Cultures combine deliciously at Israeli Fusion Wine Dinner

Hi, Tenant here…unfortunately the cold season seems to be doing a number on me, and between the sniffles I’ve had a slow time putting up the video and writing the review for the latest fabulous Bistro dinner. But good things come to those who wait, so here we go:

Now to describe it…Let’s just say that at six courses, this was one huge feast. I made it through only three before I had to ask for a couple of them to be packed up so I’d have room for dessert. While I always enjoy the leftovers, I also know that not eating (even if I just sample) each dish in turn always minimizes the full experience a bit, so I regret that, but boy…the opening dishes were so good there was no way I could not do justice to them and that meant I had a lot less room by the time the fourth course came around! Yet all were delicious, each in its own way. And each showcased a particular aspect of global Jewish cuisine that can now be found in Israel. With the exception of the dessert course, also, all the wine was Israeli, from the Recanati Winery, and that too was a display of variety.

The festivities began with what I’ll gladly admit is probably my favorite traditional Jewish food, latkes. While not Jewish myself, I’m descended from Germans on my mother’s side–her parents were German–so potato pancakes have always been part of my family food tradition. And one of the things I’ve always loved about the Bistro is how closely Ruth’s latkes approximate the potato pancakes my mother used to make. You can thus imagine my pleasure at getting to eat one that combined potatoes and apples (applesauce being the favored condiment for this food at my house) and topped with some of Marc’s famous house-cured salmon and Israeli feta herb cream (Mom never had that–if only she had!). This was accompanied by a small cup of salad of various cubed veggies cooked tenderly and marinated in something that tasted pretty good. I didn’t even care, I just knew it was tasty. Our wine representative for the evening, Pat Fisher, explained that the accompaniment for this dish, Recanati’s 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, was grown on the coastal plains of Shamron, where hot days and cool nights provide the grapes with a climate much like that of Northern California. I found this wine fruity and intensely spicy in a way, and it set off the dish very nicely.

The second course was another dose of what tends to come to mind when one thinks of traditional American Jewish cookery of European origin…chicken soup with matzoh balls. But this version combined the traditional and classic with a taste of the Middle East. Ruth used her own mother’s Ashkenazi traditional recipe and served it with matzoh balls stuffed with walnuts, onion, cinnamon and cumin. It was a delicious twist. First, the soup…nothing floating it it but some slices of carrot and snippings of parsley, rich with the purest and most satisfying chicken flavor, yet clear enough to read a book through. (I have no idea how many times she must have strained it to get it that clear, but wow, was it clear.) In each bowl, a light and fluffy matzoh ball full of flavors that really made it sing (the Italian-Greek side of me loved the cinnamon especially). To drink alongside, Recanati 2009 Chardonnay, from the cooler northern regions of upper Galilee, smooth and buttery on the tongue and just right.

Course number three was one I would love to see the Bistro add to the fall dinner menu lineup (actually, I could say that of all three of the remaining entree courses, but this one really stole my heart). The 24-Hour Sous Vide Moroccan Lamb Tangine was just amazing. This was an incredible stew of meltingly tender chunks and shreds of lamb in a rich dark brown sauce flavored with pine nuts, apricots and sweet currants, topping a bed of couscous. You couldn’t ask for a heartier dish to warm your belly or your spirits on a cold autumn night, and oh, so rich with flavor and spice…With this dish we were poured a 2010 Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon, which we were told originates from higher, cooler elevations and grapes that produce a Cab as deeply fruity and spicy as our lamb.

I usually learn something new at every wine dinner I attend at the Bistro, and at this one, I learned that for many centuries, India had a sizable Jewish population–one that by now is almost gone. Most of these Cochin Jews emigrated to Israel, where they brought their Indian food traditions with them. Thus the fourth course was Chicken Curry with Grilled Naan and Drizzled Virgin Olive Oil. I love Indian food, so even though I was close to the point of not being able to fit in another bite, I had to have a taste of this dish before packing it up for later. But of course, I derived the most enjoyment from it by finishing it off as a separate meal. The chicken thigh was perfectly cooked and coated in a sauce rich with curry and chickpeas. The traditional Indian naan bread was hot and tasty (had to find room to fit that in). The wine was a 2005 Syrah, and although I could take only a sip or two, it struck me as a deep, warm, smooth accompaniment.

