Vegan Dinner spins Mediterranean magic

Because The Tenant had weekend guests, I’m a bit behind reporting on the latest Vegan Dinner. But now that I have a bit of time to describe it, one word covers it well: WOW.

Festivities began with the platter of mezze, the Mediterranean term for a selection of small dishes served as appetizers. This particular selection of mezze was so delicious and filling it could serve as a meal in and of itself!

Laid out beautifully on a platter atop a trio of romaine lettuce leaves and dusted with spice were an assortment of Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves, Tabbouleh Salad, Hummus, Greek Olives and Spanakopita, accompanied by still-warm toasted pita wedges and lemon slices. I’m Southern Italian on my father’s side and we suspect there’s some Greek in our heritage, too, even if we can’t directly point to it, so to me this is like ethnic soul food in many ways. I didn’t grow up eating it, but something in me just gravitates to eating it very naturally. What struck me most strongly about this platter was that everything on the plate was just so absolutely fresh. The hummus, that well-known paste of ground chickpeas, seemed as if it had literally just been made, and spread on a piece of warm toasted pita wedge, it was simply fantastic. The tabbouleh salad was cool and rich with flavor and smacked perfectly of lemon juice and mint. The stuffed grape leaves, or dolmades, were delightful little packages of tasty rice. The spanakopita, normally a spinach-feta cheese turnover, was still warm, the phyllo dough crisp and flaky. Obviously, the cheese used must have been vegan, but I couldn’t tell the difference. And the olives were a true treat.

This dish alone nearly filled me up. It was all I could do to find room for the rest of the meal. But it’s a good thing I did find room for at least part of it, because the vegan moussaka was wonderfully done.

Layers of eggplant, tomato, spices and a custard made with a soy-milk base–indistinguishable to me from traditional moussaka custard–topped a healthy pile of yellow couscous. Yum. I couldn’t finish it all that night, but I am doing so tonight.

What can I say? I had to make some type of room for dessert–or at least try. And I’m glad I did, because the Apple, Apricot and Pine Nut Galette with
Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise was superb.

Flaky open pastry, tender and sweet fruit accented with toasty pine nuts, snowed with powdered sugar and an amazingly rich creme anglaise served on the side to pour over the top–thick, rich, indistinguishable from dairy–and all of it served heartwarmingly hot, as the best pastry should be. Divine!

If you’re vegan, and you’ve never tried the Bistro’s vegan dinners, you owe it to yourself to give them a try. If you’ve been considering going vegan for whatever reason, trying one of these dinners will open your eyes to the amazing things talented chefs can do to make vegan dining just as varied and tasty as any other dietary choice. But as always, I wouldn’t recommend taking my word for it. Tasting is believing!

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Taste the Mediterranean at our September Vegan Dinner

In the Vegan Dinner Series, the hits just keep on coming…and if you’re a fan of Mediterranean food, you won’t want to miss our 3-for-$30 special for September. On Thursday, September 15, our Vegan Dinner Series features “Flavors of the Mediterranean.” Take a look at this lineup:

First Course
Mezze Platter
Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves
Tabbouleh Salad
Hummus
Greek Olives
Spanakopita

Main Course
Moussaka
Couscous

Dessert
Apple, Apricot and Pine Nut Galette
Vanilla Bean Crème Anglaise

Sounds good? Don’t miss out! Call 216-481-9635 and make your reservation now for this vegan Mediterranean feast.

Vegan “Farm to Table” fresh and delicious

Apologies for the delay! The Tenant is back with a description of the Vegan Farm to Table Dinner of Wednesday. It was delicious from beginning to end — and the notable thing about this one was that Chef Ruth cooked it on her own, without any of the customary assistance from Chef Jakub. Looks like she’s got this vegan thing down cold! Or, should I say, hot and delicious!

Vegan Corn Chowder and Jalapeno Muffin

The starter course, Ohio Corn Chowder with Jalapeno Corn Muffin, could not have been better for me. I am a corn lover, and this is the time of year to grab that Ohio sweet corn and make amazing things out of it while you can! Ruth did just that with this incredible chowder. It was full of all the savory sweetness of the corn, yet with a special kick of heat enhanced by the red-pepper “cream” swirled atop it (which I believe was made with the assistance of almond milk). This is the kind of soup that, like the chestnut soup from Thanksgiving, makes even non-vegans say “What’s that you’re eating? Looks delicious.” It’s delicious, all right, and the muffin was perfect for sopping up any extra soup the spoon didn’t catch.

