Vegan Irish 3-for-$30 makes eyes (and taste buds) smile

The Tenant has experienced yet another 3-for-$30 Vegan Dinner, and this one was every bit as tasty as last week’s Irish Spirits Dinner–and also just as filling!

The starter, Caramelized Onion, Cabbage, and Vegan Bacon Tart, arrived at the bar as a crusty square of pure delight, sitting in a tasty sauce and sprigged with dill. I love caramelized onions, and I love bacon, so this one had to be a winner, assuming the vegan bacon tasted anything like the real thing (it did). To give you some idea of how good it looked, I had folks sitting alongside me at the bar who inquired about it and wanted to know if they might be able to order it separately! I couldn’t blame them, either, because the flavor was as terrific as its looks.

Vegan Irish Stew

The main course, Irish Stew with Vegetables and Gardein on a Bed of Red Bliss Potato Mash with Spring Onions, was not any less stellar. As you can see–so tempting that I forgot to photograph it before starting to eat it! The sauce on this one had an incredibly rich flavor, so savory and full of depth, and the vegetables–which included onions, carrots and blue potatoes, amongst others–were just fantastic. It was studded with big chunks of lightly breaded gardein that had the same chickeny texture and flavor as I’d experienced with the Hungarian-style schnitzel dish. And as if all that weren’t enough, it was sitting on top of those incredible Red Bliss mashers. Heaven!

By the time I finished the tart and the stew I was already feeling pretty stuffed, but there was still dessert to go: Chocolate Mousse Infused with Irish Whiskey. Wow. This mousse was every bit as chocolaty-flavorful and tasty as the Baileys mousse last week, and accented with a big, fat, succulent strawberry of the kind you especially appreciate in the off season. A spray of foamy whipped almond milk on top added a nice topping.

It may be time to put away the shillelaghs and shamrocks for another year as we hope and wait for true springlike weather to arrive (it certainly wasn’t happening last night–looked more like Christmas than the end of March, grumble grumble), but this month’s Vegan 3-for-$30 proved that you don’t need corned beef to enjoy a fine repast worthy of the Auld Sod. Be on the lookout for the announcement of April’s Vegan Dinner–it’s bound to be just as delicious!

Irish Spirits Dinner a most tasty trip!

The Tenant is pleased to report that I made it all the way through the most recent special dinner just fine, as I thought I would. And I’m so glad I did, because missing out on any of the courses in this one would have been sad indeed. Irish or not, the Irish Spirits dinner was enough to–OK, sounds corny, but true–have your heart dancing a jig!

It was fun to taste the various Irish spirits, but that wasn’t my primary reason for attending this one. I tend to be more of a food person, so while it was an education to try out the various liquid libations, I focused more on the edibles.

The first course of House-Smoked Irish Salmon Ravioli was just amazing. The ravioli was Ohio City Pasta, filled with the most tender and sensational smoked salmon, gently coated in a cream sauce that exuded the wonderful fragrance of dill right off the top. The delicate saucing was just ideal for this dish. It was accompanied by Bushmill’s 16 Year single malt whisky, which is powerful stuff indeed. As I said, I’m not big on alcohol in general, but my dining companion certainly enjoyed it, as I don’t doubt any fan of Irish spirits would.

Next was an unusual idea for an Irish platter. On St. Patrick’s Day, and even throughout Cleveland’s ethnic restaurants, corned-beef-and-cabbage specials abound. But who else bundles that dish into a neat, tidy little empanada? This one was fantastic, the empanada lightly flaky and not at all greasy, with the horseradish mustard sauce served alongside just the right condiment to bring out the flavors. This one belongs on the Happy Hour Menu! Alongside the empanada was a Potato-Leek-Bacon Chowder so creamy and rich with flavor that I could have eaten a potful.

The spirit accompanying this course was Boru Irish Vodka, which I found interesting for its smoothness and a kind of intriguing, slightly sweet taste. I’m used to thinking of vodka as flavorless unless some kind of flavor has been added, so this was a different experience for me. As strong as the legendary Irish king for whom it was named, Boru is made from pure spring water and distilled five times. Definitely a change of pace!