I could fit in but a tiny taste of course number five, but luckily, it saved well and I was also able to enjoy its full deliciousness on a delayed basis. This was yet another dish brought to Israel from Jews who came from elsewhere–in this case, Spain. Ladino-Style Fish Ragout is Jewish cooking with a Spanish accent:  in this case, a good-sized chunk of halibut simmering in a tomato-based sauce with fingerling potatoes. The flavor and quality of this fish was just outstanding and the sauce complemented it wonderfully. Another upper Galilee-sourced wine, a 2009 Merlot, was served with this course.

Finally–somehow I managed to find room for it, and am glad I did–came dessert. Actually, a quite simple, Eastern European dessert: cheese blintzes, served with a blood orange coulis and garnished with fresh raspberries. My blintz was hot and tasty and sweet and delicious. The original plan was to serve Israeli Sabra liqueur, which combines the flavors of chocolate and oranges, with this dish, but unfortunately the distributor was unable to obtain it in time, and as a result the Sabra was substituted with a Washington State red wine called Chocolate Shop. The wine is infused with chocolate to provide it that classic flavor, and while it wasn’t the Sabra, it made an interesting and pleasant companion to the blintz.

I enjoyed this dinner from beginning to end, even if my eyes were a bit bigger than my stomach. And, of course, as you already know, the Bistro has yet another lineup of special events ready for October, each of which will offer its own pleasures: the Vegan Taste of Fall Oct. 13, the Clam Bake Oct. 14, the Twenty-First Amendment Beer Dinner Oct. 18, and the sure-to-be-amazing True Blood Season 2 Wine and Spirits Dinner Oct. 27. Save the dates and make your reservations now!

In the meantime, in case you missed it, here’s a link to the News-Herald’s story this past Wednesday in which Chef Ruth talked to Janet Podolak about Rosh Hashanah food traditions. It includes a recipe for her chicken soup with matzoh balls, so you can give it a whirl yourself. Try it; it could make a sweet New Year for you! I only wish I had about five gallons of it in my apartment right now–I think it would knock this cold right out of me!

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We’re going “Down on the Farm” in August!

This August, the Bistro goes “Down on the Farm” so our guests can enjoy the greatest products of the local harvest in the best season for eating local! Our special dinners for the month — both vegan and non-vegan — focus on fresh local produce from some of the best providers in Ohio, as well as the harvest we’re reaping now daily from our own rooftop garden.

Our Vegan Dinner Series features another 3-for-$30 special, our Farm to Table Dinner, Wednesday, August 17. Our three courses:

Appetizer
Ohio Corn Chowder with Jalapeno Corn Muffin

Entree
Local and Organic Ratatouille
Rooftop Garden Herb-Crusted Gardein
Roasted Local Fingerling Potatoes

Dessert
Grilled Stone Fruit Compote
Olive Oil-Lemon Cake
Almond Milk Whipped Cream

For the non-vegans and wine lovers, our Farmer’s Market Wine Dinner at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, August 24, spotlights five courses of local goodness, paired with wines from Laurello Vineyards & Winery of Geneva. Cost of this dinner is $65 plus tax and gratuity. Our course lineup:

First Course
Hunt and Peck Organic Greens Salad with Blue Pike Farm Organic Sous Vide Egg
Crispy Pork Belly
Local Honey Lemon Dressing
Wine: Chardonnay

Second Course
Ohio Corn Chowder
Tempura Lake Erie Walleye
Wine: Dry Riesling

Third Course
Organic Chicken Roulade with Rooftop Garden Herbs
Organic and Local Ratatouille
Wine: ’07 Cabernet Sauvignon

Fourth Course
Caprese Ravioli, House Made with Ohio City Pasta
with Rooftop Garden Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Basil Smoked Tomato Cream Sauce
Wine: ’08 Pinot Noir

Fifth Course
House-Made Snowville Creamery Peach Ice Cream
Brandy Peach Compote
Wine: 2010 Vintage Ice Wine

Both of these dinners will be something special, so don’t delay — call 216.481.9635 and make your reservations for them now!

