October’s bringing a wealth of fall feasts!

While you’re waiting for a review and video of our Israeli Fusion Dinner this past Wednesday, why not catch up on what we’ve got planned for next month and make sure your reservations are in for everything you plan to attend? We’ve got something for everyone in October: vegans, beer lovers, wine lovers, seafood enthusiasts and, yes, those who’d like to spend another Halloween season enjoying dinner Sookie Stackhouse-style.

First up is our “Taste of Fall” 3-for-$30 Vegan Dinner Thursday, October 13. Available from 5 to 9 p.m., this three-course meal highlights rich and homey autumn flavors for cooler weather:

Appetizer
Fried Green Tomato and Arugula Salad
Green Goddess Dressing

Entree
Crispy “Chicken” (Gardein) Marsala with Shiitake Mushrooms
Vegan Gnocchi with Roasted Root Fall Vegetables

Dessert
Pumpkin Creme Brulee

For those who get a hankering in the crisp, cool weather to head out to the beach, build a bonfire, dig a pit and enjoy a good old-fashioned clambake–but who would be happy to spare themselves the work of cooking–we have good news. The Bistro Clam Bake is back! On Friday, October 14 between 5 and 9 p.m., we’ll be serving up individual clambakes at a cost of $48.50 per person. With each clambake package, you get Manhattan clam chowder, 1 1/2 Ib. whole lobster, 1/4 barbecued chicken, a dozen middleneck clams, corn on the cob, a roasted sweet potato, slaw, cornbread and butter. It’s one of Cleveland’s favorite types of fall celebration, and you don’t even have to cook it yourself to enjoy it! We’ll have extra clams by the dozen available at $10.50 per order; just let us know ahead of time so we can get you as many as you like.

To get yourself in the mood for our next event, watch this:

Prohibition, Ken Burns’ documentary on the effects of the Eighteenth Amendment, debuts in October on PBS. And, as it so happens, October 14-22 is Cleveland Beer Week. What better way to celebrate a festival of beer and a documentary on Prohibition than to salute the end of that 14-year booze ban? Our Twenty-First Amendment Beer Dinner (named for the amendment that repealed Prohibition) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 18, will pair five courses with five beer selections at a cost of $45 per person. Take a look at this lineup:

First Course
House Smoked Chicken Mac and Cheese
Beer: Back in Black IPA

Second Course
Slow Roasted Beef Short Rib in a Red Zinfandel Reduction Sauce
Fall Root Vegetable Mash
Beer: Brew Free or Die IPA

Third Course
Fried Green Tomato-Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese and Arugula Salad
Beer: Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer

Fourth Course
Mojo Shrimp with Corn Pudding
Beer: Hop Crisis

Fifth Course
Bread Pudding
Orange-Vanilla-Fig Balsamic Sauce
Beer: Seasonal to be Determined

This dinner is bound to please all fans of the brew. But if beer isn’t your favorite beverage, perhaps you prefer something else. Something a little redder. Wine or…another drink entirely? As Halloween draws closer, we’re preparing just the dinner for you. Yes, Chef Ruth is once again indulging her adoration for her favorite TV series with a “True Blood: Season 2″ Wine and Spirits Dinner Thursday, October 27 at 6:30 p.m. The menu’s not ready yet, so watch this space to see which way she goes with her theme this time. Just don’t wait–make your reservations now, because this one was a sellout last year!

To reserve your prepaid reservation for any of these dinners, call 216.481.9635. Then get ready to enjoy fabulous food and decadent drink at the Bistro!

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“OPA!” dinner was something to cheer about!

OK, The Tenant is a little embarrassed. Something happened to me and I forgot the “OPA!” dinner was Wednesday of this week, not Thursday. Where my head went, I don’t know. Luckily, however, I didn’t miss it, because it would have been a shame to miss out on all this divine Greek cuisine and wine. If you were there too, you know that spirits were high at this dinner and for a good reason: it not only had those components, but an extra touch of Greek ambiance provided by both traditional and nontraditional Greek music on the stringed instrument known as the bouzouki. It was enough to make anyone wish the Bistro was big enough to accommodate a dance floor!

Things started out on a classic note with the serving of Lamb Keftede with Tzatziki Sauce, sitting on a bed of greens. Keftedes are Greek meatballs, made with bulgur, and ground lamb is a traditional meat used in them. These keftedes had a delightfully crunchy fried outside and tender, meaty, spicy interior with a hint of mint. The yogurt sauce atop them was a cool and tasty complement. This course was paired with Nemea ’05, a light-bodied red wine with touches of plum and cherry.

Next came a frequent feature of Greek cuisine, a fish course. This one was presented as Sea Bass in the Style of Corfu, which meant we received a perfectly cooked slice of sea bass surrounded by the most tender and buttery roasted vegetables you can imagine. Artichokes, tiny potatoes, and Greek olives were accented with lemon, rosemary, and garlic cloves roasted to pure sweetness. The wine partner for this one was Moschofilero ’09, a white wine made from an aromatic Greek grape that I found smooth and airy, a good wine for the fish.

The salad course followed, and this salad was definitely not the same old mix of greens. The Greek Village Salad was a mixture of marinated chunks and slices of cucumber, red and yellow pepper, grape tomatoes, feta cheese and Greek olives. Each serving was topped with a dolmade, the classic Greek cabbage-roll-like concoction of rolled grape leaves stuffed with rice, and accompanied by a slice of freshly baked and grilled pita bread. The astringent, slightly minty salad was a refreshing change of pace, especially with the Santorini ’06, a dry and fragrant wine made from grapes described to us as being especially suited for the volcanic, ashy soil, hot sun and breeze off the Aegean Sea where they are grown. You can even taste a hint of the soil’s ashiness and minerality in the wine, if you pay close attention.

