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!

Ay, caramba! We had a great Tequila Dinner!

The Tenant is back, and you’re going to have to make do with me for a while, because Ruth and Marc are going off on a well-deserved vacation. But they’ve entrusted me to write another of my reviews, this one of Wednesday’s Tequila Dinner. At this event, we were able to enjoy some of the many distilled forms of the blue agave plant, which is a succulent plant related to lilies — not a cactus, as some think. It’s been cultivated for many thousands of years, and people have been making tequila from it for quite a long time! We got to taste a few products of that experience.

Things got off to a rousing start with the combination of a Shrimp Tamale and two paired glasses on our tables: one of fresh pickle juice and one of Tierra Organic Blanco Tequila. Tierra is the only organic tequila sold in the United States, and blanco tequila is 100% agave tequila, unaged and untreated with additives. The contrast of the tart pickle juice with this slightly sweet tequila was a tastebud-tingler. So was the tamale, a combination of shrimp, plantain, cornmeal mush (with many tasty spicings and flavorings, including fresh cilantro and lime) served in a corn husk.

The second course was ropa vieja — shredded beef brisket cooked for 24 hours in a bath of Tex-Mex seasonings, seated atop jalapeño corn pudding, and topped with refreshing sour cream. But before it arrived, we were able to get a start on the accompanying tequila drink, an intriguing iced latte of Kahlua and Mexican chocolate known as a “Daring Dylan.” This drink, which I could enjoy as a substitute for chocolate milk any day of the week, featured Don Julio Anejo Tequila (aged in oak at least one year) and was rimmed with a very Mexican flavor combination of cocoa and cinnamon. OK, I admit it: the rim tasted so good, I licked it off!

You’d think the second course of a meal would be an odd place for a chocolate drink to be served, but the Daring Dylan was actually an excellent complement that helped cool the spicy-hot ropa vieja on the palate.

Next came another hearty dish, House-Made Black-Bean, Goat Cheese and Poblano Ravioli. These large, fairly flat ravioli were full of rich flavor from the beans, cheese, and poblano peppers, and sauced with a delicious roasted red pepper sauce streaked with cream. The tequila for this course was a powerful, pungent Don Julio Repasado (100% agave, stored in oak between two months and a year).

Following the intense flavors of this course came some gentle, cooling refreshment. Normally this point of a meal features a salad course, but this one was a little different: Chef Ruth had prepared three different kinds of guacamole. We each had a scoop of traditional guacamole made with avocados, a scoop of sweet and fresh guacamole made with mangoes, and a tart and tangy guacamole made with Marc’s smoked trout. The guacamoles were served with long fried plantain chips atop a bed of carrot and jicama slaw. These were very tasty; I thought the contrasting flavors of the mango and trout varieties were a fun and out-of-the-ordinary twist on the theme. The refreshment continued in the drink served with this course, a Mexican Mojito made with Don Julio Blanco Tequila, spiked with plenty of fresh rooftop-garden mint. Yum!

By this time, though, my eyes were getting bigger than my stomach. I had to have my fifth course, the Seafood Vera Cruz, packed up to go. But that was fine, because I had an absolutely wonderful lunch of it the next day! If anything, the seafood stew, rich with fish, mussels, shrimp and grilled scallop, full of peppers and onions and served over a timbale of saffron rice, tasted even better with the broth aging that extra day for the flavors to marry even more. Utterly delicious. The Tierras Organic Repasado tequila served with it was fiery and intense.

Somehow, even packing up the stew, I found room for the dessert course that night. And was it ever wonderful: tiny chocolate cups of margarita sorbet — like the most concentrated form of margarita slush you’ve ever had — along with smooth, soothing caramel flan and a fantastic churro, or Spanish fried doughnut stick, dipped deeply in molten chocolate. Mmmm-mmm! And the final drink was something special, too: a “Frisky Surprise” featuring Tierra Organic Anejo tequila. This slushy fruit drink was served in tall glasses with an orange slice, and was a refreshing and unusual treat.

So, it was another success for a Bistro 185 special dinner evening — but if you think this one was good, what Ruth and Marc (especially Ruth) are cooking up for October is really going to amaze you. Be sure not to be late signing up for it, because it’s going to be a dinner with a bit of a Halloween-style theme like you’ve never seen or tasted before. What is it? You’ll have to wait a little longer to find out. But watch this space — soon you’ll know!

Vegan Night menu for August 18

Our next Vegan Night featuring the mastery of Chef Jakub Mejstrik is coming up soon! You’ll be able to enjoy a delicious meal from beginning to end, all vegan and all fabulous:

Starters ($8 each)
Roasted Summer Vegetable Grilled Whole Wheat and Flax Pizza
Wild Mushroom Empanada

Entree ($17.50)
Southwest-Inspired Gardein
Black Bean-Summer Corn-Mango-Jalapeño Salsa
Cilantro and Lime Vinaigrette
Plantain Crisps
Corn Arepa with Vegan Cheese

Dessert ($6.75)
Roasted Stone Fruits with Lime Agave Rum Sauce and Fresh Seasonal Berries

For a truly memorable dining experience, try our version of Southwestern cuisine, vegan style!

Rum-Painted Grouper is a great tropical taste!