The third course was probably the most interesting to me from a “brand-new food experience” standpoint. I had never before had a Scotch egg: a shelled, hard-boiled egg, wrapped in a layer of sausage, then rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Well, now I know of something new to me that I like a lot! (I guess when it comes to fried food, and sausage, I am there.) Chef Ruth’s Scotch egg was served on a lovely, refreshing bed of leafy Bibb lettuce and drizzled with a delightful Green Goddess dressing that made it even tastier. The drink for this course was Magner’s Hard Irish Cider–quite different from what I’m used to thinking of as cider–more like apple juice with a kick.

The fourth course was a pair of Baby Lamb Chops with Mint Shallot Sauce, resting on a bed of mashed Red Bliss Potatoes with Spring Onions. The lamb was just slightly pink and oh, so tender. Now it can be told, I suppose: when asked, I shared a bite with someone (who shall not be named) who had not signed up for this particular dinner (being more of a wine buff) but who had come to the Bistro that evening anyway and couldn’t resist wanting to know what the lamb course was like. Well, once he tasted it, he was a pretty happy guy, which came as no surprise to me. Perhaps he had second thoughts! Regarding the potatoes, they were aptly named, because to me, they were pure bliss, with just a hint of cider vinegar in the sauce that really brought the flavor out. I never would have thought on my own that mashers would benefit from a touch of cider vinegar saucing, but these did, and in spades! Another “I could eat a whole pot of this alone” dish.

O’Hara’s Irish Stout was the drink of the course, and I had a sip or two, although I’m not really a stout drinker. I think the people across from me were more experienced in the realm of Irish spirits, though, and enjoying the chance to sample a wide variety like this.

Last, but most certainly not least, came the dessert course: Baileys Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse with Scones, Berries, and Clotted Cream. The clotted cream was served on top of each tiny, halved scone next to our ramekins of mousse. My dining companion summed up the scones excellently: “off the hook!” As for the mousse, it was topped with whipped cream made from more of the Baileys. My dining companion offered a taste of her mousse to a third party, who was very appreciative! I think we ended up convincing two more people that maybe they should’ve signed up for this dinner after all!

The final spirit was Homemade Tullamore Dew Irish Cream, which was tasty but seemed almost a surfeit of riches considering what we already had in the mousse and the cream. Still, a fine end to a very satisfying meal.

The takeaway? If you love great food but the lineup of alcoholic beverages at a given Bistro 185 dinner is a take-or-leave, you might want to give it a try regardless. Because if you don’t, you’re going to miss out on some incredible food that’s worth the price of the dinner on its own. And those of us who attend regularly can testify to that! Of course, if you are a huge fan of both Emerald Isle food and drink, this one had to leave your Irish eyes smiling.

Don’t forget: this dinner was not the end of special cuisine Irish-style at Bistro 185 this month. They’ll be wrapping things up this Wednesday with the 3-for-$30 Vegan Irish Dinner, so be sure to plan on stopping by on the 30th so as not to miss out. Is it possible to enjoy Irish cuisine without corned beef? You bet, when your Irish stew is made with gardein! Not to mention which, this is another chance to get some of those Red Bliss potato mashers that delighted me–and some more unbelievable mousse. So, get your Irish up and come to the Bistro Wednesday! You’re sure to enjoy it!

Enjoy the luck of the Irish at our Irish Spirits Dinner March 23

March is traditionally a month when it’s easy to find Irish spirit in the air…and Irish spirits flowing (along with an awful lot of green beer)…on the 17th, anyway. But why confine the celebrations to one 24-hour period? By the time St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, all of us in Northeast Ohio are tired of winter and ready for an extended spell of warm, sunny weather. So the more we can lighten up the atmosphere as we welcome springtime, the better!

