Night at the Oscars: Moonstruck and Baby Osso Bucco

Sick of the Cleveland winter? Feel like your life is going down the toilet? Well, snap out of it! Bistro 185 has the solution to your blues with our “Night at the Oscars” special for this Monday through Wednesday. Instead of honoring a Best Picture winner this time around, we’ve chosen a movie that picked up three other Academy Awards for 1987: Best Original Screenplay (John Patrick Shanley), Best Actress (Cher) and Best Supporting Actress (Olympia Dukakis), Moonstruck.

Of course, Moonstruck is all about the moon and the magic it can work on the lives of we humans down on Earth — especially on love Italian-American style. For centuries, full moons have been associated with insanity (it’s where the word “lunatic” comes from), and although we know the moon doesn’t really make you crazy, it does seem to have that effect on people in danger of falling in love. And as it so happens, there was a full moon Sunday…and there’ll be a near-full moon for the next three nights!

So why not take full advantage of this crazy time and enjoy our version of romance Italian-American style: Baby Osso Bucco over Pappardelle Pasta in a fennel, carrot and tomato sauce, garnished with onion straws? We think you’ll “love it awful”!


Italian Regional Wine Dinner: Molto bene!

Hello, this is The Tenant again, with a review of last night’s Italian Regional Wine Dinner. Ruth and her crew may just have topped themselves this time, as far as I’m concerned. This was possibly the best-paced wine dinner the Bistro has presented yet, with an excellent selection of courses beautifully executed — and those who know more about wine than I admittedly do also said the wines were paired perfectly to each course.

Last night’s wines were presented by Jim Dunlevy of Barrel Aged Wine in Concord, Ohio, a direct importer of artisan wines from small Italian regional wineries. He readily shared with us his expertise on these wines, most of which are produced and imported in very small quantities.

The feast began with individual antipasto plates filled with every variety of traditional Italian appetizer, from mozzarella rolls to sliced meats to Italian-style tuna salad, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Slender breadsticks also graced every table and made fine palate cleansers between courses and wines. The antipasto platters were served with 2007 Nicolis Valpolicella Classico DOC, from the region north of Verona and east of Lake Garda, a red wine made with the same varietals found in Amarone and Reciotto. This was a smooth and easily drinkable wine that was a perfect accompaniment to the antipasto.

Next came Tortellini en Brodo, or wild-mushroom tortellini in a very clear, lovely broth. Accompanying this course was 2005 Pavia Bricca Blina Barbera D’Asti DOC. This red wine, a great pasta accompaniment, is very rich and full-bodied, no doubt due to the 11-month-long rest it enjoys in stainless steel tanks following fermentation, to bring out all the flavor of the Barbera grapes the Pavia family has used exclusively in its five generations of winemaking.

The Pappardelle Pasta Bolognese and Natural Pan Sauce with Petit Veal Osso Bucco, with its tender fall-off-the-bone veal and spicy tomato-sauced pasta, had just the right match in the 2006 Poggerino Chianti Classico DOCG. Only 200 cases of this wine are imported into the United States each year; if you were at last night’s dinner you had the opportunity to order your own share, a wonderful idea if you love a wine with a heady bouquet that holds its own when teamed up with a rich meat dish.

Following this course was the delightful Caprese Salad in a Parmesan Basket, bright and fresh with a variety of greens, grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella slices and balsamic vinaigrette. The salad spilled from a basket made of 100 percent shredded Parmesan cheese — no flour, no filler — and crispy and tasty as could be. Its selected wine was 2007 Piero Busso Langhe Bianco DOC, a spirited 50-50 chardonnay-sauvignon blended white that is also fermented in stainless steel, and imported to this country exclusively by Barrel Aged Wine (only 3,000 bottles are produced each year). As we learned, it’s an ideal wine for salad or for drinking on its own.

So many Bistro patrons especially appreciate Chef Ruth’s touch with a scallop, and that was once again on display last night in the Seared Scallop with Black Truffle Soft Polenta and Asparagus. Each scallop, perfectly cooked, sat on a bed of baby-soft polenta, surrounded by crisp green asparagus slices. The 2005 Palagetto Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, fermented and aged in oak for more than a year, tasted just right alongside.

The ideal finish to the evening came in the form of a Ricotta Mascarpone Crêpe with Zabaglione and Fresh Berries. The zabaglione, flavorful with lemon zest and Limoncello, was delightful and the little added treats on the plate (such as mocha custard in a chocolate cup, topped with a berry) made dessert even more special. So did the wine served with it, 2007 CA’D GAL Moscato Di Asti. The bright, crisp, fruity taste of this white makes it yet another wine that’s very easy to enjoy on its own as well as with a dessert. This one is produced in only a 1,000-case quantity each year and only 100 of those cases per year make it to the USA, so once again this was an opportunity to sample a wine not easily obtained in this country.

