“Farm to Table” Wine Dinner: one delicious trip!

The Tenant is back, with the story of the latest Bistro wine dinner. It was truly a celebration of everything local at a time when the local eating just doesn’t get any better. And the wine was just as local as the food, being a product of Laurello Vineyards & Winery in Geneva. Not only did Laurello provide a wine for each course, they added a few bonuses: an aperitif to start off the meal and a sneak preview of two of the wines, including (at the end of the dinner) a special pre-release sample available for diners to pre-order. So, whether you were a connoisseur of fine food, fine wine or both, signing up for this event meant you were in for a truly special evening!

The aperitif wine, we learned, was Laurello’s Muscat Blanc ’08. Made with grapes native to Alsace, this was a fruity, flowery, surprisingly dry (without being puckeringly so) wine. I enjoyed it a great deal, and was sorry to learn that this was the final vintage for this particular wine. I liked the fact that despite being a muscat, it wasn’t especially sweet or dessert-like, but apparently that’s what people expect from a muscat and that’s what Laurello’s going to produce from now on.

On to the first course! Normally Bistro wine dinners don’t begin with salad; the salad course usually appears somewhere around midmeal. This one, however, was an exception, focusing on the superstars of the breakfast table, bacon and eggs. Well, pork belly and eggs–and what is bacon, in the USA anyway, if not pork belly? Organic greens bedded a thick chunk of smoky, crispy pork belly, cherry and grape tomatoes from the Bistro’s rooftop garden and a gently sous vide poached organic egg from Blue Pike Farm, an urban farm on East 72nd St. This salad was called a “hunt and peck” salad because the Blue Pike Farm eggs come from hens that freely roam the farm “hunting and pecking” for their meals rather than being fed industrial chicken feed–genetically modified or otherwise. Instead of commercial feed, they’re eating bugs, worms, grass, seeds and whatever other tasty items they find–and, as a result, not only do their eggs taste better, they’re more nutritious, with less cholesterol and saturated fat and more vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. The truly organic “hunt and peck” eggs on this salad truly made it special, and so did the honey-lemon dressing made with honey from Mark’s Apiaries in Painesville. Laurello’s accompanying wine was an ’08 Chardonnay, pleasantly dry and crisp.

I knew from having a little sample in the afternoon that I was absolutely going to love the next course: a big, beautiful bowl of Ohio corn chowder. This version was every bit as delicious as the vegan version the previous week, but it had an additional attraction that version lacked: two pieces of delicately tempura-fried Lake Erie walleye. Just amazing. The wine for this course was a dry Riesling from last year, which I really liked a great deal and went perfectly with the chowder.

The flavor delights of organic produce continued with the third course, the Chicken Roulade with Rooftop Garden Herbs on a bed of local-produce ratatouille. The meat was incredibly flavorful and the vegetables and herbs were savory and just right. You know they haven’t traveled far when they come right down from the roof! I make no bones about loving the fact that as a tenant, I can nip out to the rooftop garden and grab a tomato or some herbs for my own cooking from time to time, but I tend not to get as fancy with what I do as Ruth does. What she makes is terrific! Laurello’s wine for this course was a Cab Franc ’07, a gold-medal winner they look upon as their landmark wine. A combination of Cabernet and Bordeaux grapes gives it a velvety balance of fruit and acidity; they say this is the kind of wine that you can cellar for years and it will hold up beautifully.

For course number four, we were each served a huge and beautiful Caprese Ravioli pocket, made from Ohio City Pasta and stuffed with more rooftop tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and rooftop basil, topped with smoked tomato cream sauce and garnished with leaves of that same basil. I think I could have eaten several of these ravioli happily! Laurello provided us here with the first opportunity in Northeast Ohio to taste their French oak-aged Pinot Noir ’08, which I found sweet, fruity and aromatic yet light.

