A toast to another top-notch Champagne Dinner!

Hi! The Tenant is back, and, along with Ruth and Marc, hoping you have had a wonderful holiday season so far. They have asked me to remind you that they’ll be open tonight for New Year’s Eve and open tomorrow night, New Year’s Day, for dinner, so you can put a nice cap on your holiday season fun. Are your out-of-town guests heading for home soon? Bring them to the Bistro for a nice New Year’s dinner. Then kick back, relax, and enjoy life returning to normal!

Now, about the Champagne Dinner last Tuesday…I’m not shy to tell you, after having suffered from a dragging-on illness last winter that kept me from being able to attend last year’s Champagne Dinner, I was really looking forward to this one. I had seen the pictures of last year’s, and they were mouthwatering enough to make my soul ache. So this was a Bistro dinner not to be missed for me — and apparently also not for a lot of other people, as the entire “restaurant side” of the Bistro was filled with this sellout dinner group. If you couldn’t make it, though, or didn’t reserve soon enough to get a spot, at least you’ll know what you missed. (This review might even give you a few ideas if you’re still looking for a good champagne to uncork tonight.)

The first course took no time setting the tone for an incredible meal. The Herbed Crêpe with Salmon Caviar, House-Cured Gravlax, Crème Fraiche and Poached Asparagus kicked things off excellently. It was an amazing combination of gentle, paper-thin crêpe, savory gravlax, slightly salty caviar, and dairy-fresh cream. The asparagus was just unbelievable in flavor…it tasted as fresh as if it had been picked off the roof in springtime. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that fresh-tasting a vegetable out of season. The champagne with this course was also especially fine, Lamarca Prosecco. An Italian wine produced champenoise style every few months, and subjected to a panel review before being released (!), it has a just slightly sweet touch, but not excessively so. Not only that, but it’s an incredible deal, usually available for between $13 and $15 a bottle. Our wine rep of the evening, Greg Webster of Wine Trends, also advised us that it makes great mimosas, so if you’d rather have New Year’s brunch than a New Year’s toast, it’s a fine choice for that as well.

Chef Ruth really got to show off one of her favorite kinds of dishes to prepare in the second course, Duck Three Ways. I’ve heard her and Marc describe this kind of dish to me before, but I’ve never actually had the chance to enjoy it. At center plate: tender, rosy, gently fat-ringed slices of seared duck breast, topped with a delicious mango chutney. At one side, a hearty slice of duck pâté, rich with nuts and savory spice, dressed with a dollop of French grainy mustard. (I love the Bistro’s pâtés. One of my sisters and I have joked that if the liverwurst sandwiches our mother used to pack for our school lunches had only been made like this, we would have enjoyed them much more.) On the other side of the duck breast, a duck confit — tender leg of duck cooked in its own fat to fall-off-the-bone tenderness, then crisped and caramelized in a balsamic ginger glaze. Sounds good just reading about it, no? Oh, it is. The champagne for this course was Domaine des Baumard Brut Cremant Carte Turquoise, a Loire Valley pick that is drier than the Lamarca and well suited to this sweeter dish. It is also not a pricey selection, either!

It was time for the salad course, but this was honestly like no salad I’ve ever had before; it was on another plane. Marc had told me earlier that the basis of this Caesar salad was grilled Romaine lettuce. “Grilled?” I asked. I’ve heard of and enjoyed many kinds of vegetables being grilled, even fruits, to caramelize them and add a crispy texture, but this was the first time I’d ever heard of anyone grilling salad lettuce. Well, they grilled it, and it’s absolutely incredible. Each serving of salad consisted of grilled Romaine leaves topped with Caesar dressing and a shower of Parmesan shavings; four escargot shells, each containing a former resident sautéed to perfection in butter, garlic, and parsley (we had to tease the little devils out with canapé toothpicks); thin, grilled slices of baguette; and garlic cloves roasted until sweet and soft enough to spread on the baguette slices. Remove an escargot from its shell, place it atop the baguette slice smeared with garlic, and take a bite…ahh, perfection! Oh, and then take a sip from your glass of Casteller Cava Penedes, a Spanish sparkler even drier than the second champagne, but still lovely and not so astringent as to get puckery. It just danced on my tongue.

