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!

Join us for June’s Salute to Latin America and the Caribbean!

It’s summertime — time to celebrate the sunshine, and warm and sunny flavors. Here at the Bistro, that means we’re serving up a series of specials during the month of June based on the lively cuisine of Latin America and the Caribbean. We’re starting this week with a reprise of a terrific special we introduced a while back, Ropa Vieja.

Ropa vieja originated in Spain’s Canary Islands, then migrated to the New World and became a popular dish throughout the Caribbean islands. Deriving its name from the Spanish words for “old clothes,” it’s a concoction of shredded flank steak in tomato sauce that we prepare sous vide, so the seasonings permeate the tender meat, before combining it with bell peppers, onions, cumin, garlic, cilantro, tomato and jalapeño peppers. We’re serving it with jalapeño-cheddar corn pudding, accompanied by seasoned black beans topped with the Mexican cheese queso blanco. If you’ve enjoyed our Ropa Vieja before, you’ll be happy it’s back. If not, this is your chance!

Another new addition to our specials has a tropical flair: Halibut with a Tropical Fruit Barbecue Sauce. This tasty fish is served with corn pudding and fried plantain tostones.

The weather is fine and the food here at the Bistro will help you enjoy summer to the fullest! Keep watching this space for more additions to our June lineup of Latin American and Caribbean-style specials.

Join us for “From Russia with Love” June 23

Get ready for a special kind of dinner this month as Bistro 185 presents “From Russia with Love,” pairing six Russian-themed courses with a variety of vodkas and champagnes, Wednesday, June 23 at 6:30 p.m. Our menu is already set, and you’re going to love it!

First Course
Three Caviars with Buckwheat Blini
Sour Cream, Chopped Egg, Onion and Parsley

Second Course
Cold Beet Borscht with Mushroom Dumpling

Third Course
Beef Filet with Wild Mushroom Stroganoff Sauce
Savory Noodle Kugel

Fourth Course
Trio of Russian Salads

Fifth Course
Chicken Kiev with Black Truffle Butter
Almond Saffron Pilaf
Apricot-Cumin Chutney

Sixth Course
Cheese Blintz with Cherry Brandy Sauce

The cost of this culinary visit to Russia is $65, plus tax and gratuity. To join us, call for reservations at 216.481.9635. очень вкусный (Delicious!)

Night at the Oscars: Giant and Ropa Vieja

For our “Night at the Oscars” special entree Thursday through Saturday, we’re honoring the film that won the 1956 Academy Award for Best Directing for George Stevens, the widescreen saga Giant. This movie about the effects of the oil industry — and a fierce personal rivalry — on two Texas ranching families deserves a dish with flavors as big as the Lone Star State itself. And some of the best of those flavors come from the influences of Spanish cuisine on American food, from the Southwest with its Tex-Mex cuisine to Miami and its Cuban, Caribbean and Canary Islands influences. Our entree is actually an example that originates in the Canaries, but which we’re treating with a Southwestern flair: ropa vieja.

Ropa vieja gets its name from the Spanish words for “old clothes,” possibly because of its “torn-up” look. But this concoction of shredded flank steak in tomato sauce tastes nothing like the laundry! We made ours by giving the steak the sous vide treatment overnight, heating it slowly in vacuum-sealed plastic with Southwestern seasoning to imbue it with plenty of tenderness and flavor. Then we combined it with bell peppers, onions, cumin, garlic, cilantro, tomato and jalapeño peppers to make it dance on your tongue even more. We’re serving it on a bed of corn pudding, accompanied by black beans prepared Southwestern style and topped with the Mexican cheese queso blanco. There’s freshly prepared pico de gallo sauce including chopped tomatoes, onions, chiles, lime juice and cilantro nestled in between the two. And we’re even adding freshly fried-up chicken empanadas for a finishing touch.

James Dean, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor never had it so good down on the ranch as you can have your dinner at Bistro 185 tonight. So come see us and enjoy a dish that will satisfy even a (wait for it) giant appetite. Olé!

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: Chile Glazed Country Ribs with Black Beans and Rice

The Julia Project travels south of the border for its flavors tonight, with a recipe developed and shared with Julia by Rick Bayless, who with his wife Deann runs the award-winning Frontera Grill and Topolobompo restaurants in Chicago. Rick became a student of cooking Mexican style and came up with this recipe that combines country-style pork ribs (which have lots of meat per rib and a great texture) with a marinade made of roasted ancho and grajillo chili peppers. The marinade also includes garlic, meat or poultry broth, cider vinegar, cumin seeds, ground cloves, peppercorns, oregano, cinnamon, salt and sugar. After marinating in the roasted chili pepper mixture, the ribs are baked in foil with water, basted with their cooking juices and the leftover marinade, until crispy on the outside and full of flavor on the inside. (You can see Rick preparing the recipe in a video linked here.)

We’ll be serving them with black beans and rice for a meal that is sure to wake up tastebuds longing for a meaty pork rib with a spicy tang. Come join us!