Organic Vegan Ratatouille and Gardein

On to the entree: Local and Organic Ratatouille with Rooftop Garden Herb-Crusted Gardein and Roasted Local Fingerling Potatoes. This was a concoction of classic ratatouille vegetables (including yellow squash, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, eggplant, red peppers) with garlic and rooftop herbs, combined with the crispy-outside, tender-inside tiny potatoes, and the crunchy-coated herbed gardein sitting atop it all. The melange of flavors was pure summer, and as I mentioned earlier, I like the chickeny texture and flavor of gardein myself, so I found this dish perfect for me.

Finally, dessert, and I’d already heard tell that this was going to be something else. Many times, cooks think of grilling meat but don’t consider what kind of amazing flavors grilling can impart to other foods (even lettuce, as I once learned at an earlier Bistro dinner). In this case, the Grilled Stone Fruit Compote demonstrated how succulent and tasty stone fruit (I believe this was peaches and apricots–not sure if there were plums too) can become when subjected to the grill, and what an incredible saucy glaze can be made from them as well. As for the Olive Oil-Lemon Cake…wow. You might be inclined to think “Wouldn’t olive oil ruin the sweet flavor of a cake?” But of course, there are many different kinds of olive oil, and not all of them have that “olive” taste. In the case of this cake, all the olive oil did was make it moist and spongy, with a tender, light, crunchy crust. The cake soaked up the fruit glaze beautifully and itself had just the slightest dusting of powdered sugar. Snuggled beside it was a mound of almond-milk whipped cream, boosted, I believe, with a touch of tapioca that made it a bit firmer and more puddinglike. Altogether, it was a tasty treat of the kind easily as enjoyable by non-vegans as by vegans.

This dinner was more than enough to rev my appetite for next week’s wine dinner. I’ll be there, and I hope you’re signed up to join us this Wednesday as Larry Laurello tells us about his wines and we enjoy dishes made from ingredients just as local as the wines. The growing season here is at its peak…come enjoy it at the Bistro!

Things are growing beautifully on the roof!

How does our rooftop garden grow? Now that we’re hitting the middle of the summer season, you’re probably wondering. Here’s a little visual update for you. First, here’s how the tomatoes looked not long after planting:

Now, a recent picture:

Quite the change, no? The smaller varieties — the Sweet 100s and the Bonnie Grapes — are already starting to ripen:

There are plenty of green tomatoes on the bigger varieties, such as the Bush Goliaths, and with the fine sunny weather we’ve been having, they’ll be ripening soon as well:

Did we mention we put in cauliflower? That’s getting big too:

In their various varieties, the peppers are starting to pop:

The squash is emerging:

And the eggplant, you might say, is hatching:

In short, you’ll soon see plenty of rooftop veggies joining the rooftop herbs like chives, thyme and basil that have been thriving upstairs for quite some time. We are often asked “When are we going to be able to get those Caprese Salads with rooftop tomatoes?” As you can see, the answer is “Soon!”

But even that’s not all. As summer draws to an end, we’ll be reaching beyond our rooftop to add something special to our menu that will also be locally sourced. What will it be? Watch this space to learn more in the future!

A preview of rooftop garden delights

A while back, we mentioned that the Bistro is putting in its rooftop garden so we’re ready to start producing the freshest possible tomatoes and veggies for your lunches and dinners. To really whet your appetites –and maybe even give you some ideas for your home garden — we thought we’d let you know which varieties we’re planting this year. We’ve got plenty of tomatoes of all varieties, but also some veggies we think you’ll find quite tasty when they come straight from our rooftop to your plate.

First, because we always put in so many and they’re so appreciated in this part of the country, let’s talk tomatoes. Here’s what we’ve planted…

Patio: These are dwarf tomatoes that, as you might guess by the name, are ideal for cultivating in patio gardens. They produce relatively large fruit and a good yield. For those who love the taste of a fresh homegrown tomato, they’re one of the most popular container plants.