Finally it was time for dessert, which made it clear that Chef Rich, the Bistro’s ice-cream specialist, has still got the touch. The Brandy Peach Compote made with local fruit was treat enough, but the peach ice cream it graced, made with milk from Pomeroy’s Snowville Creamery, put it over the top. The pasture-raised, grass-grazing cows of Snowville produce rich, sweet and incredibly nutritious milk, and the resulting ice cream is just what you’d expect it to be with that kind of foundation. Each bowl of ice cream was topped with a crispy golden-brown almond tuile, the ideal accent. Laurello’s dessert wine was a 2010 Sweet Genevieve Ice Wine, named for their mother. The course couldn’t have had a more ideal wine.

At the end of dessert, Laurello had one more surprise for us: a bonus tasting of a wine that’s not even on the market yet. Their “Christopher” 2009 Fox Hollow Vineyard Reserve Cuvee is, they say, the richest, most concentrated wine they have ever produced. This one, scheduled for release in October, did indeed taste rich, smooth and incredible.

What I found interesting about Laurello’s wines was not only the high quality and the variety, but the fact that so many of the ones we tasted are relatively inexpensive. I know the next time I’m looking for a nice Riesling, for example, I can buy one from Laurello for $12 a bottle. This whole evening was a fine showcase of just how deliciously, and healthily, you can eat and drink from the bounty of Northeast Ohio. We are truly fortunate to be living in the time and place we are: on rich Lake Erie land, in a time when local vintners realize they can grow far more more than just Catawba and Concord grapes, and enterprising people are staking out vacant lots in the heart of the city, planting them full of good things to eat, and letting flocks of chickens have the run of the place. What they’re creating is nothing less than a renaissance, and we are all benefiting from it.

Keep watching this space. There’ll be some announcements of new events for next month soon, as well as a special one for those who love to eat local. It all sounds to me like it’s going to be pretty wonderful.

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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!

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.

Review: Spanish Regional Wine Dinner

The Tenant’s back again…first, let me ask all of you who regularly come to these wonderful dinners: Where do you put it all? I always end up at the end of one of these Bistro 185 wine dinners feeling as if I am filled to the very top of my body with wonderful food, unable to fit in one bite or one drop more, and the rest of you are just sitting around sipping the rest of your wine, or ordering coffee…how do you do it??

If that gives you the impression that last night’s dinner was a winner, it should. It was a real feast of incredible food Spanish-style, paired with wines that fit the mood and the dishes beautifully.

I can’t say I’m a wine expert, but I enjoy tasting the different kinds offered and seeing how well they go with the courses, and it’s always an adventure.

First came the tapas. You got to see yesterday what the tapas trays looked like, and they were filled with delicious treats. From the olives, nuts and cheeses to the specially prepared items like the crabmeat-stuffed deviled eggs, the salt cod fritters (passed around separately) with garlic aioli, and the Spanish tortillas — alternating layers of tortilla and potato slices, served cold with more of the aioli — these were a great exploration of appetizers Spain-style. So were the gazpacho shooters: narrow little shot glasses of cold, spicy Spanish vegetable soup, each topped with a shrimp. The wine for this course was Ramon Bilbao Crianza 2006: a deep cherry-red wine with a fruity, smoky flavor. All the Ramon Bilbao wines are produced in the Rioja Alta wine region of Spain.

Next came a bowl of tiny sautéed clams, swimming in the chorizo broth you saw a picture of cooking up on the stove yesterday. The little clams absorbed the rich, spicy flavor of the sausage-filled broth, so delicious that after having picked the clams out of their shells with the clam fork to eat them, you needed to switch to your spoon to scoop up every flavorful drop of the chorizo sauce. The original plan was to serve this course with Ramon Bilbao Limited Edition 2006, but as it turns out the 2006 vintage isn’t ready yet, so we were supplied with the 2004 vintage instead, which made a fine accompaniment.