Course number four was a tender, savory chop from Australian aged rack of lamb, cooked perfectly with a crackly skin outside, topped with a rosemary-mint demi-glace that went just as well with the unbelievable Potatoes Anna as with the meat itself. The paper-thin-sliced potatoes were creamy and baked just enough to form the perfect crispy brown crust on top. The champagne for this course was a Laetitia Brut Cuvée, a blended sparkling white that was probably the driest of all we enjoyed. I’m not any more crazy about extreme dryness in wine than I am in too much sweetness, but this one didn’t go overboard and I liked it as much as the others.

Then came course five. To my mind, they were all great, but this was the one that had people around me moaning with pleasure and saying it just has to go on the specials menu. The Seafood Waffle Topped with Lobster-Shrimp-Crab Imperial sounds simple, and it is — but oh, how good! Each serving included one quarter of a round Belgian waffle made with a savory herbed batter; an absolutely huge, split, freshwater flame-grilled scampi shrimp; and a butter-soaked cream sauce studded generously with tender chunks of lobster, Laughing Bird shrimp, and crab. You may recall that a while ago Marc and Ruth explained that Laughing Bird is a brand of Caribbean white shrimp farmed in Belize, raised in filtered sea water, fed a vegetarian diet, never treated with additives or sulfites, and sold fresh. The end result is a shrimp that’s wonderfully succulent and sweet. As for the scampi shrimp, it was so big, plump, and sweet that some of my fellow diners mistook it for a lobster tail. It was that delicious! Along with it we were served Champagne Delamotte, a “capital-C Champagne” in that it’s from the actual region. It was a nicely dry complement to the rich, creamy, buttery seafood dish.

The meal came to a simple but delightful conclusion with a heavenly Chocolate Lava Cake (with the classic crusty exterior/liquid interior) on a bed of strawberry coulis, garnished with blackberries and topped with a generous snowfall of powdered sugar. With it, the only rose wine of the evening, Patrick Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon, also the only one we were served in coupes rather than flutes. It was the fruitiest wine of the evening, but still not excessively sweet…just right.

The verdict: if you missed this dinner, oh dear…too bad, because you missed out on some amazing dishes and champagnes whose goodness is hard to express in mere words! You can, however, console yourself a bit by making a New Year’s resolution not to miss the next Bistro special dinner. This one’s going to be a post-Valentine’s Day fête that just might make an excellent gift for that special someone…the Chocolate Dinner, Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Don’t wait until the last minute, because this one is likely to be another sellout…call now at 216.481.9635 and make your reservations! Happy New Year!

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this blog confused the scampi shrimp with the Laughing Bird shrimp, which actually stay small but are especially sweet and tasty and were included in the seafood sauce.

Champagne Dinner menu is set!

Get your tastebuds prepared, because the menu and list of accompanying champagnes for our December 28 Champagne Dinner is ready!

First Course
Herbed Crepe with Salmon Caviar and Lemon-Tarragon Sabayon
House Cured Gravlax with Creme Fraiche
Poached Asparagus
Champagne: Lamarca Prosseco

Second Course
Duck 3 Ways: Seared Duck Breast, Duck Pate, Duck Confit
Champagne: Domaine des Baumard Brut Cremant Carte Turquoise

Third Course
Grilled Caesar Salad with Escargot and Slow-Roasted Garlic
Champagne: Casteller-Cava-Penedes

Fourth Course
Australian Aged Rack of Lamb with Rosemary-Mint Demi-Glace
Potatoes Anna
Champagne: Laetitia Brut Rose

Fifth Course
Seafood Waffle Topped with Lobster-Shrimp-Crab Imperial
Champagne: Champagne Delamotte

Sixth Course
Chocolate Lava Cake with Raspberry Coulis
Champagne: Paringa Sparkling Shiraz

If you’re a lover of fine food and great champagne, this is the ideal way to ring in the New Year early–away from the noise and crowds, in a nice, peaceful, civilized celebration. And wouldn’t it make the ideal holiday gift for someone special in your life?