Early Girl: Home gardeners who’ve been waiting all winter for a fresh tomato love the Early Girl hybrid, because it usually produces fruit within 50 to 62 days of replanting. Given how brief a window we often have in this region for growing tomatoes, we want them as quickly as we can get them! Once it gets started, the Early Girl produces lots of fruit all summer long.

Celebrity: Celebrity tomato plants produce good salad tomatoes: round and firm, with a juicy taste balanced between sweetness and acidity.

Better Boy: Better Boys are another favorite home gardener’s choice because they’re reliable, flavorful, disease resistant and prolific. When you need plenty of tasty tomatoes for your summer, Better Boys are a best bet.

Bush Goliath: It may produce Goliath-sized tomatoes, but this one is more of a David-sized plant. It’s a compact tomato that produces fruit larger than you’d expect from a patio-sized variety. This is another good choice for gardeners who want a reliable tomato source all summer long.

Big Beef: This is another disease-resistant reliable fruit producer that grows sizable, tasty tomatoes throughout the summer. Puts those pink ones you find in the supermarket to shame!

Golden Honey Bunch: Sure, it sounds more like a name for a cereal than a tomato, but don’t be deceived. These babies take only 65 days to grow and produce loads of golden-orange grape tomatoes in large clusters that really do look something like bunches of grapes! Not only that, but they’re delightfully sweet.

Rutgers: Rutgers tomatoes, the descendants of a line originally developed in 1934, were once a hugely popular tomato for commercial processing. Home gardeners still love them today for their flavor, color, smooth skin, fleshy fruit and vigor. A great sauce tomato.

Japanese Black Trifele: The name may say “Japanese,” but actually this variety of tomato has Russian origins, and it may say “black,” but the fruit of these tomatoes is more mahogany-colored and somewhat pear-shaped. It has a rich, complex flavor and is another reliable all-summer producer. It looks and tastes beautiful in a salad! Try one and you’ll see why Russians are willing to pay high prices for Trifele tomatoes.

Cuore di Bue: The Cuore di Bue is a classic old Italian tomato type, with a heart shape, a slightly pinkish look and a creamy texture — perfect for our caprese salads. Taste one in combination with a fresh bite of mozzarella. Bellissimo!

Stupice: An heirloom tomato from the former Czechoslovakia (the name is pronounced stoo-PEECH-kuh), the Stupice is another early and fruitful producer that makes an ideal salad tomato.

Koralik/Legend: As you might guess, this one is a result of two tomato varieties being grafted together — the Russian cherry-tomato heirloom Koralik and the early, sweet, full-size Legend tomato. It produces early, delicious, compact cherry tomatoes, and is another fine choice for the grower with limited garden space.

Chianti Rose: No, it’s not a type of wine — although one bite may go to your head. The Chianti Rose is a rosy beefsteak, a throwback to the days when it seemed all tomatoes really tasted like tomatoes. Sweet and tangy, it’s also highly productive and disease resistant.

Sweet 100: This hybrid cherry tomato grows tall and produces big, so make sure your cages are ready — they can grow to be more than 7 feet! Forget “100” — these can produce as many as 200 tomatoes per plant. Should keep us well in stock at the Bistro!

Bonnie Grape: This is another tall-growing hybrid, only the fruit it produces is grape-style rather than cherry. It supplies loads of firm, sweet grape tomatoes from vines that can grow to 8 or 9 feet. No worries about running out of salad tomatoes or components of a fine ratatouille with these around.

Of course, tomatoes aren’t the whole story in our rooftop garden. We regularly grow a collection of herbs to harvest fresh whenever we need them (the chives are already going crazy and the mint is back, too — look for them to be accompanied by more herbs as the spring goes on). Our eggplant went crazy last summer, so we’ve put in a set of Ichiban Egg (Japanese eggplant) for this season, as well as something new — Brussels sprouts. And more peppers than ever! Get ready to enjoy not just fresh red bell peppers, but also New Mexico Big Jim chile peppers (said to produce the world’s largest chiles), mammoth jalapenos and sweet banana peppers. These peppers are big enough to stuff: perfect for chiles rellenos and jalapeno poppers, not to mention accenting a sauce or sandwich. So look out…things will be getting a little hot at the Bistro for Summer 2011!

Make plans now to spend some beautiful spring and lazy summer days with us, when our rooftop is in full production and you can enjoy the most local of local produce. We look forward to seeing you!


