Rooftop garden “spring”-ing back to life!

Spring certainly seemed to come early this year, but despite the summerlike weather we experienced in late March, we’ve had some cold days and frosty nights in between time. Now that we’re in mid-May, however, we’re bringing you fresh flavors from our rooftop once again.

As usual, we’re starting with the herbs. Tonight, you can come into the Bistro and whether you’re enjoying our Vegan Night Italian fest or one of our specials or regular offerings, you’ll taste fresh spices coming straight from garden to table. Savor the special touch brought to your plate by sweet basil, rosemary, sage, chives, and lemon thyme, and know we brought it right down from the roof for you.

In addition to that, we’ve set in the plants that will ripen over the next few months and provide us with succulent flavors all summer long: our 2012 tomato garden. It’s a little different each year, and this one will bring you another delightful palette of sunny flavors to savor. As always, to get things started quickly, we’ve put in some Early Girls for quick-ripening, bright-red meaty fruit with an incredible flavor and an aroma to match. They’re cozied up next to some Better Boy hybrids, which will provide succulent, juicy products for this summer’s salads as well.

This year, they’ll be joined by heirlooms like Brandywine Pink, which produces large, pink beefsteak tomatoes considered to be among the best tasting, most sweet and “tomatoey” fruits you can find, while having leaves that look more like potato leaves than spiky tomato leaves. Another heirloom we’re adding to our collection is Cherokee Purple, a dusky rose, extremely sweet variety.

Our Purple Passion plants will be producing large pink beefsteak tomatoes with delicious flavor. Vivid colors and tastes will come from our Hillbilly tomatoes–orange-yellow beefsteaks with red and pink streaks–a very flavorful variety, and our Lemon Boys, which produce tomatoes with lemony-yellow skin.

Our Marglobe heirlooms are a solid disease-resistant variety that will produce firm, smooth, red, tasty fruit. And our San Marzanos will be ready to cook up for creating terrific sauces and salsas.

We hope learning a little about what we’re growing on the rooftop whets your appetite for the summer dishes to come. From now through September, as always in the warm months, you can be assured of finding cuisine here at the Bistro that’s fresh, delicious, and local–some of it very local. Nothing like digging your knife and fork into something we just picked and brought down from the garden a few minutes ago!

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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!

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!

Join us for dinners celebrating Middle Eastern cuisine!

Have you signed up yet for the amazing special dinners we have planned for September? If not, what are you waiting for? We’re headed to the Mediterranean and Israel for our inspirations this month. You’ll want to join us. You don’t have to be vegan, Mediterranean, Greek or Jewish to enjoy these feasts, but it certainly won’t hurt!

We begin next Thursday, Sept. 15, with our 3-for-$30 Vegan Dinner, Flavors of the Mediterranean. This one’s almost sold out, so don’t delay:

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

Main Course
Moussaka
Couscous

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

The following week, Wednesday, September 21 at 6:30 p.m., Ruth will be going back to her roots–and celebrating a variety of Jewish heritages–by creating our Israeli Fusion Wine Dinner. At this six-course, $65-per-person dinner, the first five dishes will be paired with a wine from the Recanati Winery of Israel, and the closing dessert with an Israeli liqueur:

First Course
Apple-Potato Latka
Israeli Feta Herb Cream
House-Cured Salmon
Wine: Recanati Sauvignon Blanc

Second Course
Ruth’s Mother’s Ashkenazi Chicken Soup
with Middle-Eastern Inspired Matzoh Ball
Wine: Recanati Chardonnay

Third Course
24-Hour Sous Vide Moroccan Lamb Tangine
Israeli Couscous with Pine Nuts and Currants
Wine: Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon

Fourth Course
Chicken Curry from the Cochin Jews of India
Wine: Recanati Shiraz

Fifth Course
Ladino Style Fish Ragout
Wine: Recanati Merlot

Sixth Course
Cheese Blintz
Blood Orange Couscous
Liqueur: Chocolate Sabra

We’ll be providing a bit more information about the Israeli dinner in the near future. In the meantime, to ensure you enjoy either of these feasts, call 216.481.9635 and make your reservation now!

“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.

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!

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!

Latin American Barbecue: A fantastic fiesta

So, the Latin American Barbecue last Wednesday looks good, no? It tasted even better…says the Tenant. I can tell you, as hot as the weather was, this was a terrific meal for it, because while we tend to think of barbecues as hot and smoky (at least over the grill!), the emphasis in this dinner was more on the cool and refreshing…even as it offered piquant, spicy flavors that danced on the tongue.