Bistro 185 wants to extend that feeling a little, so on Wednesday, March 23, we’re rekindling the atmosphere of the Emerald Isle with an Irish Spirits Dinner. This feast will offer an interesting twist on classic Irish cuisine, coupled with a marvelous selection of beloved Irish spirits of all kinds. Take a look at this menu:

Course 1
House-Smoked Irish Salmon Ravioli with Dill Cream Sauce
Bushmill’s 16 Year

Course 2
Corned Beef and Cabbage Empanada with Horseradish Mustard Sauce
Potato-Leek-Bacon Chowder
Boru Irish Vodka

Course 3
Scotch Egg and Bibb Lettuce Salad
Magner’s Hard Irish Cider

Course 4
Baby Lamb Chops with Mint Shallot Sauce
Red Bliss Potatoes with Spring Onions
O’Hara’s Irish Stout

Course 5
Baileys Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse
Scones, Berries, and Clotted Cream
Homemade Tullamore Irish Cream

This dinner is $65 per person plus tax and gratuity. Don’t miss out–call for reservations at 216.481.9635 now!

Review: “Spring Into Whites” Wine Dinner

The Tenant is back, to tell you that the Bistro 185 “Spring Into Whites” Wine Dinner was a real spring fling! This special dinner featuring nothing but white wines was a fine introduction to the season we look forward to here in Cleveland so much.

The first course, Sea Bass Veronique, featured a slice of tender pan-roasted sea bass atop a tiny slightly sweet, light-as-air polenta-mascarpone cheese cake. The Veronique was topped with a chive beurre blanc accented with green and red grapes. The gentle, subtle flavors of this dish were enhanced by the Scharffenberger Brut sparkling wine, a blend of two-thirds Pinot Noir and one-third Chardonnay, equally light and soft in flavor as this dish.

Lollipop Lamb Chop Milanese was the second course: a pair of lollipop-style lamb chops in spicy breading atop a cake of orzo risotto and accompanied by a sweet peach-ginger chutney that was an ideal complement for the flavors of the lamb. The Conundrum White Blend served with this course, an intriguing blend of California white grapes, had a sweet overall touch that combined well with the chutney.

Next came the salad course, with something special indeed: Grilled Pineapple Carpaccio with Fresh Raspberries and Arugula, drizzled with a champagne vinaigrette. Grilling the thinly sliced pineapple really caramelizes it and brings all its sugars to the fore, and it made for a delicious salad, with a wine — Yalumba Viognier — that made for a beautiful and light companion.

The fourth course brought richer and spicier flavors: Chicken Wellington with Shiitake Mushrooms and Spinach in an Herb Crêpe Beggars’ Purse, tied with a ribbon of leek and seated in a creamy roasted red pepper and basil sauce. It was a dish of contrasts: the creamy, tender chicken and the spicy pepper sauce. The Cloudline Pinot Gris, a fruity but drier wine than many of the preceding wines, worked well with this dish.

Course number five had an Asian touch, with Thai Seafood Coconut-Mango Curry. This was another opportunity to enjoy one of Chef Ruth’s perfectly seared grilled scallops, topped with a perfect shrimp and dressed in a curry sauce rich with mangoes, coconut, red pepper, corn and Thai basil. The wine for this dish was Valley of the Moon Chardonnay, a 100% Chardonnay that was very enjoyable.

The delicious conclusion to it all was a dessert that continued the Asian theme: Phyllo Wrapped Roasted Banana and Caramel, along with an assortment of “chef’s whim” delights. The banana was heavenly sweet and delightful; the “chef’s whims” consisted of tiny lemon tarts topped with a raspberry and mini-mocha mousses in tiny chocolate cups. The wine for this course was Von Wilhelm Haus Riesling Beerenauslese, a very appropriate wine with a nice hint of sweetness.

Much thanks to Vintage Wine Distributors and Jonathan, their representative, who joined us and helped me, especially, learn more about the wines we enjoyed.

If you have yet to make it to a Bistro 185 Wine Dinner, but your mouth waters when you read about this and the others (and watch the video!), you should take advantage of your next opportunity to enjoy one — Wednesday, April 28. We’ll be announcing our menu and wines soon, so keep an eye out here for it!

Review: Spanish Regional Wine Dinner

The Tenant’s back again…first, let me ask all of you who regularly come to these wonderful dinners: Where do you put it all? I always end up at the end of one of these Bistro 185 wine dinners feeling as if I am filled to the very top of my body with wonderful food, unable to fit in one bite or one drop more, and the rest of you are just sitting around sipping the rest of your wine, or ordering coffee…how do you do it??