Join us for one (or both) of our “Hello Summer” dinners

The Memorial Day Weekend is the perfect weekend for us to announce our next set of special dinners coming your way in June.

First, on Thursday, June 16, starting at 5 p.m., we’ll present our next 3-for-$30 Vegan Dinner, “Hello Summer,” featuring just the right flavors in vegan dining for summertime:

Appetizer
Wild Field Greens Salad with Blueberries, Strawberries, Sunflower Seeds and Toasted Almonds with Blueberry Vinaigrette

Entree
Gardein “Chicken” Scallopini
Asparagus, Pea, Meyer Lemon and Basil Risotto

Dessert
Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble

The following week, on Wednesday, June 22 at 6:30 p.m., we’ll seat our “Hello Summer” White Wine Dinner, featuring five courses and five white wines for $60 per person plus tax and gratuity. The menu is just as cool and summery as our Vegan Dinner menu:

First Course
Seared Day Boat Scallop
Risotto with Peas and Asparagus
Truffle Oil Drizzle
Wine: Henri Bourgeois Les Baronnes

Second Course
Field Greens Salad with Strawberries, Blueberries, Almonds and Sunflower Seeds
Strawberry and White Wine Vinaigrette
Wine: Brandborg Pinot Gris

Third Course
Crispy Duck with Star Anise-Rhubarb Sauce
Wine: Clayhouse Adobe White

Fourth Course
House-Made Artichoke and Ricotta Ravioli
Rooftop Garden Herb Cream Sauce
Wine: Buried Cane Dry Reisling

Fifth Course
Fresh Berry and Mascarpone Phyllo Cup
Wine: Andrieux & Fils Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise

To make your reservation for either, or both, dinners, call 216.481.9635 and ensure your place now. There’ll be fabulous dining this summer at Bistro 185, and our “Hello Summer” offerings are just the beginning!

Chef Todd goes Italian with Vodka Penne Pasta

Chef Todd is showing off his Italian chops in this week’s special, with a dish that proves you don’t have to go to Little Italy to have a great meal Italian-style: Vodka Penne Pasta. This penne à la vodka is rich with prosciutto, tomatoes, basil, scallions, heavy cream, vodka and fresh mozzarella, just like you’d get on Murray Hill. Which makes sense, because Todd actually used to cook in Little Italy. Order a plate of his penne and be sure to ask for bread with it, so you can soak up that creamy, cheesy sauce. Primo!

Behind the Dish: Le Plaisir’s Truffled Pasta

Here’s all you really need to know about tonight’s James Beard dish: it’s pappardelle pasta with truffle paté, truffle oil, Madeira or Marsala, and a touch of cream — to which we are adding four lovely shrimp. Simple, and yet rich, creamy and special. Order it and start your weekend off right!

Behind the Dish: Filet of Sole Casanova

Why is tonight’s James Beard entree called “Filet of Sole Casanova”? Really not sure. There’s not much about it that will make you think of the 18th-century Venetian adventurer reputed for his romantic skills. But it is kind of a romantic dish — at least if you love cuisine inspired by India. This dish really brings Indian flavors to the fore in a delightful way.

The fish is simply sautéed; it’s the sauce that makes the difference. Beard’s original recipe calls for celery root, but we substituted fresh fennel and celery, sliced super-thin, and sweated these along with mushrooms in butter, then added artichoke hearts for texture and flavor and chopped Golden Delicious apples for a touch of sweetness, flavor and crunch. All of this was cooked down and reduced with heavy cream and curry to create a rich and delicious sauce.

Our sauced filet of sole is accompanied by a mound of Indian jasmine rice, steamed with cardamom seeds, sautéed onion, cinnamon stick, star anise and cumin. The finished dish is aromatic, flavorful and a delightful change from the ordinary. Try it — you just might fall in love.

Behind the Dish: Old-Fashioned Chicken Fricassee with Shell Pasta

For tonight’s James Beard featured dish, we’re going to get the blogging train back on the tracks by posting about a dish which, in Mr. Beard’s recipe, calls for a form of pasta called rotelle. What are rotelle? Sounds fancy, but it’s just Italian for “little wheels.” In his original recipe, the dish is served over what generations of Cleveland children came to know and love as “Choo Choo Wheels.” Maybe you even remember the train printed on the back of the box of Ideal Macaroni that you could cut out and glue some uncooked Choo Choo Wheels onto, if you got the chance to swipe a few before Mom used them all to make your lunch.

