all right, but it’s a bit different from a Salmon Wellington. What exactly is a Salmon Coulibiac? Traditionally, it’s a French-inspired dish from Russia that originated around 1900, consisting of layers of fish, rice, and vegetables all wrapped up in a puff pastry loaf. Chef Todd’s approach is a bit different; he has topped delicious salmon with a salmon mousse, baked it in brioche, a breadlike crust, and served it with a lemony sauce. Alongside, there’s a wonderful shrimp-and-crab crème caramel atop a bed of sautéed spinach. It’s a very special treatment of seafood that we believe you will truly enjoy. Come in and try it!

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!

Behind the Dish: Crab Louis

Crab Louis is what you might call a “retro dish”: you don’t see it on all that many menus anymore. It appears to have originated somewhere on the West Coast before World War I; at least James Beard himself claimed to have first enjoyed the dish at around that time. At the time, the cities of Portland (Beard’s hometown), San Francisco and Seattle teemed with oyster and crab bars offering up the freshest and best Pacific seafood, any of which may have spurred the invention of Crab Louis.

What is it, exactly? It’s an entree-sized salad made with (of course) lump crab meat, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and hard-boiled eggs. What makes it distinctive is the dressing, which incorporates mayonnaise, chili sauce, lemon juice, horseradish and parsley. Try our version (we’ve got pickle in there, too — all served atop a wedge of Romaine) and see why this was said to be James Beard’s favorite crab dish. (They say the great opera star Enrico Caruso loved it too: when the Metropolitan Opera touring company played Seattle in 1904, he kept ordering it until none was left in the kitchen.) It’s a little different for a winter dish — more of a cool salad than a cozy warmer-upper — but we think you’ll find this spicy take on fresh seafood and crispy vegetables a welcome change of pace right about now.

The James Beard Project: Week 6

Here’s the lineup for Week 6 of the James Beard Project:

Monday, Dec. 7 — Spaghetti with Clam Sauce and Chorizo (Beard on Pasta, p. 97)

Tuesday, Dec. 8 — Baked Salmon with Ginger Sauce (James Beard Celebration, p. 178)

Wednesday, Dec. 9 — Gnocchi Verdi (Beard on Pasta, p. 62)

Thursday, Dec. 10 — Crab Louis (James Beard Celebration, p. 62)

Friday, Dec. 11 — Portuguese Fish Stew (Beard on Pasta, p. 69)

Saturday, Dec. 12 — Seafood À L’Américaine (The New James Beard, p. 222)