Oh boy, this is another winner from Chef Todd! You’re going to love the combination of flavors in this dish. The grouper is painted with a glaze of rum, cloves, black peppercorns, soy and lemon, then grilled to perfection and placed atop a bed of macadamia-nut guacamole, rich with the flavors of fresh avocado and cilantro. It’s topped with grilled pineapple slices and a wedge of lime, and served alongside jasmine rice and sweet-potato tostones. It’s one of those terrific dishes that provides a magical contrast of flavors and sensations: hot and cold, sweet and spicy, all blending together and yet each standing out to be savored in turn. Not to be missed!

It’s party time!

No, we’re not talking about tomorrow’s football game. We’re talking about tonight! It’s Bistro 185’s fourth anniversary — and as you can see, we’re ready to celebrate in style.

We never could have made it this far without you, our patrons who have so enjoyed themselves here and have returned again and again to tell us so. Please join us for dinner tonight and help us celebrate by enjoying a complimentary glass of champagne and taking home a slice of our anniversary cake!

As always, we’ve got fantastic specials to tempt your tastebuds. Such as our Argentina Style Beef Tenderloin Filet with Chimichurri Sauce, Cilantro and Lime-Marinated Shrimp with an Arepa and Sweet Potato Tostone and Yellow Rice; our Bistro 185 Fish Fry, starring day boat scallops, shrimp and cod in a cornmeal batter with remoulade sauce and sweet potato fries; our Rack of Lamb with Roasted Red Pepper Orzo Risotto; and our 12-ounce Long Bone Veal Chop with Shiitake Mushroom-Marsala Sauce and Wild Mushroom Tortellini. Or go with a classic or an old favorite; we’ve still got dishes you know and love, from the Four Cheese Mac & Cheese with Smoked Chicken to the Chicken Schnitzel to the Lobster Ravioli to our own Boeuf Bourguignon. Whatever you choose, it’ll make for a happy celebration!

So stop on by, wish us a Happy Anniversary and join in the champagne toast. With the support of you, our friends, we hope to enjoy many more years of serving exciting, creative and delicious bistro cuisine.

Our Veuve Clicquot Champagne Wine Dinner video

We hope you enjoy this video presentation of the courses featured in our Champagne Wine Dinner December 28:

We’ll let you know when and what we’re planning for our next wine dinner in the near future!

Pop some corks with us December 28!

You’ll have the opportunity to pop the champagne before New Year’s Eve when you join us for our special Champagne Wine Dinner Monday, December 28. We’ll be pairing a selection of Veuve Clicquot Champagnes with the following dishes:

Coquilles St. Jacques
Baby Lamb Chop with Roasted Red Pepper Orzo Risotto
Tuna Ceviche in Champagne, Lime, Cilantro and Jalapeño Vinaigrette with Organic Baby Greens
Duck Confit with Orange-Ginger Glaze
Lyonnaise Potato Timbale
Butter-Poached South African Lobster Tail with Confetti Vegetables
Dessert Course: Champagne Sorbet, French Crèpe with Sweet Cheese and Cherry Sauce

Cost of the Champagne Wine Dinner is $60 per person in advance, gratuity and tax additional. Don’t miss this chance to celebrate the end of 2009 with some truly fine champagne and some wonderful food — make your reservations now at 216.481.9635.

Hint, hint: A reservation for this dinner makes a perfect holiday gift for the wine lovers on your list!

Behind the Dish: Ossi Buchi with Orzo

Osso Bucco is a dish we’ve been serving quite a bit of at the Bistro this fall. So how does tonight’s James Beard special, Ossi Buchi with Orzo, differ? Well, this time our seared, simmered veal shanks are accompanied by both the traditional gremolata (chopped garlic, parsley and grated lemon zest) and by an orzo risotto, combining the ricelike Italian pasta with cream, butter, Parmesan cheese, roasted red peppers, scallions and parsley. We think this will definitely delight you with tender fall-off-the-bone meat, a little spice and a lot of risotto creaminess.

Whatever entree you enjoy at the Bistro, you don’t want to skip dessert if you can possibly help it. For one thing, we’ve been making many of our Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Pies (a slice of which you can see in our Halloween video), because they’re so popular we just can’t keep them in the dessert case. And right now we’re preparing a couple of new treats to tempt you: Gingerbread-Root Beer Cake with Root Beer-Poached Pears (made with artisanal root beer) and Cheesecake Topped with Banana-Lime-White Chocolate Ganache and Slivered Almonds.

Ruth is also preparing some of her famous Asian Crab Cakes for tonight’s Dames Dish! for the Holidays event, hosted by Cleveland’s female culinary pros, Les Dames d’Escoffier Cleveland. The event, from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. in Parma’s Trevarrow Kitchen Showroom, is designed to please your taste buds and inspire your holiday entertaining plans, with appetizers, hors d’oeuvres and desserts from the group’s culinary professionals, accompanied by wonderful wines. The event will also feature a silent auction including prizes like a KitchenAid Artisan Series mixer, restaurant gift certificates and more. Advance registration of $50 is required; all proceeds benefit Les Dames’ Northeast Ohio Green Tables Initiative, which helps people better understand the link between rural and urban farms and their tables.

So…don’t let anyone tell you there’s nothing to do in Cleveland on a Friday night…or nothing good to eat!