Well, nostalgia is fun, but given that most of our diners here at the Bistro are past the age of sitting at the table playing with their Choo Choo Wheels, we’re substituting shell pasta in our Old Fashioned Chicken Fricassee. Trust us, it’ll still taste the same. Our chicken is a mixture of white and dark meat, with some of it thigh meat still on the bone for richer flavor. And you’ll get a lot of chicken along with this rich sauce that includes butter, flour, heavy cream, onions, celery, shallots, egg yolks, and some spicing courtesy of salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg and lemon juice.

This is dinner just like Mom used to make…assuming Mom used James Beard’s cookbooks, that is. If not, you owe it to yourself to taste what you’ve been missing, especially on a day like today on which the snowflakes are starting to flutter down. Put your wheels down at the Bistro tonight, and enjoy some real comfort food.

Behind the Dish: Chicken Tetrazzini

Chicken TetrazziniToday we think of Chicken Tetrazzini as a rather common dish, but it wasn’t named after a common person, or so the story goes. There was once a trend for naming culinary creations after celebrities, and Chicken Tetrazzini, we are told, was named to honor the Italian opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini, “The Florentine Nightingale,” star of the San Francisco Opera. Although there are many variations on the recipe, the common elements are chicken, a butter-cream-Parmesan cheese sauce flavored with wine and vegetables, spaghetti and a grated Parmesan topping.

Most people have eaten Chicken Tetrazzini at some point, but have you ever eaten James Beard’s recipe for Chicken Tetrazzini? Chances are you haven’t — and you’ve never had it quite the way we’re cooking it for tonight.

Beard’s recipe calls for chicken, sweet red peppers, butter, flour, chicken broth, heavy cream, black pepper, Tabasco sauce, sherry, spaghetti, bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese. We’re using close to the same ingredients, with a combination of white and dark meat chicken, but we’re roasting the sweet red peppers for extra flavor, adding roasted garlic, and substituting Sriracha hot sauce — the popular chili sauce most often found on the tabletops of Chinese and other Asian restaurants — for the Tabasco and Marsala wine for the sherry. The bread crumbs topping our tetrazzini are a combination of regular and Japanese panko bread crumbs for extra crispness.

This isn’t your old school cafeteria’s Chicken Tetrazzini — as you will find out when you taste it! You get crisp, creamy and just a little spicy in the same dish — definitely uncommon.

Behind the Dish: Curried Mussels

Curried MusselsThis evening’s James Beard dish, Curried Mussels, has a pretty straightforward recipe. Mussels are added to sautéed onion and garlic with a fish or chicken stock. When they’re cooked, they’re flavored up with butter, curry and cayenne.

We’re finishing ours with a touch of cream, and serving them the way Beard’s cookbook suggests: with fried onion straws. We’re also adding our own twist: while the Beard recipe calls for rice, ours is a jazzed-up treatment with tropical fruits, including coconut. Come in and try it!

Behind the Dish: Noodles with Cabbage

Tonight, we kick off our James Beard project with a dish that is truly exemplary of his approach to American food, an entree that reflects a big chunk of this city’s ethnic heritage. Can you get any more “Cleveland” than Noodles with Cabbage?

This dish, from his cookbook Beard on Pasta, is one he writes of as a creation he invented years ago as a good dish to serve with sausages and beer. It sautées cabbage in butter or bacon fat, then adds a touch of flour to make a roux, to which ground black pepper and light cream are added. Many different kinds of pasta go well with this dish; tonight, we’re using farfalle, or bowtie pasta. And, rather than sausages, our accompanying meat is sautéed pork medallions in a sauce made of horseradish, grainy mustard and cream.

This is a rich, silky, creamy bowl full of flavor with only a hint of spice — the horseradish and mustard add savoriness without heat, and without overpowering the dish. Very comforting on a chilly fall evening.

If this sounds like your idea of Cleveland soul food, come down to the Bistro tonight and satisfy your soul.