Vegan Sake Dinner menu offers Asian delights

The menu for our Vegan Sake Dinner Wednesday, May 18, is ready!

First Course
Vegetable Consomme with Baby Bok Choy, Edamame, Shiitake Mushrooms and Vegetable Dumpling
Sake: Naba Shoten Minato Harbor

Second Course
Rice Paper Rolls with Thai Sweet and Spicy Dipping Sauce
Sake: Chokaisan Junmai Daiginjo

Third Course
Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette and Tempura Green Beans
Sake: Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai

Fourth Course
Grilled Tofu with Sake Shiitake Sauce
Pea Shoots and Grilled Japanese Eggplant with Ponzu Forbidden Black Rice
Sake: Ichishima Silk

Fifth Course
Lychee Sorbet with Berries
Sake: Hideyoshi Namacho

This dinner is $60 per person by prepaid reservation and begins at 6:30 p.m. sharp. Call 216.481.9635 to ensure your place!

Vegan Night features a savory trip to Paris!

The Tenant here, having eaten vegan again tonight! I’m here to tell you the 3-for-$30 Vegan Dinner served up this time around was another fine stop on the Bistro’s world vegan tour.

The festivities began with the Ratatouille Niçoise Salad. This was a rich and spicy combination of fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, yellow squash, and eggplant, accented with fresh and roasted fennel seeds, orange zest and white wine that really brought the flavor alive. It was served on a bed of greens, garnished with niçoise olives and capers, and drizzled with a balsamic glaze that added a little sweetness to balance out the spice. The flavors were both hearty and just right for springtime. A couple of tender mini-croissants were tucked alongside and came in handy for soaking up excess sauce.

The main course, Gardein “Chicken” Française Finished with a Meyer Lemon Sauce and Imported Lemon Oil, was one in which the sauce truly made the difference. The gentle sauce had just enough lemony bite to accent the “chicken” cut beautifully, and the Potatoes Lyonnaise were rich with saucy flavor. The Haricots Verts Amandine were perfectly green, fresh beans with a spring-y snap and fresh flavor that tasted buttery even without butter. This course was plated up beautifully as well–a feast for the eyes.

I knew I was going to love dessert, because once you say “marzipan,” I am there. The Apple and Marzipan Tart was sheer heaven, dusted lightly with cinnamon and drizzled with both the crème anglaise originally announced and a dark sauce that I forgot to ask the identity of! Whatever it was, it was a perfect complement for the fragile and wonderfully tasty pastry concoction, packed with slender slivers of apple and a layer of yummy marzipan. To my mind, this one should be in the dessert case all the time, vegan or not! It would be a shame for people who don’t normally try the vegan dinners to not get a taste of it. True, it could be made non-vegan as well, but the fact that it was made so deliciously without any animal products is a testament to the versatility shown in the kitchen by Chefs Ruth, Jakub and Todd whenever they’re at work.

Once again, I found myself enjoying a full vegan dinner without feeling I was missing out on any flavor at all. I highly recommend the experience to others…and if you’re vegan, you’ve got to love it! Keep in kind that next month is a multicourse Vegan Sake Dinner. If you love Asian food, you will want to make plans now to attend.

Vegan visit to India was tasty indeed!

The Tenant returns with a summary of last Wednesday’s Vegan Night 3-for-$30 offering India-style! Again, I have to say I’m impressed and amazed by what can be done with foods entirely vegan-sourced. From beginning to end, delicious!

The appetizer for this dinner was Chickpea-Onion Samosas with Cilantro and Mint Chutney and Field Green Salad with Tamarind Vinaigrette. It consisted of two samosas, delicate puff-pastry pockets fried until perfectly crispy, with a filling of mashed chickpeas and onions. The cilantro-and-mint chutney alongside looked almost like wasabi, and had almost the same level of heat due to the spices in it, so just a little at a time was all that was needed to accent the flavor of each bite. The salad was very lightly and tastefully dressed as well. A good start to the evening!

Next came the main dish, Cashew-Coconut Lemongrass Curry with Vegetables and Tofu and Organic Brown Basmati Rice. This was an amazingly flavored curry dish. I love cashews and I love coconut, so it was perfect for me. The sauce was aromatic and full of flavor from the lemongrass and curry, studded with vegetables like eggplant and cauliflower, and full of plenty of cashew nuts. It was garnished with a touch of cilantro. Altogether the flavors melded delightfully.