If that gives you the impression that last night’s dinner was a winner, it should. It was a real feast of incredible food Spanish-style, paired with wines that fit the mood and the dishes beautifully.

I can’t say I’m a wine expert, but I enjoy tasting the different kinds offered and seeing how well they go with the courses, and it’s always an adventure.

First came the tapas. You got to see yesterday what the tapas trays looked like, and they were filled with delicious treats. From the olives, nuts and cheeses to the specially prepared items like the crabmeat-stuffed deviled eggs, the salt cod fritters (passed around separately) with garlic aioli, and the Spanish tortillas — alternating layers of tortilla and potato slices, served cold with more of the aioli — these were a great exploration of appetizers Spain-style. So were the gazpacho shooters: narrow little shot glasses of cold, spicy Spanish vegetable soup, each topped with a shrimp. The wine for this course was Ramon Bilbao Crianza 2006: a deep cherry-red wine with a fruity, smoky flavor. All the Ramon Bilbao wines are produced in the Rioja Alta wine region of Spain.

Next came a bowl of tiny sautéed clams, swimming in the chorizo broth you saw a picture of cooking up on the stove yesterday. The little clams absorbed the rich, spicy flavor of the sausage-filled broth, so delicious that after having picked the clams out of their shells with the clam fork to eat them, you needed to switch to your spoon to scoop up every flavorful drop of the chorizo sauce. The original plan was to serve this course with Ramon Bilbao Limited Edition 2006, but as it turns out the 2006 vintage isn’t ready yet, so we were supplied with the 2004 vintage instead, which made a fine accompaniment.

Next came the Chicken Marbella. How did it taste on top of Yukon Gold mashers? Absolutely delicious! Because this was Spanish food, many of the dishes were spicy and pungent, with a heat that lasted long on the tongue. But the astringency of the green olives in this dish was counteracted beautifully by the addition of prunes, which contributed a special sweetness and made for a nice change of pace. And the mashed potatoes did a wonderful job of soaking up the sauce! It was accompanied by Volteo Viura Sauv Blanc Viognier, a blended wine whose lighter, fresher, flowery-buttery flavor also provided a contrast to many of the heavier red wines on the menu. Volteo wines come from Castilla-LaMancha, the world’s largest vineyard.

By the time you’ve enjoyed appetizers and a few courses at a dinner like this, you’re ready for a light, refreshing salad course, and that’s just what the Orange and Fresh Fennel Salad provided. The organic honey and lemon vinaigrette was the perfect taste to go with the combination of greens, orange slices and slivers of fennel — a sweet, juicy, delight. The wine, too, was just right for it: Volteo Rosé Garnacha, full of fruity scents and crisp flavor.

Last, but certainly not least, of the main courses was the South African Lobster Tail, Sea Bass and Scallop in Saffron Broth with Timbale of Saffron Rice with Peas and Roasted Red Peppers. Mere words cannot describe the pure, smooth, buttery sublime flavor of this lobster tail. The sea bass, coated wonderfully with the saffron broth, tasted almost as rich, as did the scallop. I overheard another diner saying he had never in his life eaten such a well-prepared scallop. The rice was a nice addition as well; it served as a little starch to play off the richness of the seafood. The wine for this course was Cruz de Alba Crianza 2006, an unusual choice to my mind because it’s a heavier, redder wine than I’m used to thinking of as ideal for a seafood course, but it worked well. This wine is produced in one of Spain’s fastest developing wine regions, Ribera del Duero.

I must admit that by the time the dessert course came around, I didn’t have much room left for both the desserts and the Drysac Sherry served with them (although it was very good). The treats assembled for us on this plate were a rich, eggy Spanish flan, blanketed in caramel; an almond cake deep with flavor, topped with sliced almonds; a tiny chocolate mousse in a chocolate cup, with a strong mocha-coffee flavor; and a deep, dark, rich chocolate truffle that just melted in your mouth and flooded it with heavenly chocolate flavor. What a way to end our mini-visit to Spain! Hats off to Chef Ruth Levine and her staff for making this another wine dinner to remember.

