“OPA!” dinner was something to cheer about!

OK, The Tenant is a little embarrassed. Something happened to me and I forgot the “OPA!” dinner was Wednesday of this week, not Thursday. Where my head went, I don’t know. Luckily, however, I didn’t miss it, because it would have been a shame to miss out on all this divine Greek cuisine and wine. If you were there too, you know that spirits were high at this dinner and for a good reason: it not only had those components, but an extra touch of Greek ambiance provided by both traditional and nontraditional Greek music on the stringed instrument known as the bouzouki. It was enough to make anyone wish the Bistro was big enough to accommodate a dance floor!

Things started out on a classic note with the serving of Lamb Keftede with Tzatziki Sauce, sitting on a bed of greens. Keftedes are Greek meatballs, made with bulgur, and ground lamb is a traditional meat used in them. These keftedes had a delightfully crunchy fried outside and tender, meaty, spicy interior with a hint of mint. The yogurt sauce atop them was a cool and tasty complement. This course was paired with Nemea ’05, a light-bodied red wine with touches of plum and cherry.

Next came a frequent feature of Greek cuisine, a fish course. This one was presented as Sea Bass in the Style of Corfu, which meant we received a perfectly cooked slice of sea bass surrounded by the most tender and buttery roasted vegetables you can imagine. Artichokes, tiny potatoes, and Greek olives were accented with lemon, rosemary, and garlic cloves roasted to pure sweetness. The wine partner for this one was Moschofilero ’09, a white wine made from an aromatic Greek grape that I found smooth and airy, a good wine for the fish.

The salad course followed, and this salad was definitely not the same old mix of greens. The Greek Village Salad was a mixture of marinated chunks and slices of cucumber, red and yellow pepper, grape tomatoes, feta cheese and Greek olives. Each serving was topped with a dolmade, the classic Greek cabbage-roll-like concoction of rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice, and accompanied by a slice of freshly baked and grilled pita bread. The astringent, slightly minty salad was a refreshing change of pace, especially with the Santorini ’06, a dry and fragrant wine made from grapes described to us as being especially suited for the volcanic, ashy soil, hot sun and breeze off the Aegean Sea where they are grown. You can even taste a hint of the soil’s ashiness and minerality in the wine, if you pay close attention.

The next dish was one of the more familiar Greek dishes: spanakopita, the traditional phyllo-dough creation filled with feta cheese and spinach. Chef Ruth added a special touch to this one, though, by including chicken in the filling and saucing it with a dill-lemon beurre blanc that was simply heavenly. It was savory and yet slightly sweet, just perfect. The wine alongside was a Merlot-Xinomavro blend, a marriage of familiar Merlot with one of Greece’s principal red wine grapes that makes for a wine with a deep, full body and a great deal of warmth.

Course number five was Shrimp Santorini: a concoction of two plump, spicy shrimp in a sauce of tomatoes, feta cheese, peppers and onions topping a tender bed of orzo, the small ricelike pasta. This was an especially savory and amazing combination with a slight licorice or anise hint from the ouzo blended into the sauce. The traditional Greek liqueur gave it just the tiniest kick. Our wine for this course was Naoussa ’04, from the same Macedonian region as Xinomavro, another red but lighter than the Merlot-Xinomavro blend.

The evening came to a finish with a dessert course that reflected Chef Ruth’s sense of imagination. It has often seemed to me that all Greek desserts consist of only three different ingredients: wheat (as phyllo dough or shredded wheat), nuts, and honey, but this presentation was just a little different. The Phyllo Nests with Fresh Berries and Honey-Infused Crème Fraîche were a nice variation on the traditional, as was the very tiny — and very delicious — Caramelized Pistachio, Walnut, and Almond Tartlet in a miniature phyllo cup. With this course came Metaxa Brandy, which provides a warm glow indeed to finish off the meal.

Everyone seemed to be truly getting into the spirit of this event and enjoying the special atmosphere provided by the musical stylings of Abe “Dr. Bouzouki” Anderson, who has been playing the instrument since he was 11 years old. The good doctor, born in Australia but now living in Euclid, boasts quite the repertoire, much of which we had the opportunity to enjoy. In addition to the songs you expect to hear from a Greek musician — “Zorba the Greek,” “Never on Sunday” and such — he plays a mean Hava Nagila, and can segue from that to “Turkey in the Straw” without missing a beat. From The Godfather to Fiddler on the Roof, he seems to do it all! To hear him in action, check out his YouTube channel, or go see him with his band, Orion Express. He regularly plays the Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Festival on Mayfield Road in August, so if this dinner whetted your appetite for more Greek food and music, you can go there to hear more of him as part of a group. He seemed to have as good a time playing for us as we did listening to his music.