Cost of the dinner is $75 plus tax and gratuity. We start at 6:30 sharp, serving up six courses of fabulous dishes and bountiful bubbly. Make your reservation at 216.481.9635 today!

Julia Project Wine Dinner: a review

Hi, the Tenant is back! I hope you were at the Bistro last night for the Julia Project Wine Dinner, because if you were, you know it was fabulous. If not, here’s a little taste of what you missed (too bad you can’t lick the screen!).

First, to give you an idea of what preparation for the dinner was like back in the kitchen earlier in the day, here’s a little video:

By 6:30 in the evening, everything was ready. Our feast began with the Amuse-Bouche appetizer of Escargot with Toast Batons. I must admit, I’ve been hesitant about trying escargot because it seemed to me from when I had seen preparations at other restaurants that it was a bit rubbery and extremely garlicky. What a surprise to try it at Bistro 185! Their escargot (we received three apiece) were not rubbery at all, and only slightly garlicky — the fresh, slightly earthy flavor of the escargot came through and tasted great with a little squirt of lemon. The hardest part was getting them out of the shells! The toast baton that came with each serving was perfect for soaking up some of that buttery garlic sauce on the plate.

This dish and the following seafood dish, Coquilles St. Jacques, were paired with a Chandon Brut Classic champagne — light, bubbly and crisp. The Coquilles St. Jacques was as delicious as the original Julia Project version, and made extra-special by being served in the classic manner: inside a shell, and surrounded by a “sandy beach” of sea salt and peppercorns. A few shrimp kept the scallops company in the white creamy sauce, and were very good too.

Then it was time for the Boeuf Bourguignon, and was it delightful! First of all, boneless short ribs are some of the most tender, tasty beef you will ever eat, and when they’re braised in this burgundy wine sauce, they’re phenomenal. We all detected a hint of cinnamon in the sauce this time around, and I loved that because cinnamon is a key component of my family’s spaghetti sauce recipe handed down from my father’s father (we suspect there’s a bit of Greek mixed in with our Italian side of the family). It also went especially well with the wine, Bridlewood Central Coast Syrah, a really fascinating wine whose notes and flavors change with every sip. It’s a full-bodied wine that didn’t get in the way of the complex flavors of the dish. And every bite — especially those soaking-up-sauce mushrooms — was exquisite!

After such a heavy dish, though, we needed something light and easy on the stomach, and the Frisee Salad with poached egg, lardons and croutons fit the bill. As Todd mentions in the video, it was finished with a light, gently sweet sherry vinaigrette, and the Bridlewood Reserve Viognier, a slightly flowery, airy white wine, was an ideal complement.

The salad was followed by another one of the popular Julia Project dishes, the Salmon and Halibut en Croûte with Tarragon Beurre Blanc Sauce. As before, the crispy browned puff-pastry crust was shaped like a fish, and enclosed deliciously sauced layers of salmon and halibut accompanied by sautéed asparagus. For this, the accompanying William Hill Chardonnay was, again, just right.

The final entree was a savory-sweet treatment of duck, the Duck Confit with Roasted Figs and Port. This one also was a true taste celebration. The rich fruit flavor went all the way through the crispy skin cradling the tender duck meat, and the combination of kasha and tiny bowtie egg pasta on the side was a good choice for a fall game dish. The wine paired with it was Lapis Luna Romanza Zinfandel, and it was a very good match — a robust red Zin for a dish with such strong flavors.