If all this doesn’t persuade you that the next Bistro 185 Wine Dinner, set for December 15, is not to be missed, I don’t know what will! Watch this space for more details.

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.

The inspirational power of great food

We confess! Last night at the Bistro, we jumped the gun a bit and put our veal scallops and calves’ liver dishes back on the menu for Saturday night. And it looks as if many of you thought that was a good idea, because we sold out of them! Not only that, but a number of you brought in your Julie & Julia movie ticket stubs and showed us your copies of the Julie & Julia and My Life in France books, and received complimentary desserts.

If you ordered our Julia dessert of the evening, Chocolate Mousse Cake, you had a delicious experience: a rich and fluffy chocolate dream! We served it with a fresh Ohio raspberry coulis to which we  added some Chambord, French raspberry liqueur, and topped it all off with freshly made whipped cream. Altogether, a great night for the Julia Child Project.

If you’re reading My Life in France, one aspect of Julia Child’s life story that will strike you right away is how taken Julia was by her very first meal on French soil in 1948. She and her husband had just disembarked at Le Havre from a week on a cross-Atlantic ship (how we take for granted our modern ability to get there quickly in a plane!), unloaded their station wagon from its hold, and set out for Paris, with a lunch stop in Rouen. Seated at an establishment called Restaurant La Couronne, they enjoyed a complete French meal starring sole meunière. “It was the most exciting meal of my life,” Julia rhapsodized — for her, an awakening to everything that great food can be.

Ruth herself enjoyed a similar experience once in France. To this day, she recalls a meal she enjoyed at a restaurant in the famous Louvre Museum. The poached salmon with tarragon sauce, accompanied by a simple salad of the European salad green mâche with a vinaigrette dressing, lingers in her mind as perfection itself.

Julie & Julia and My Life in France are all about the capacity for great food to create positive change in people’s lives. It’s that kind of experience we hope to bring to every guest at Bistro 185 — to pass our passion and inspiration for our work on to you. We hope you’re looking forward to our second week of menus as much as we are. Come join us tomorrow night for our Julia Soup of the Day, cream of mushroom, and carry the inspiration onward.

Some dinner before your dessert?

After kicking off our Julia Project with a soup of the day and moving on to entrees, our feature for tonight is on the sweet side: Le Gâteau Victoire au Chocolat Mousseline – Chocolate Mousse Cake, from Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home. If that sounds good enough for you to join us tonight (and when doesn’t Chocolate Mousse Cake sound good?), you’ll be faced with the dilemma: what to order for a main course? Fortunately for you, we have suggestions!

Not to skip anything, let’s take a look at appetizers first. Many of our offerings are standbys that are usually on our menu all year long and that our diners return to again and again, such as our Asian Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, potstickers, and house-cured gravlax salmon with potato pancakes. Others, however, are only recently added, and if you haven’t seen us in a while, you might want to give one of them a try. Here’s one: Medjool dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon with a reduced balsamic glaze drizzle and goat cheese crumbles. Or how about fresh white figs stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto with field greens and balsamic vinaigrette?

Now for dinner. How about a Black Angus Strip Steak with with sauteed shiitake mushroom caps and blue cheese mashed potatoes? Steak Oscar — topped with crab and shrimp — or perhaps Chilean Sea Bass treated in the same fashion? Whether it’s lamb shank, pork tenderloin medallions, roast duck with orange sauce or lobster ravioli that’s sounding good right now, you’ll love our specials.

One very seasonal dish you should know about before it’s gone: Wild Caught Alaskan Copper River Salmon with Ohio-grown English peas, haricots verts, asparagus, spinach, baby bok choy and baby redskin potatoes. It’s available only in very limited quantities, so make your reservations early.

Of course, our regular menu of comfort-food classics is always available to enjoy, so if you could go for some good old-fashioned chicken schnitzel and pierogies or a tasty Kobe beef burger, stop on by.

Whatever you’re in the mood for, we hope you’ll come in, bring a few friends to laugh and enjoy the time with, and make this Saturday night a little special.