The meal concluded with an appropriate and charming dessert, Coconut-Cardamom Panna Cotta with Mango Coulis and Fresh Berries. The coconut and mango sauce made it just sweet enough, with the cardamom seeds (you can see them at the top) adding a little spicy kick. The berries, too, were a refreshing touch in the dead of winter. What I find interesting about vegan panna cottas is that like other dishes that would ordinarily use gelatin as a thickener or “jelling” agent, they instead use carrageenan, which is seaweed sourced. Carrageenan is already used in many commercial products, from toothpastes to dessert items. It’s just one example of how a dish can be made vegan without losing anything of the flavor or texture one would expect from the dish.

The entire meal was yet another example of how, under the touch of experienced chefs, vegan cuisine in the style of any country can be both authentic and a very enjoyable dining experience. And obviously I’m not the only one eating it up; they tell me this dinner sold out. Another example of “if you cook it, they will come!”

Be looking here for information on what the Bistro has planned for the next Vegan Night!

Vegan Dinner a three-time pleaser

Hello again from the Tenant. I tried the Bistro’s “3 for 30” Vegan Prix Fixe Dinner last Wednesday and if you did, too, you know what I’m about to say. If not, definitely read on!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not vegan, but I have found that when I eat Bistro 185’s vegan concoctions, I enjoy them so much that I truly do not miss the meat. And if you’re a dedicated vegan, you can’t help but appreciate not only the care Chefs Jakub and Ruth take toward ensuring the 100% vegan content of every dish, but the gourmet flair they bring to each one. This dinner was certainly no exception!

The starter course was Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Vidalia Onions. I don’t think I have words to describe how delicious and satisfying it was. All I know is, I feel as if I could have eaten several more bowlsful. The flavor was so rich—a combination of sweetness and fiery spice—and the texture thick and substantial. It arrived streaked with a garnish of almond milk and sprigged with thyme, and it was an amazing winter soup that drained any feeling of chill from the cold weather outside right out of my body.


Next in line was the entree, Eggplant Parmigiana with Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Vegan Mozzarella Cheese and Slow-Cooked Marinara. This dish was also a winner—its sauce full of fresh tomatoes and the eggplant slices tender, light, and un-greasy, ever so gently breaded and fried, laid atop fantastic whole-wheat pasta. Even the pully texture of the vegan mozzarella was perfect, just as natural as the real thing. I’m told vegan cheese is made from almond milk. Don’t ask me how—all I know is, this was great. It was accompanied by a savory piece of garlic toast for soaking up extra sauce.

The finishing touch was as tasty a dessert as I’ve ever had, the Vegan Apple Pie—or, to be more precise, a Vegan Apple Turnover. It arrived hot and flaky, full of juicy, saucy apple slices in delightfully light pastry, accompanied by a little scoop of cinnamon almond-milk ice cream, a dollop of almond-milk “whipped cream,” and a fresh raspberry and blackberry garnish, dusted all over with powdered sugar. The “ice cream” was a terrific variation on the regular-milk variety and the “whipped cream” just as yummy. The perfect conclusion to an excellent meal!

To summarize: if you eat vegan, you owe it to yourself to try eating vegan-style at Bistro 185 whenever you have the opportunity (info about next month’s offerings will go up when ready). And even if you don’t normally eat vegan, trying a vegan dish, or even a full meal, at the Bistro is a terrific introduction, because you’ll be both surprised and impressed by the high quality of everything you taste. The flavor and texture will be so much the same as what you’d find in a traditional meal that you may even mistake what you’re eating for a non-vegan dish! Keep your eyes on the blog for information about upcoming vegan features. You’ll be impressed—and very well fed!

Vegan Dinner menu is ready!

The menu for our three-course prix fixe Vegan Dinner Wednesday, December 15, is ready!

Starter
Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Vidalia Onions

Entree
Eggplant Parmigiana with Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Vegan Mozzarella Cheese and Slow-Cooked Marinara

Dessert
Apple Pie and Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream

Remember, this dinner is $30 plus tax and gratuity, by prepaid reservation only (open seating). Make your reservation today at 216.481.9635 so you don’t miss out!