Once again, the Bistro served up a dinner unlike all the rest, with a selection of flavors to which we could respond only one way: “OPA!” Which, as Dr. Bouzouki helpfully pointed out to us, is Greek for “Yee-ha!” Don’t miss what’s on tap for May: watch this space for more information on the Sake Dinner!

“OPA!” Greek Wine Dinner menu is here!

There’s so much going on at the Bistro this month it may seem hard to catch your breath. And indeed, the menu we’ve got planned for the “OPA!” Greek Wine Dinner on Wednesday, April 27, may just take away what breath you have left! Plan to be here for this culinary visit to the Greek Isles:

First Course
Lamb Keftede with Tzatziki Sauce
Wine: Santorini ’06

Second Course
Sea Bass in the Style of Corfu
with Artichokes, Lemon, Potatoes, Greek Olives, Oregano, Rosemary,
and Garlic
Wine: Moschofilero ’09

Third Course
Greek Village Salad with Pita Bread
Wine: Merlot Xinomavro ’09

Fourth Course
Chicken and Spinach Spanakopita with Dill-Lemon Beurre Blanc
Wine: Naoussa ’04

Fifth Course
Shrimp Santorini: Shrimp, Tomatoes, Feta Cheese, Orzo, and Ouzo
Wine: Nemea ’05

Sixth Course
Phyllo Nests with Fresh Berries and Honey-Infused Crème Fraîche
Caramelized Pistachio, Walnut, and Almond Tartlet
Wine: Metaxa Brandy

The “OPA!” dinner is $65 per person plus tax and gratuity. Doesn’t just reading about it make you feel like doing Zorba’s dance? Call 216.481.9635 to reserve your spot. We won’t be smashing any plates at the Bistro, but this Greek feast will be plate-smashing good!

Irish Spirits Dinner a most tasty trip!

The Tenant is pleased to report that I made it all the way through the most recent special dinner just fine, as I thought I would. And I’m so glad I did, because missing out on any of the courses in this one would have been sad indeed. Irish or not, the Irish Spirits dinner was enough to–OK, sounds corny, but true–have your heart dancing a jig!

It was fun to taste the various Irish spirits, but that wasn’t my primary reason for attending this one. I tend to be more of a food person, so while it was an education to try out the various liquid libations, I focused more on the edibles.

The first course of House-Smoked Irish Salmon Ravioli was just amazing. The ravioli was Ohio City Pasta, filled with the most tender and sensational smoked salmon, gently coated in a cream sauce that exuded the wonderful fragrance of dill right off the top. The delicate saucing was just ideal for this dish. It was accompanied by Bushmill’s 16 Year single malt whisky, which is powerful stuff indeed. As I said, I’m not big on alcohol in general, but my dining companion certainly enjoyed it, as I don’t doubt any fan of Irish spirits would.

Next was an unusual idea for an Irish platter. On St. Patrick’s Day, and even throughout Cleveland’s ethnic restaurants, corned-beef-and-cabbage specials abound. But who else bundles that dish into a neat, tidy little empanada? This one was fantastic, the empanada lightly flaky and not at all greasy, with the horseradish mustard sauce served alongside just the right condiment to bring out the flavors. This one belongs on the Happy Hour Menu! Alongside the empanada was a Potato-Leek-Bacon Chowder so creamy and rich with flavor that I could have eaten a potful.

The spirit accompanying this course was Boru Irish Vodka, which I found interesting for its smoothness and a kind of intriguing, slightly sweet taste. I’m used to thinking of vodka as flavorless unless some kind of flavor has been added, so this was a different experience for me. As strong as the legendary Irish king for whom it was named, Boru is made from pure spring water and distilled five times. Definitely a change of pace!

The third course was probably the most interesting to me from a “brand-new food experience” standpoint. I had never before had a Scotch egg: a shelled, hard-boiled egg, wrapped in a layer of sausage, then rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Well, now I know of something new to me that I like a lot! (I guess when it comes to fried food, and sausage, I am there.) Chef Ruth’s Scotch egg was served on a lovely, refreshing bed of leafy Bibb lettuce and drizzled with a delightful Green Goddess dressing that made it even tastier. The drink for this course was Magner’s Hard Irish Cider–quite different from what I’m used to thinking of as cider–more like apple juice with a kick.