For starters, we were all served glasses of Marc’s Special Sangria, garnished with orange slices. This sangria has been available at the bar for quite a while this summer already, and it is truly the perfect cooling treat anytime, but especially for this dinner. Its rich mix of chilled fruits and spices prepared our palates for all that was to come.

The opening dish, Shrimp Ceviche, continued the theme of cool refreshment. The shrimp arrived plump and well-cooked from its time spent bathing in the pungent lime-juice marinade with the other chunks of veggies, fruits and herbs, from tomatoes to mangoes. The cocktail selected to accompany this course was a delightful caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil, a concoction of cachaca — sugar-cane rum — sugar and lime. It was intensely sweet and pleasingly powerful, very well mated to the ceviche.

Now that we were all relaxed quite well into the South American vibe, we were ready to enjoy the course of Smoked Chicken Empanada with Brazilian Black Beans. The savory, flaky little pockets of meat-filled dough sat atop the incredibly flavorful beans, dressed with a cool drizzle of creme fraiche. They could not have tasted better. We had wine for this course: ’09 Lo Tengo Torrontes, an Argentinean white with a bright, smooth flavor.

The next course brought us right back to cool — South American Style Jicama-Orange-Avocado Salad with Chili-Lime Vinaigrette. This “slaw” style of salad featured a gently fruity-spicy dressing and the juicy tang of fresh orange slices. The perfect touch! Another white wine was served alongside, ’10 Octave Vinho Verde, a light and airy Portuguese selection, dry and crisp.

Then it was time for the star of any traditional barbecue meal: the meat. And oh, what meat! This was beautifully cooked, thinly sliced Argentinean Grilled Flatiron Steak with Chimichurri Sauce, Plantain Chutney and Peruvian Corn Pudding. The savory, spicy green chimichurri enhanced the natural flavor of the already well-seasoned slices of meat, tender and pink on the inside, yet with those crispy dark edges that signify perfect barbecue. I had never had plantain before, and had been curious as to what this more savory version of the banana was like. Well, as chutney, I loved it, and it was a welcome addition to this beautiful dish in which meat, chutney and sauce were arranged on a generous slice of the corn pudding, one of my favorite foundations for any dish. It all added up to produce a spectacular sequence of flavors: sharply spicy, then savory and sweet. With this dish we were served the only red wine of the evening, ’07 Guentota Old Vine Malbec, a rich, full-bodied and bountifully flavored selection.

To top off the evening, a little crown of a dessert: Quesillo de Coco, Venezuelan Coconut Flan. It sat on the plate looking irresistible in its puddle of caramel, flanked by incredibly tangy fresh raspberries. I almost hated to break the surface of the glaze; it looked too pretty to eat. Of course, not eating it would have been a huge mistake, because these little Latin American versions of creme caramel were absolutely fantastic. The accompanying wine was ’09 Moscato d’Asti, a crisp, light, peachy, pear-y white with just a touch of sparkle and a wine that always works with dessert. A satisfying conclusion indeed.

If you missed this dinner, you missed one masterful barbecue — but all is not yet lost. Sign up for this Wednesday’s classic barbecue American style (Yes, an earlier version of this said Thursday — but it’s Wednesday!), and you’ll feel as if you’re truly enjoying what summer is all about. I’m already looking forward to it!

It’s Rooftop Tomato Caprese Salad Season!

We told you it was coming soon, and it’s begun. As our varieties of rooftop tomatoes continue to ripen, the Bistro is now able to offer its Caprese Salads with tomatoes direct from our rooftop garden. This is freshness you’ve got to love!

Plenty more is growing too, of course, including basil and other spices, peppers, eggplant and squash. But the recent hot weather is definitely sending the tomatoes your way. Expect to find a lot of the smaller ones — the grape and cherry sizes — in your salad and other vegetable dishes as the growing season goes along. They’re fresh and sweet, and you’re going to love them!

BARBECUE BOUNTY: Unfortunately the Tenant wasn’t able to make the Vegan Barbecue this month, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tell us how you liked it. Anyone out there willing to send us a comment?…In the meantime, the Tenant did make last Wednesday’s Latin American Barbecue, and a review and video are to follow shortly…If you haven’t yet signed up for this Wednesday’s classic barbecue dinner, what are you waiting for? Does the thought of smoked brisket, grilled chicken, St. Louis ribs, redskin potato salad, coleslaw, mac and cheese, and jalapeno corn muffins with strawberry shortcake for dessert sound bad to you? If it does, guess there’s nothing we can do about that, but if it sounds incredibly delicious, grab a partner, call 216.481.9635 to make your reservation and get ready for a family-style summer banquet!