Next came the Chicken Marbella. How did it taste on top of Yukon Gold mashers? Absolutely delicious! Because this was Spanish food, many of the dishes were spicy and pungent, with a heat that lasted long on the tongue. But the astringency of the green olives in this dish was counteracted beautifully by the addition of prunes, which contributed a special sweetness and made for a nice change of pace. And the mashed potatoes did a wonderful job of soaking up the sauce! It was accompanied by Volteo Viura Sauv Blanc Viognier, a blended wine whose lighter, fresher, flowery-buttery flavor also provided a contrast to many of the heavier red wines on the menu. Volteo wines come from Castilla-LaMancha, the world’s largest vineyard.

By the time you’ve enjoyed appetizers and a few courses at a dinner like this, you’re ready for a light, refreshing salad course, and that’s just what the Orange and Fresh Fennel Salad provided. The organic honey and lemon vinaigrette was the perfect taste to go with the combination of greens, orange slices and slivers of fennel — a sweet, juicy, delight. The wine, too, was just right for it: Volteo Rosé Garnacha, full of fruity scents and crisp flavor.

Last, but certainly not least, of the main courses was the South African Lobster Tail, Sea Bass and Scallop in Saffron Broth with Timbale of Saffron Rice with Peas and Roasted Red Peppers. Mere words cannot describe the pure, smooth, buttery sublime flavor of this lobster tail. The sea bass, coated wonderfully with the saffron broth, tasted almost as rich, as did the scallop. I overheard another diner saying he had never in his life eaten such a well-prepared scallop. The rice was a nice addition as well; it served as a little starch to play off the richness of the seafood. The wine for this course was Cruz de Alba Crianza 2006, an unusual choice to my mind because it’s a heavier, redder wine than I’m used to thinking of as ideal for a seafood course, but it worked well. This wine is produced in one of Spain’s fastest developing wine regions, Ribera del Duero.

I must admit that by the time the dessert course came around, I didn’t have much room left for both the desserts and the Drysac Sherry served with them (although it was very good). The treats assembled for us on this plate were a rich, eggy Spanish flan, blanketed in caramel; an almond cake deep with flavor, topped with sliced almonds; a tiny chocolate mousse in a chocolate cup, with a strong mocha-coffee flavor; and a deep, dark, rich chocolate truffle that just melted in your mouth and flooded it with heavenly chocolate flavor. What a way to end our mini-visit to Spain! Hats off to Chef Ruth Levine and her staff for making this another wine dinner to remember.

If all this doesn’t persuade you that the next Bistro 185 Wine Dinner, set for December 15, is not to be missed, I don’t know what will! Watch this space for more details.

Visit Spain without leaving Cleveland: Enjoy our Spanish Wine Dinner Nov. 17

If you love the rich history and savory flavors of Spanish cuisine — or if you’re a fan of wine in general or Spanish wine in particular — Bistro 185 has the perfect event for you this month. Our November 17 Spanish Wine Dinner will feature a selection of classic Spanish-style tapas, followed by five courses of specially crafted Spanish cuisine. And, naturally, each course will feature an accompanying carefully selected wine from Spain.

MENU

Tapas
Selection of Dried and Cured Olives
Marcona Almonds
Manchengo and Cabrales Cheeses
Crabmeat-Stuffed Deviled Eggs
Salt Cod Fritters with Garlic Aioli
Spanish Tortilla
Gazpacho Shooters with Shrimp Garnish

First Course
Sautéed Clams and Chorizo

Second Course
Chicken Marbella — Chicken braised with garlic, green olives, oregano and white wine with Yukon Gold potatoes

Third Course
Orange and Fresh Fennel Salad with Organic Honey and Lemon Vinaigrette

Fourth Course
South African Lobster Tail, Sea Bass, Scallop in a Saffron Broth with Timbale of Saffron Rice with Peas and Roasted Red Peppers

Fifth Course
Spanish Flan, Almond Cake and a Selection of Chef’s Whim Desserts

Cost of our Spanish Wine Dinner is $50 per person, tax and gratuity additional. To enjoy this special evening, make your reservations now at 216.481.9635.