The fourth course was a pair of Baby Lamb Chops with Mint Shallot Sauce, resting on a bed of mashed Red Bliss Potatoes with Spring Onions. The lamb was just slightly pink and oh, so tender. Now it can be told, I suppose: when asked, I shared a bite with someone (who shall not be named) who had not signed up for this particular dinner (being more of a wine buff) but who had come to the Bistro that evening anyway and couldn’t resist wanting to know what the lamb course was like. Well, once he tasted it, he was a pretty happy guy, which came as no surprise to me. Perhaps he had second thoughts! Regarding the potatoes, they were aptly named, because to me, they were pure bliss, with just a hint of cider vinegar in the sauce that really brought the flavor out. I never would have thought on my own that mashers would benefit from a touch of cider vinegar saucing, but these did, and in spades! Another “I could eat a whole pot of this alone” dish.

O’Hara’s Irish Stout was the drink of the course, and I had a sip or two, although I’m not really a stout drinker. I think the people across from me were more experienced in the realm of Irish spirits, though, and enjoying the chance to sample a wide variety like this.

Last, but most certainly not least, came the dessert course: Baileys Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse with Scones, Berries, and Clotted Cream. The clotted cream was served on top of each tiny, halved scone next to our ramekins of mousse. My dining companion summed up the scones excellently: “off the hook!” As for the mousse, it was topped with whipped cream made from more of the Baileys. My dining companion offered a taste of her mousse to a third party, who was very appreciative! I think we ended up convincing two more people that maybe they should’ve signed up for this dinner after all!

The final spirit was Homemade Tullamore Dew Irish Cream, which was tasty but seemed almost a surfeit of riches considering what we already had in the mousse and the cream. Still, a fine end to a very satisfying meal.

The takeaway? If you love great food but the lineup of alcoholic beverages at a given Bistro 185 dinner is a take-or-leave, you might want to give it a try regardless. Because if you don’t, you’re going to miss out on some incredible food that’s worth the price of the dinner on its own. And those of us who attend regularly can testify to that! Of course, if you are a huge fan of both Emerald Isle food and drink, this one had to leave your Irish eyes smiling.

Don’t forget: this dinner was not the end of special cuisine Irish-style at Bistro 185 this month. They’ll be wrapping things up this Wednesday with the 3-for-$30 Vegan Irish Dinner, so be sure to plan on stopping by on the 30th so as not to miss out. Is it possible to enjoy Irish cuisine without corned beef? You bet, when your Irish stew is made with gardein! Not to mention which, this is another chance to get some of those Red Bliss potato mashers that delighted me–and some more unbelievable mousse. So, get your Irish up and come to the Bistro Wednesday! You’re sure to enjoy it!

Enjoy the luck of the Irish at our Irish Spirits Dinner March 23

March is traditionally a month when it’s easy to find Irish spirit in the air…and Irish spirits flowing (along with an awful lot of green beer)…on the 17th, anyway. But why confine the celebrations to one 24-hour period? By the time St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, all of us in Northeast Ohio are tired of winter and ready for an extended spell of warm, sunny weather. So the more we can lighten up the atmosphere as we welcome springtime, the better!

Bistro 185 wants to extend that feeling a little, so on Wednesday, March 23, we’re rekindling the atmosphere of the Emerald Isle with an Irish Spirits Dinner. This feast will offer an interesting twist on classic Irish cuisine, coupled with a marvelous selection of beloved Irish spirits of all kinds. Take a look at this menu:

Course 1
House-Smoked Irish Salmon Ravioli with Dill Cream Sauce
Bushmill’s 16 Year

Course 2
Corned Beef and Cabbage Empanada with Horseradish Mustard Sauce
Potato-Leek-Bacon Chowder
Boru Irish Vodka

Course 3
Scotch Egg and Bibb Lettuce Salad
Magner’s Hard Irish Cider

Course 4
Baby Lamb Chops with Mint Shallot Sauce
Red Bliss Potatoes with Spring Onions
O’Hara’s Irish Stout

Course 5
Baileys Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse
Scones, Berries, and Clotted Cream
Homemade Tullamore Irish Cream

This dinner is $65 per person plus tax and gratuity. Don’t miss out–call for reservations at 216.481.9635 now!

“A Night in Budapest” is vegan magic

Greetings, Bistro fans and vegan cuisine fans. The Tenant is finally back, with some time out for a cold. I regret to say that as a result of this cold, I decided not to attend the $10 wine tasting this week (I never want to risk making any of the other fine Bistro patrons, or the terrific staff for that matter, ill if I can help it). If you attended, however, and have a comment you’d like to make, please feel free!

As for “A Night in Budapest,” the latest Bistro venture into gourmet vegan cuisine last week, that was a fine evening indeed (as you know if you tried it yourself). The 3-for-$30 meal began with a first course of Tomato-Fennel Soup with Cornmeal Dumplings:

This dish was delightfully spicy with its blend of tomatoes, fennel, onion, paprika, and other flavorings. The cornmeal dumplings were deliciously tender, and the whole thing was topped with fresh sprigs of dill. A wonderfully warming winter soup.

