Chocolate & Wine Dinner a tasty treat!

You’ve been waiting for it, and you’ve got it: the video from the Valentine’s Day Chocolate & Wine Dinner. I must say, I (the humble Tenant) am really sorry I didn’t get to finish this one. Those of you who were there, you know why; not going to bother the rest of you with the story. Suffice it to say I’m fine, and I hope I didn’t spoil anyone’s enjoyment of what was a really terrific repast.

We began with an aperitif wine, San Giulio Malvasia. This was a red sparkling wine, poured in flutes, and I liked it for its bright, slightly sweet qualities that prepared us for the meal to come.

The first course was Seared Day Boat Scallop with Wild Mushroom Risotto in a White Chocolate and Lemon Sauce. Once again, a classic Bistro 185 scallop, seared and cooked just perfectly, and in a delightfully light sauce. If you expect chocolate, white or otherwise, to be heavy, a sauce like this is a revelation; it was a light and delicate creamy seafood sauce, only a touch sweet. The risotto studded with mushrooms was a fine complement. Our wine for this course was Piper Sonoma Blanc de Blancs, which didn’t overpower the flavor of the dish.

Course 2 treated us to Chocolate and Espresso-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Mango Sauce, accompanied by a Chocolate Noodle Kugel. The slices of pork, once again cooked just enough, were tender and flavorful, with lovely little crispy crusty edges of chocolate-espresso coating. The mango sauce went with them perfectly, and the square of noodle kugel was like a little noodle casserole: a bit sweet but also spicy. With this dish we received a glass of Rebel Wine Company’s The Show Malbec. This is a smooth and full-bodied wine that is just right for a more substantial meat course.

The third course was a real charmer. I told my companions that it seems Ruth never does an ordinary salad, and this one was another mold-breaker. The mixed greens for this salad arrived in lacy fried baskets of Parmesan cheese slightly flavored with chocolate. (Ruth admitted to me later that they were very tricky to make.) The greens were sprinkled with organic cocoa nibs–which really aren’t sweet at all–and dressed in a mildly sweet, light ginger-citrus vinaigrette. This was tasty enough, but I’ll be honest and admit what my favorite part of the salad was: the piece of dark chocolate-dipped bacon that speared every serving. How can you resist a thick slice of applewood-smoked bacon coated in a lovely thick covering of dark chocolate? Of course, whoever came up with the concept of covering bacon in chocolate in the first place should probably be consigned to the fiery flames for having stumbled upon such an entirely unhealthy and utterly sinful concept. But it’s too late now to undo what’s been done. And let’s face facts: chocolate-covered bacon is unbelievably delicious. Did the Graffigna Pinot Grigio go well with it? Sure, but did it really matter? Enough said about that.

For the fourth course, we enjoyed Duck Confit with Chili-Chocolate Mole Sauce and Agave Rum-Grilled Bosc Pear. What a fine combination this turned out to be as well. The duck was ever so crispy and the sauce again was a winning combination of sweet and spice, with the pears just making it all the tastier. The wine was Campo Viejo Rioja, a very nice red.

Here is where I have to end my review. I only wish I could have made it to the Panko and Hazelnut Crusted Scampi with Hazelnut Chocolate Sauce with Brunoise of Fresh Melons in Chocolate Liqueur, not to mention the dessert of Chocolate Creme Brulee with Chocolate Cigar and Fresh Berries. I’m also a lover of any combination of chocolate and hazelnuts (keep your Nutella away from me if you don’t want it to disappear), and I know from past experience what kinds of reactions Ruth gets for her scampi. And a chocolate dessert like this one–need I say more? I would also have liked to try the Maschio Prosecco Treviso Brut and Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Port. But I’m probably going to have to try to get Ruth to cook up these dishes for me some other time. How good are my powers of persuasion? I guess we’ll see. Then again, maybe I can convince her that I don’t want to have missed out on seeing what magic she worked with these dishes. Worth a shot, right?

Anyway, if you were there and would like to offer your comments on them, please do. As a matter of fact, feel free to comment on anything about this dinner. One impression I definitely came away with, from what I was able to enjoy, was that if anyone had any notions that  just because it was chocolate-based, it was going to be like eating six courses of nothing but gooey-sweet, candy-like dishes…well, it couldn’t have been further from the truth. On the contrary, it proved that with care and creativity, chocolate can be used as a flavoring or component of many dishes other than sugary desserts, just like cinnamon or any other such spice. Something worth thinking about the next time you want to try cooking up a special meal–or enjoying one in a restaurant.

What’s up next on the Bistro 185 special dinner schedule? As you may have already seen, it’s a chance to get your Irish on at an Irish Wine and Spirits Dinner. To ensure yourself a place at the table, be sure to reserve now!

Chocoholics, rejoice!