Last and very welcome, as always: the dessert plate! Here, the mini-chocolate mousses — served with a kind of honey “lollipops” usable as spoons to eat the mousse — were just the beginning. As the video hints (and in some cases shows), there was much more: a delectable little scoop of pumpkin ice cream on cranberry sauce, an apple-nut cake with caramel topping, a square of angel-food cake with raspberry puree and chocolate ganache with a sprinkling of crushed nuts, and a little marzipan candy. The dessert course was served with Presidential 20 Year Porto: a fine finish to an outstanding meal.

Afterward many guests were heard to say that of all the wine dinners they have attended at Bistro 185, this one featured the best pairings of wine to each course. Kudos are definitely due to Superior Beverage Group Ltd. for assisting the Bistro in coming up with and providing these inspired selections. If you weren’t at the dinner last night but would like to learn more about any of these wines, or try one for yourself, ask your server the next time you stop by.

So there you have it: the Julia Project Wine Dinner was a smashing success. If you missed this one, keep an eye on this blog to find out about the Bistro’s next special wine dinner, because whatever and whenever it is, it’s sure to be just as much fun.

Tonight’s Specials: Oct. 5

Starters
Soup of the Day
Gravlax (house cured salmon) with potato pancakes, capers, chopped red onion and sour cream
House Smoked Duck Breast with mango chipotle glaze, sun-dried cranberries, potato pancake and sour cream
Chicken and Vegetable Pot Stickers with sesame-soy dipping sauce
Asian Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes
Romaine Wedge Salad with Gorgonzola dressing, chopped hard-boiled eggs, red onion, bacon and tomato
Warm Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese Salad on a bed of field greens with balsamic vinaigrette
Roasted Organic Beets with goat cheese, honey and balsamic drizzle
Calymarna Brown Figs stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped with prosciutto, field greens and balsamic vinaigrette
Warm Wild Mushroom Salad with pistachios, field greens and raspberry vinaigrette
Coquilles St. Jacques: Baby bay scallops and shrimp in creamy Alfredo sauce with a Parmesan cheese crust
Escargot with Garlic Butter
Puff Pastry Wrapped French Camembert served warm with grapes and toasts
Medjool Dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped with bacon with balsamic drizzle and crumbled goat cheese

Entrees

Lamb Shanks with Baby Fall Vegetables (a Julia Project favorite)
Lamb Moussaka with Greek Salad (a Julia Project favorite)
Sautéed Pork Tenderloin in Prune and Port Wine Sauce with Mashers (a Julia Project favorite)
Steak Oscar: Medallions of beef filet topped with crab and shrimp, hollandaise sauce, tempura green beans and mashers
Boeuf Bourguignon: Boneless Black Angus short ribs slow-braised in a rich burgundy wine sauce with carrots and onions on a bed of mashers
16-oz. Bone-in Cowboy Ribeye Steak with onion straws, sautéed redskin potatoes and house tempura vegetable
Calves’ Liver, pan sautéed, with onion gravy, mashers and bacon
Roasted Half Duck with orange sauce, organic wild rice and house tempura vegetable
Limoncello Chicken: Pan-seared chicken breasts finished in a limoncello cream sauce, Meyer lemons, asparagus, artichoke hearts and snap peas with penne pasta
Chicken Parmesan with pasta marinara
Pan-Seared Day Boat Scallops with black truffle, chanterelle mushrooms and roasted butternut squash risotto
Sesame-Crusted Pan-Seared Wild-Caught Ahi Tuna with wasabi aioli and ginger mandarin drizzle, Israeli couscous and house tempura vegetable
Pecan-Crusted Bay of Fundy Salmon with sweet potato mashers and sautéed spinach
Pan-Roasted Wild-Caught Alaskan Halibut with tropical fruit and nut rum sauce and butternut squash ravioli
Wild-Caught Canadian Walleye finished with a lemon herb butter sauce, mashers and house vegetables, OR tempura style with sweet potato fries, slaw and tartar sauce
Lobster Ravioli with Seared Day Boat Scallops and Shrimp finished with a creamy lobster sauce
Ricotta and Spinach in Fresh Manicotti Pasta with marinara and a touch of cream