It was a special night, full of interesting information, magnificent flavors and experiences, and many delights for anyone who loves well-prepared food and lovingly created small-batch Italian wines. Kudos once again to Chef Ruth and her crew, Jim Dunlevy and the entire Bistro 185 staff for another memorable evening!

If you missed out, the video below will give you a little taste of this very enjoyable evening — and maybe encourage you to sign up for the next wine dinner February 15! Details to come!

Italian Regional Wine Dinner preview!

Here are just a few glimpses of what’s going on as we prepare for tonight’s Italian Regional Wine Dinner. It’s another sellout! If you signed up for this one, you’re going to be glad you traveled through the cold for it…

We sill have a lot of work left to do before we present this feast to you, so please excuse us while we say arrivederci…we’ll greet you again with a hearty Ciao! in an hour and a half!

Mark your calendar now for these special February events!

We know you’re already excited about next Tuesday’s Italian Regional Wine Dinner (and so are we!), but we’ve got even more in store for you next month. Who says February in Cleveland has to be cold and dull? Cold, maybe, but dull — forget it! Not when we’re celebrating Bistro 185’s fourth anniversary, kicking off a series of monthy Vegan Dinners we know you’re going to love, and offering a special February 15 dinner for all you romantics who like the idea of keeping Valentine’s Day going a little longer!

HELP US CELEBRATE!: On Saturday, February 6, we will have been open for four years. You’ve helped make us a success, so please come and join in our Bistro 185 Fourth Anniversary Celebration! We’ll be featuring a special anniversary menu and birthday cake, and everyone will receive a complimentary glass of champagne — as well as some other surprises. More details to come!

VEGAN DINNER SERIES: Recently Bistro 185 was fortunate to secure the services of Chef Jakub Mejstrik, whose work will be featured in what is sure to be a very welcome new monthly Vegan Dinner Series. The series kicks off Wednesday, February 10, with our first featured dish, Thai-Style Massaman Curry with vegetables, tofu, and organic brown basmati rice. For the non-vegans among you, our Massaman Curry will also be available with a choice of chicken or shrimp. Keep watching this space for announcements of future Vegan Dinner dates and entrees.

FOR LOVERS ONLY — FOOD AND WINE LOVERS, THAT IS: True, Valentine’s Day, February 14, falls on a Sunday this year, and the Bistro is closed (after all, even we need to take time out for romance). But Monday, February 15, we’ll be open with a special Romantic Wine Dinner for everyone who just couldn’t get enough romance squeezed into Sunday. For more details on the featured courses and wines, watch this space. Who says love should be celebrated only one day? Oh, and if you have no sweetheart to bring along, just bring your love of great food and drink; you won’t be sorry!

Keep Bistro 185 in mind this coming month, and the rest of your winter will be something to look forward to.

Wine pairings for our Italian Regional Wine Dinner

This time we’re going to go one better in telling you about what’s in store for our upcoming wine dinner by listing each course with the wine we’re pairing it with. Here’s our lineup for the Italian Regional Wine Dinner January 26:

Individual Antipasto — 2007 Valpolicella DOC Classico

Tortellini en Brodo — 2005 Barbera D’Asti Bricco Blina DOCG

Veal Osso Bucco with Pappardelle Pasta and Natural Pan Sauce — 2006 Chianti Classico DOCG

Caprese Salad — 2007 Langhe Bianco “Sauvignon Blanc — Chardonnay” Bianco

Seared Scallop on Black Truffle Soft Polenta and Asparagus — 2005 Vernaccia Di San Gimignano Riserva DOCG

Ricotta Mascarpone Crêpe with Zabaglione and Fresh Berries — 2007 Moscato D’Asti Lumine DOCG

With a lineup like that, you won’t want to miss this one. Call 216.481.9635 and make your reservation now!

Mamma Mia! Don’t miss our Regional Italian Wine Dinner Jan. 26!

Whether you’ve enjoyed our wine dinners so far or never been to one before, you’re not going to want to miss out on our Italian Regional Wine Dinner Tuesday, January 26. It will feature a wonderful selection of regional Italian wines paired with each course — and oh, what courses!

Individual Antipasto

Tortellini en Brodo

Veal Osso Bucco with Pappardelle Pasta and Natural Pan Sauce

Caprese Salad

Seared Scallop on Black Truffle Soft Polenta and Asparagus

Ricotta Mascarpone Crêpe with Zabaglione and Fresh Berries

Our wine dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. and cost is $60 per person, tax and gratuity additional. Our last dinner sold out, so don’t miss your chance to escape the drab and dreary Cleveland winter for a few hours for a romantic night of great cuisine Italian style. Call 216.481.9635 and make your paid reservation now!

AND…BEARD IS BACK!! Our James Beard Project resumes the week of January 11 with two more weeks featuring a classic James Beard-inspired dish as part of our dinner specials each night! Watch this blog for more information coming soon.