We’ve got the menu all planned for the Chocolate & Wine Dinner at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 16. As promised, every dish includes chocolate, and every one is going to be special:

Aperitif Wine
San Giulio Malvasia

First Course
Seared Day Boat Scallop
Wild Mushroom Risotto
White Chocolate and Lemon Sauce
Wine: Piper Sonoma Blanc de Blancs

Second Course
Chocolate and Espresso Coffee-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin Medallions
Mango Sauce
Chocolate Noodle Kugel
Wine: Rebel Wine Company “The Show” Malbec

Third Course
Parmesan and Chocolate Basket
Mixed Greens
Organic Chocolate Nibs
Dark-Chocolate-Dipped Bacon
Ginger-Citrus Vinaigrette
Wine: Graffigna Pinot Grigio

Fourth Course
Duck Confit with Chili-Chocolate Mole Sauce
Agave Rum-Grilled Bosc Pear
Wine: Campo Viejo Rioja

Fifth Course
Panko-and-Hazelnut-Crusted Scampi
Hazelnut Chocolate Sauce
Brunoise of Fresh Melons in a Chocolate Liqueur
Wine: Maschio Prosecco Treviso Brut

Sixth Course
Chocolate Crème Brulée
Chocolate Cigar
Fresh Berries
Wine: Terra d’Oro Port Zinfandel

Think of what a special gift this dinner would make for your Valentine — this year, skip the box of candy and give an original “assorted chocolates” surprise! Not only that, but maybe your sweetheart will enjoy the idea of dining out after the rush. Especially when it means enjoying a relaxing, elegantly served six-course meal that’s full of chocolate magic.

You won’t want to miss this one, so call now and make your reservation ($75 per person, excluding tax and gratuity) at 216.481.9635. Chocolate may be the food of romance, but our Chocolate Wine Dinner will be a sweet experience even if you’re enjoying it solo!

For goodness: Sake Dinner

The Tenant here, with a review of the Bistro’s Sake Dinner last week (if you haven’t yet, check out the video in the previous blog post). As I think I mentioned earlier, I particularly love Asian food, so I knew this special dinner was going to be a standout for me. When Ruth and her team put their talents to this kind of cuisine, it’s always something fantastic, as I remember from last year’s sake dinner. This one was every bit as wonderful.

The courses started off with Seared Day Boat Scallop with Golden Trout Caviar atop Forbidden Black Jasmine Rice with Chinese Sausage and Ginger Beurre Blanc. Again I repeat, if you’re a person who loves scallops but can’t stand the way some chefs turn them into overcooked, rubbery little hockey pucks, you must try them the way Ruth cooks them. They’re always cooked to perfect doneness and then caramelized on the outside just enough to give them a little bit of crispy brown crust to contrast with the tender inside. This one, wearing its gold caviar crown, sat like a king atop a mountain of black rice mixed with tiny chunks of Chinese sausage. The rice had a dense, nutty flavor, and the ginger beurre blanc provided a nice touch of sweetness and just a subtle hint of citrus. The sake served with this course was a very enjoyable Murai Family Tanrei Junmai. As I was last year, I continue to be impressed and dazzled by how many different varieties of sake exist. Yes, I used to think sake was sake; that it was all the same! Obviously, I know better now!

Our second course was a triple treat: Pistachio-Crusted Chicken Tonkatsu with Curry Aioli, Grilled Korean Beef Lettuce Wrap and Sesame Japanese Eggplant. With three items as delicious as these on one plate, it was hard to know which to eat first. I decided on the lettuce wrap, which was a pick-up-and-eat street-food kind of entree. The marinated beef sits in the lettuce leaves with a sprig of green onion and a little marinade dressing, and you just hold it all together and eat it! It was absolutely delicious, with just a touch of mint as a refreshing contrast to the spice. Speaking of spice, the chicken delivered delightfully, thanks to the curry aioli. It was a winning combination of nutty, crispy, and a little hot and tangy. And then there was the sauteed eggplant, tender and flavorful. The accompanying sake was Momokawa Junmai Pearl, which, true to its name, was a cloudy, milky-looking “pearl”-style sake with a lot of “kick.”

Third on our Asian excursion were little pots of Shrimp Scallion Dumpling Soup. The savory broth of this soup contained another triple delight: strips of tender pork in the won ton soup tradition, delicate baby shrimp, and a dainty, positively melt-in-your-mouth dumpling. It was rich in flavor and tasty to the last drop, as were the heady sakes served along with it: G-Joy and Moonstone Asian Pear Sake.

A contrast to the dishes served hot was the fourth course, Cold Soba Noodles with Sweet and Spicy Chili Sauce. This one needed no heat from the stove, because the fire was right in the chilies that flavor it; the noodles were pleasingly spicy and tongue-awakening without numbing your palate. I had fun using my chopsticks to wind up and eat the noodles the same way I used to see my Uncle Frank eat his spaghetti–I guess that despite my love of Asian food, I’m an Italian at heart! The chopsticks were also useful for picking up the scattering of edamame beans that lay at the base of each mountain of noodles. At the peak of that mountain: one heavenly shrimp, just barely coated in tempura batter and fried, greaseless and light as a feather. A full-bodied Murai Family Nigori Genshu sake accompanied this dish.