Then it was on to the main dish, Vegan Chicken Paprikash with Potato Gnocchi:

This “chicken” was, as is true of many Bistro vegan dishes, made with gardein, which I’m told is made primarily from wheat gluten. Obviously not a choice for those with celiac or other issues requiring a gluten-free diet, but it does make an incredible chicken stand-in that is extremely difficult to tell from the real thing in terms of flavor. It worked perfectly in this dish, paired with classic traditional-tasting potato gnocchi and a sauce that, from my understanding, included cashew milk. It was rich, creamy in texture, and tasted just like something you might enjoy in a traditional home-cooking Eastern European ethnic restaurant.

The grand conclusion of the meal was Hungarian-Style Crepes with Apricot Preserves:

The crepes, made with almond milk and without eggs, were ultra-thin and delicious, layered with sweet fruit preserves, and accompanied by a snowing of powdered sugar, fresh berries, and “whipped cream” made with almond milk combined with a little tapioca to firm it up. A fantastic dessert and the perfect complement to the rest of the meal.

Altogether, “An Evening in Budapest” proved that even hearty, traditional ethnic cooking is possible using all vegan ingredients, and you won’t miss a bit of flavor!

Want more proof? Another opportunity is coming soon. On Wednesday, February 23, Bistro 185 presents “A Trip to India,” a three-course vegan dinner themed on Indian cuisine beginning to end:

First Course
Chickpea-Onion Samosas
Cilantro and Mint Chutney
Field Green Salad with Tamarind Vinaigrette

Entree
Cashew-Coconut Lemongrass Curry with Vegetables and Tofu
Organic Brown Basmati Rice

Dessert
Coconut-Cardamom Panna Cotta with Mango Coulis
Fresh Berries

Sounds special, doesn’t it? The dinner will be available between 5 and 9 p.m.; to ensure yourself a reserved time, call 216.481.9635 now and prepay with your credit card. Cost is $30 per person, plus 20 percent gratuity and 7.75 percent tax additional.

At Bistro 185, vegan dining is more than just a meal; it’s a tasteful journey into everything this type of cuisine can be. Book yourself this passage to India now!

Our next Vegan “3 for $30”: “A Night in Budapest”

Vegans–and adventurous non-vegans–you’re going to love the theme of our January Vegan “3 for $30” prix fixe dinner: “A Night in Budapest.” Our vegan dinner for Wednesday, January 19, features dishes inspired by the best of Hungarian cuisine:

Starter
Tomato- Fennel Soup with Cornmeal Dumplings

Entree
Vegan Chicken Paprikash with Potato Gnocchi, Wilted Sweet-and-Sour Cucumber Salad with Dill

Dessert
Hungarian-Style Crepes with Apricot Preserves and Fresh Berry Garnish with Almond-Milk Whipped Cream

Make your prepaid reservations now at 216.481.9635 (for any time between 5 and 9). You won’t want to miss this!

Just a few additions make magic!

Our red snapper has enjoyed a few special additions since our description of it before final preparation of the dish this afternoon and evening…just a few. We thought haricots verts would make a good vegetable addition, and it turns out we were right…they blend in perfectly with the flavor of the fish and the buttery sauce, especially with a slice of lemon and a touch of dill. Then we topped off the cucumber that accompanies the dish — as well as the fish itself — with just a wee bit of fresh chinook salmon caviar.

Behind that addition lies a tale. An acquaintance of ours recently went fishing in Lake Ontario near Olcott, New York, not far from Niagara Falls, where the reintroduction of salmon stock to the lake has helped boost the economy of many a small lakeside town. This is the kind of place where, if you catch an 18-pound chinook, you throw it back because it’s too small. Our friend was lucky enough to catch two huge female salmon loaded with roe, and while he knew what to do with the salmon meat — Marc has taught him how to smoke his own salmon — he didn’t know what to do with all that roe, so he gave it to Marc. Marc processed it by hand — not easy, but we think you’ll believe the effort was worth it. This kind of caviar isn’t heavily salty; it has a milder flavor than many commercially processed caviars. It just seemed like an ideal complement for our red snapper.

As it so happens, you could say it’s Surf and Turf Night here at the Bistro, because we’re also serving up an encore of the Beef Tenderloin we featured last night. Thursdays are always Reprise Nights during the Julia Project, in which we bring back a popular dish from earlier in the week, but this one was so well-liked we brought it back a night early!