“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.

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!

Vegan Dinner a three-time pleaser

Hello again from the Tenant. I tried the Bistro’s “3 for 30” Vegan Prix Fixe Dinner last Wednesday and if you did, too, you know what I’m about to say. If not, definitely read on!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not vegan, but I have found that when I eat Bistro 185’s vegan concoctions, I enjoy them so much that I truly do not miss the meat. And if you’re a dedicated vegan, you can’t help but appreciate not only the care Chefs Jakub and Ruth take toward ensuring the 100% vegan content of every dish, but the gourmet flair they bring to each one. This dinner was certainly no exception!

The starter course was Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Vidalia Onions. I don’t think I have words to describe how delicious and satisfying it was. All I know is, I feel as if I could have eaten several more bowlsful. The flavor was so rich—a combination of sweetness and fiery spice—and the texture thick and substantial. It arrived streaked with a garnish of almond milk and sprigged with thyme, and it was an amazing winter soup that drained any feeling of chill from the cold weather outside right out of my body.


Next in line was the entree, Eggplant Parmigiana with Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Vegan Mozzarella Cheese and Slow-Cooked Marinara. This dish was also a winner—its sauce full of fresh tomatoes and the eggplant slices tender, light, and un-greasy, ever so gently breaded and fried, laid atop fantastic whole-wheat pasta. Even the pully texture of the vegan mozzarella was perfect, just as natural as the real thing. I’m told vegan cheese is made from almond milk. Don’t ask me how—all I know is, this was great. It was accompanied by a savory piece of garlic toast for soaking up extra sauce.

The finishing touch was as tasty a dessert as I’ve ever had, the Vegan Apple Pie—or, to be more precise, a Vegan Apple Turnover. It arrived hot and flaky, full of juicy, saucy apple slices in delightfully light pastry, accompanied by a little scoop of cinnamon almond-milk ice cream, a dollop of almond-milk “whipped cream,” and a fresh raspberry and blackberry garnish, dusted all over with powdered sugar. The “ice cream” was a terrific variation on the regular-milk variety and the “whipped cream” just as yummy. The perfect conclusion to an excellent meal!

To summarize: if you eat vegan, you owe it to yourself to try eating vegan-style at Bistro 185 whenever you have the opportunity (info about next month’s offerings will go up when ready). And even if you don’t normally eat vegan, trying a vegan dish, or even a full meal, at the Bistro is a terrific introduction, because you’ll be both surprised and impressed by the high quality of everything you taste. The flavor and texture will be so much the same as what you’d find in a traditional meal that you may even mistake what you’re eating for a non-vegan dish! Keep your eyes on the blog for information about upcoming vegan features. You’ll be impressed—and very well fed!

Vegan Dinner menu is ready!

The menu for our three-course prix fixe Vegan Dinner Wednesday, December 15, is ready!

Starter
Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Vidalia Onions

Entree
Eggplant Parmigiana with Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Vegan Mozzarella Cheese and Slow-Cooked Marinara

Dessert
Apple Pie and Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream

Remember, this dinner is $30 plus tax and gratuity, by prepaid reservation only (open seating). Make your reservation today at 216.481.9635 so you don’t miss out!

Chef Todd goes Italian with Vodka Penne Pasta

Chef Todd is showing off his Italian chops in this week’s special, with a dish that proves you don’t have to go to Little Italy to have a great meal Italian-style: Vodka Penne Pasta. This penne à la vodka is rich with prosciutto, tomatoes, basil, scallions, heavy cream, vodka and fresh mozzarella, just like you’d get on Murray Hill. Which makes sense, because Todd actually used to cook in Little Italy. Order a plate of his penne and be sure to ask for bread with it, so you can soak up that creamy, cheesy sauce. Primo!

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!