The last of the savory courses was a treat for sushi lovers, with slices of Yuzu Ahi Tuna Sashimi Style taking the center of the plate. These ruby-red, utterly fresh slices of tuna were coated with a crust of black and golden sesame seeds, and accompanied by a bed of thinly shredded Daikon-Carrot Salad with Ginger Miso Dressing and paper-thin slices of pickled ginger. The contrasts of cool fresh fish, crunchy seeds and spicy-sweet ginger with the refreshing, lightly dressed slaw made for a perfect combination with the Choya Umeshu Sake. As distributor representative Greg Webster explained to us, this sake, made with a fruit known in Japan as umeshu but often referred to by Westerners as a “plum” (you can see it sitting right at the bottom of the container), is the third most popular alcoholic beverage in Japan, after beer and vodka. From its slightly sweet, intense flavor, I could understand why.

The evening ended with a perfect dessert course. Each plate contained a tiny scoop of lychee ice cream in a chocolate cup, a delightfully creamy custard tartlet encased in a flaky-light crust, and a variety of melon balls (and a lychee) that had been marinated in sake. The sake served with dessert was Choya Ume Blanc, a refreshing and mildly sweet ice-wine-like drink, and Choya Sake Jumani, which I think I’d have to choose as my favorite among the sakes for its unique flavor with a hint of lime essence. The perfect ending to an incredible meal!

I had the pleasure of sharing a table for this dinner with the proud mother of Chef Todd Mueller, and we had a fine evening indeed. As you might expect, she’s not exactly modest about her son’s accomplishments in the kitchen, but with a son who cooks the way hers does, she doesn’t need to be! This dinner was another triumph for Chefs Ruth, Todd and the whole Bistro crew. Whether eaten with chopsticks, knife and fork, or a little of both, it was sensational!

If this description has helped whet your appetite for a Bistro special dinner, and especially if you like Southwestern, Mexican and Latin American flavors, you’ll want to make your reservation quickly for the August 25 dinner. It will be a fiesta of tequilas, served with appropriate accompanying dishes. Look for the menu to appear here soon!

Pacific Coast Highway Wine Dinner: a refreshing trip!

The video for the Bistro’s Pacific Coast Highway Wine Dinner is ready for your review. As The Tenant, I again had a wonderful time sampling the food and wines the latest special event had to offer, courtesy of chefs Ruth Levine, Todd Mueller and Phyllis Prybor.

Things started off deliciously with “A Taste of Half Moon Bay”: Roasted Oysters with Bacon and Spinach. The oysters were plump and lightly briny with garlicky spinach in their pearly shells, and is there anything that doesn’t taste good with bacon? The accompanying wine was ’06 Evergreen Vineyards Spruce Goose Pinot Gris, from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, a light and fruity contrast.

Next it was off to “San Francisco Chinatown” with Asian-Inspired Medallions of Beef Tenderloin in a Hoisin-Soy Glaze and Fried Rice. Being the lover of Asian food that I am, I’d have to choose this as my favorite course. The ’06 Annabelle Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley served with it was lighter than I expected it to be, especially given its heady bouquet, which is fine with me. I thought it was just right for the food.

The third course was a true coastal cuisine classic: Cioppino, or Fisherman’s Stew, with Sourdough Toast in the San Francisco tradition. The tomato broth was rich with Alaskan halibut, mussels, clams, and shrimp. Our wine for this course was ’08 Michael Pozzan Russian River Chardonnay, which I found to be strong, heady, buttery rich yet dry, and nicely counteractive to the spiciness of the stew.

A crisp and cool salad course came next: Jicama-Carrot-Daikon Salad Brunoise of Melons in a Sesame Vinaigrette. It was an absolutely delicious slaw, dressed just right, and while I wouldn’t have expected it to be paired with a red, the red chosen for it really was a good choice: Kestrel Vintners Lady in Red from Yakima Valley, a smooth blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah.

Course number five was “L.A. à la Wolfgang Puck,” a tribute to Southern California cuisine and its light, fresh flavors: a Smoked Salmon & Arugula Pizzette Topped with Crème Fraîche and Chives. The bounty of the rooftop garden was already making itself known in this one! A more full-bodied wine arrived with this one: an ’09 Montoya Pinot Noir, with lots of depth and fruitiness.

Last but never least, the dessert course for this evening was a Panna Cotta with Mixed Berry Coulis. I’d never had a panna cotta before, and this dish, a kind of Italian pudding made with cream, milk, sugar, gelatin and a hint of lemon zest, was just delightful, especially topped by the zesty berry sauce. Combined with the tiny glasses of ’05 Norman Old Vine Zin Port, it made a fitting finish to the meal.

It was a great evening, and over the course of it the Bistro even celebrated a birthday or two. If this sounds like your kind of fun but you have yet to join us, be sure to sign up for “From Russia with Love,” a feast that will feature Russian champagnes and vodkas with each course, on June 23. You’ll love the food and you’ll learn a lot about what you drink — as well as having the opportunity to purchase some yourself. Don’t miss out!