Behind the Dish: Gnocchi Verdi

Did you know that gnocchi, the famous form of Italian pasta, are sometimes referred to in Italy as malfatti — or “badly made”? James Beard himself says so in his cookbook Beard on Pasta. Why? Because “they are so delicate that when they are cooked they are quite uneven in shape. You have to skim them out of the water very, very carefully because of their fragility, but they well repay the care: they just melt on your tongue when you eat them.”

That’s the idea behind Gnocchi Verdi (“green gnocchi”), a type of gnocchi made out of spinach (that’s where the green comes from), ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, butter, eggs and flour, spiced up with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Kind of like a ravioli filling — only without the ravioli! The finished gnocchi are topped with a simple cream sauce of Parmesan cheese and butter.

We’re keeping pretty much to the original recipe for this one, with a touch of garlic added. When you try our Gnocchi Verdi, we don’t think you’ll find it malfatti at all — or, at least, your mouth won’t, anyway.

Behind the Dish: Basil Lasagna

Making James Beard’s Basil Lasagna takes, as you might guess, lasagna noodles and basil — more properly, basil in the form of pesto, the sauce made from basil, garlic, pine nuts, parsley, oil and Parmesan cheese. It also, as you might similarly guess, takes some eggs and ricotta cheese, as well as more Parmesan and mozzarella. From there, we build on his recipe a bit. For one thing, it calls for only two layers of lasagna noodles; we’re using four. For another, we’re kicking up the cheese factor by alternating layers of fresh provolone and mozzarella with layers of fresh Parmesan and mozzarella between the noodles and the pesto-ricotta mix. Third, we’re adding just a touch of lemon zest to heighten the flavor. We even drizzled a little Mornay sauce around the edges for a finishing touch. Come in and see what a hint of lemon does for a pesto lasagna!

Behind the Dish: Spaghetti! Marco! Polo!!

OK! Marc and Ruth are a little busy today, as you might imagine, so for today their tenant’s taking over again! (You remember me from when I made Apple Turnovers? Or not? Well, anyway…) Today’s Julia Child dish is Spaghetti Marco Polo, and if you’ve never heard of it, no — it’s not spaghetti you eat in the pool, and you don’t have to eat it with your eyes closed while blindly feeling around for the plate. No, as my research reveals, it’s a dish that goes back to a long-held myth about the origins of spaghetti.

If you’re like me, you probably recall learning at some point that Marco Polo introduced Italy to pasta by bringing spaghetti home with him from his travels to China, where the people were already eating the long, stringy stuff. However, if you Google it, you’ll find a jumble of history, stories and evidence implying that he most likely didn’t, and that Italy may have acquired both durum wheat, the basis of dried pasta, and a method for making it into pasta from the Arabs, not the Chinese. Anyway, the Italian climate turned out to be perfect for growing durum wheat, and Italians were probably the first people to serve pasta with sauces. Ancient methods for kneading pasta dough had a lot in common with preparing grapes for wine — people did both with their feet!

So, the Chinese may not have invented spaghetti after all, and Marco Polo probably didn’t introduce it to Italy. (Wow. The next thing you know, they’ll tell us he didn’t invent the swimming-pool game either.) But somehow, that story that he did sticks with us. And that story inspired Julia Child to present a dish she called Spaghetti Marco Polo on her show The French Chef.

Julia’s dish included chopped walnuts, olives, pimiento and basil, and she encouraged her viewers to eat the completed dish Chinese-style: with chopsticks. (In fact, Ruth told me that she first taught her sons how to use chopsticks by introducing them to Spaghetti Marco Polo.) Some viewers didn’t think that it met the criteria of “French” cooking implied by the show’s title, and wrote letters telling her so, but Julia disagreed. To her, the essence of French cooking was “Taking ordinary everyday ingredients, and with a little bit of love and imagination, turning them into something appealing.” It wasn’t the ingredients or the origins of a dish that made it “French,” but the approach and the methods used to cook it. Once you learned French technique, in her eyes, you could apply it to any set of ingredients — even foods we don’t think of as “French.”

Julia’s experience living in China during her employment by the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, had left her with an appreciation for Chinese food, and in her heyday the story of Marco Polo introducing pasta to Italy from China was even more widespread and not well challenged. So it’s not surprising that she saw no problem with preparing a traditionally Italian dish on a show called The French Chef and advising her viewers to eat it Chinese style!

How’s the Bistro planning on doing it? Here’s the lowdown they gave me: the black olives in their recipe will be kalamata olives, and assorted colored peppers will substitute for the pimientos. Otherwise the dish is largely the same and fairly simple: spaghetti tossed with olive oil, the olives and peppers, walnuts, parsley, garlic, rooftop basil, salt and pepper, and garnished with Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese. Whether or not you want to eat it with chopsticks is up to you! (And if you do, you may have to bring your own!)