The next dish was one of the more familiar Greek dishes: spanakopita, the traditional phyllo-dough creation filled with feta cheese and spinach. Chef Ruth added a special touch to this one, though, by including chicken in the filling and saucing it with a dill-lemon beurre blanc that was simply heavenly. It was savory and yet slightly sweet, just perfect. The wine alongside was a Merlot-Xinomavro blend, a marriage of familiar Merlot with one of Greece’s principal red wine grapes that makes for a wine with a deep, full body and a great deal of warmth.

Course number five was Shrimp Santorini: a concoction of two plump, spicy shrimp in a sauce of tomatoes, feta cheese, peppers and onions topping a tender bed of orzo, the small ricelike pasta. This was an especially savory and amazing combination with a slight licorice or anise hint from the ouzo blended into the sauce. The traditional Greek liqueur gave it just the tiniest kick. Our wine for this course was Naoussa ’04, from the same Macedonian region as Xinomavro, another red but lighter than the Merlot-Xinomavro blend.

The evening came to a finish with a dessert course that reflected Chef Ruth’s sense of imagination. It has often seemed to me that all Greek desserts consist of only three different ingredients: wheat (as phyllo dough or shredded wheat), nuts, and honey, but this presentation was just a little different. The Phyllo Nests with Fresh Berries and Honey-Infused Crème Fraîche were a nice variation on the traditional, as was the very tiny — and very delicious — Caramelized Pistachio, Walnut, and Almond Tartlet in a miniature phyllo cup. With this course came Metaxa Brandy, which provides a warm glow indeed to finish off the meal.

Everyone seemed to be truly getting into the spirit of this event and enjoying the special atmosphere provided by the musical stylings of Abe “Dr. Bouzouki” Anderson, who has been playing the instrument since he was 11 years old. The good doctor, born in Australia but now living in Euclid, boasts quite the repertoire, much of which we had the opportunity to enjoy. In addition to the songs you expect to hear from a Greek musician — “Zorba the Greek,” “Never on Sunday” and such — he plays a mean Hava Nagila, and can segue from that to “Turkey in the Straw” without missing a beat. From The Godfather to Fiddler on the Roof, he seems to do it all! To hear him in action, check out his YouTube channel, or go see him with his band, Orion Express. He regularly plays the Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Festival on Mayfield Road in August, so if this dinner whetted your appetite for more Greek food and music, you can go there to hear more of him as part of a group. He seemed to have as good a time playing for us as we did listening to his music.

Once again, the Bistro served up a dinner unlike all the rest, with a selection of flavors to which we could respond only one way: “OPA!” Which, as Dr. Bouzouki helpfully pointed out to us, is Greek for “Yee-ha!” Don’t miss what’s on tap for May: watch this space for more information on the Sake Dinner!

Vegan visit to India was tasty indeed!

The Tenant returns with a summary of last Wednesday’s Vegan Night 3-for-$30 offering India-style! Again, I have to say I’m impressed and amazed by what can be done with foods entirely vegan-sourced. From beginning to end, delicious!

The appetizer for this dinner was Chickpea-Onion Samosas with Cilantro and Mint Chutney and Field Green Salad with Tamarind Vinaigrette. It consisted of two samosas, delicate puff-pastry pockets fried until perfectly crispy, with a filling of mashed chickpeas and onions. The cilantro-and-mint chutney alongside looked almost like wasabi, and had almost the same level of heat due to the spices in it, so just a little at a time was all that was needed to accent the flavor of each bite. The salad was very lightly and tastefully dressed as well. A good start to the evening!

Next came the main dish, Cashew-Coconut Lemongrass Curry with Vegetables and Tofu and Organic Brown Basmati Rice. This was an amazingly flavored curry dish. I love cashews and I love coconut, so it was perfect for me. The sauce was aromatic and full of flavor from the lemongrass and curry, studded with vegetables like eggplant and cauliflower, and full of plenty of cashew nuts. It was garnished with a touch of cilantro. Altogether the flavors melded delightfully.

The meal concluded with an appropriate and charming dessert, Coconut-Cardamom Panna Cotta with Mango Coulis and Fresh Berries. The coconut and mango sauce made it just sweet enough, with the cardamom seeds (you can see them at the top) adding a little spicy kick. The berries, too, were a refreshing touch in the dead of winter. What I find interesting about vegan panna cottas is that like other dishes that would ordinarily use gelatin as a thickener or “jelling” agent, they instead use carrageenan, which is seaweed sourced. Carrageenan is already used in many commercial products, from toothpastes to dessert items. It’s just one example of how a dish can be made vegan without losing anything of the flavor or texture one would expect from the dish.

The entire meal was yet another example of how, under the touch of experienced chefs, vegan cuisine in the style of any country can be both authentic and a very enjoyable dining experience. And obviously I’m not the only one eating it up; they tell me this dinner sold out. Another example of “if you cook it, they will come!”

Be looking here for information on what the Bistro has planned for the next Vegan Night!

Chef Todd Special this week: Bourbon Street Duck

Feeling a need to jazz up your week a bit? What better way than with a taste of New Orleans? Chef Todd has it in this week’s Chef Todd Special: Bourbon Street Duck in a Bourbon-Caramel Sauce with Praline Nut Clusters, served with a Sweet Potato Flan and some tempura veggies alongside. This dish should also be good for what ails you if you’re suffering from post-Kentucky Derby letdown, as a lot of its flavoring comes from a bottle of Old Grand-Dad. Who needs mint juleps when you’ve got roasted duck sauced with pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, bourbon and sugar? Try this dish and see what kind of sweet music it plays on your tastebuds.

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.