Behind the Dish: Mousseline au Chocolat

Tonight is a night many Julia Project followers have probably been anticipating: chocolate mousse night! Julia’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 recipe includes eggs, sugar, orange liqueur, semisweet baking chocolate, strong coffee, unsalted butter, and a pinch of salt.

Our version is pretty straightforward in terms of following the recipe: whipping the egg yolks, folding in the chocolate, butter and coffee, then folding in a meringue made from the egg whites and sugar. To make ours more creamy, though, we may enhance it with a touch of pâté à bombe: an egg yolk-based foam mixed with sugar syrup. Also, we’ll be leaving out the orange liqueur from our version, in deference to those who prefer their chocolate as straight “chocolaty-chocolate” as it gets.

If that sounds irresistible, we highly suggest you make a reservation and try one of our regular menu items or specials — maybe with an appetizer — for dinner, then cap it all off with this delicious treat. You know that once you see a picture of it and hear how it tastes, you’re going to wish you had — so why not eliminate future regret now?

Behind the Dish: Lamb Moussaka

Tonight’s Julia Project dish, Lamb Moussaka, is familiar to most modern diners. If you know anything about Greek cuisine, you’ve probably heard of moussaka, and you may well have enjoyed it as part of your family’s cooking or at a Greek or other restaurant. The dish, which usually is made in the form of a kind of “lasagna” that layers slices of eggplant with ground lamb in a tomato sauce, originated in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, which makes it rather interesting that a recipe for it was included in Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1.

Julia’s instructions for how to structure and serve the completed dish are quite a bit different from how it’s normally done today; they’re much more classically French. Her original recipe uses a charlotte mold, which she instructs the cook to line with the skins of the cooked eggplant portion of the dish and then fill with a combination of the eggplant, mushrooms, lamb and sauce, resulting in a “shiny, dark purple cylinder surrounded with a deep red tomato sauce.” Wow! Her completed entree, brought to the table whole at a dinner party, must have looked rather like a purple Bundt cake. For our purposes, however, we used the more conventional rectangular pan and “layered” method of preparation commonly seen today. We’re also providing it with our own version of a “French twist.” And we’re proud to add that the vegetables are all organic, from Jim Darr’s Old Plank Farm in Windsor, Ohio — pesticide and herbicide free.

We’ve been prepping our moussaka since yesterday, because it is quite a bit labor-intensive. One of the steps requires slicing up the eggplant, sprinkling the slices with salt and letting them sit out for a half hour to “sweat out” the excess water (eggplant holds a lot of water) before cooking it. This process makes the eggplant more permeable to the olive oil in which it bakes before it’s layered, but it also requires a lot of room to lay out all the slices when you’re making as much moussaka as we are! With the limited space available to us in the Bistro kitchens, we had to do it in stages.

The recipe also calls for minced mushrooms, shallots or onions, the ground lamb (already cooked before being placed in the dish — which is probably why Julia describes it as a way to use “leftovers”), salt and pepper, thyme, garlic and rosemary, tomato paste, eggs, and a brown sauce. Rather than the brown sauce, however, we’re topping our moussaka layers with a classic béchamel, or white sauce, made with milk, flour and butter. Also, our bottom layer is sliced fried Yukon Gold potatoes — another item not in Julia’s original recipe. And, we added oregano and cinnamon, two other spices Julia’s version omits, but that are very much components of a classic moussaka.

The ingredients are layered and baked up to make a hearty, heartwarming dish, which we will top with an arrabiata pepper sauce. It will be accompanied by a classic Greek side salad featuring cucumbers, kalamata olives, our rooftop tomatoes and basil, red onion, orange and red peppers, and feta cheese, dressed in a Greek vinaigrette.

Sounds like a great fall dish? We thought so!