Cultures combine deliciously at Israeli Fusion Wine Dinner

Hi, Tenant here…unfortunately the cold season seems to be doing a number on me, and between the sniffles I’ve had a slow time putting up the video and writing the review for the latest fabulous Bistro dinner. But good things come to those who wait, so here we go:

Now to describe it…Let’s just say that at six courses, this was one huge feast. I made it through only three before I had to ask for a couple of them to be packed up so I’d have room for dessert. While I always enjoy the leftovers, I also know that not eating (even if I just sample) each dish in turn always minimizes the full experience a bit, so I regret that, but boy…the opening dishes were so good there was no way I could not do justice to them and that meant I had a lot less room by the time the fourth course came around! Yet all were delicious, each in its own way. And each showcased a particular aspect of global Jewish cuisine that can now be found in Israel. With the exception of the dessert course, also, all the wine was Israeli, from the Recanati Winery, and that too was a display of variety.

The festivities began with what I’ll gladly admit is probably my favorite traditional Jewish food, latkes. While not Jewish myself, I’m descended from Germans on my mother’s side–her parents were German–so potato pancakes have always been part of my family food tradition. And one of the things I’ve always loved about the Bistro is how closely Ruth’s latkes approximate the potato pancakes my mother used to make. You can thus imagine my pleasure at getting to eat one that combined potatoes and apples (applesauce being the favored condiment for this food at my house) and topped with some of Marc’s famous house-cured salmon and Israeli feta herb cream (Mom never had that–if only she had!). This was accompanied by a small cup of salad of various cubed veggies cooked tenderly and marinated in something that tasted pretty good. I didn’t even care, I just knew it was tasty. Our wine representative for the evening, Pat Fisher, explained that the accompaniment for this dish, Recanati’s 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, was grown on the coastal plains of Shamron, where hot days and cool nights provide the grapes with a climate much like that of Northern California. I found this wine fruity and intensely spicy in a way, and it set off the dish very nicely.

The second course was another dose of what tends to come to mind when one thinks of traditional American Jewish cookery of European origin…chicken soup with matzoh balls. But this version combined the traditional and classic with a taste of the Middle East. Ruth used her own mother’s Ashkenazi traditional recipe and served it with matzoh balls stuffed with walnuts, onion, cinnamon and cumin. It was a delicious twist. First, the soup…nothing floating it it but some slices of carrot and snippings of parsley, rich with the purest and most satisfying chicken flavor, yet clear enough to read a book through. (I have no idea how many times she must have strained it to get it that clear, but wow, was it clear.) In each bowl, a light and fluffy matzoh ball full of flavors that really made it sing (the Italian-Greek side of me loved the cinnamon especially). To drink alongside, Recanati 2009 Chardonnay, from the cooler northern regions of upper Galilee, smooth and buttery on the tongue and just right.

Course number three was one I would love to see the Bistro add to the fall dinner menu lineup (actually, I could say that of all three of the remaining entree courses, but this one really stole my heart). The 24-Hour Sous Vide Moroccan Lamb Tangine was just amazing. This was an incredible stew of meltingly tender chunks and shreds of lamb in a rich dark brown sauce flavored with pine nuts, apricots and sweet currants, topping a bed of couscous. You couldn’t ask for a heartier dish to warm your belly or your spirits on a cold autumn night, and oh, so rich with flavor and spice…With this dish we were poured a 2010 Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon, which we were told originates from higher, cooler elevations and grapes that produce a Cab as deeply fruity and spicy as our lamb.

I usually learn something new at every wine dinner I attend at the Bistro, and at this one, I learned that for many centuries, India had a sizable Jewish population–one that by now is almost gone. Most of these Cochin Jews emigrated to Israel, where they brought their Indian food traditions with them. Thus the fourth course was Chicken Curry with Grilled Naan and Drizzled Virgin Olive Oil. I love Indian food, so even though I was close to the point of not being able to fit in another bite, I had to have a taste of this dish before packing it up for later. But of course, I derived the most enjoyment from it by finishing it off as a separate meal. The chicken thigh was perfectly cooked and coated in a sauce rich with curry and chickpeas. The traditional Indian naan bread was hot and tasty (had to find room to fit that in). The wine was a 2005 Syrah, and although I could take only a sip or two, it struck me as a deep, warm, smooth accompaniment.

I could fit in but a tiny taste of course number five, but luckily, it saved well and I was also able to enjoy its full deliciousness on a delayed basis. This was yet another dish brought to Israel from Jews who came from elsewhere–in this case, Spain. Ladino-Style Fish Ragout is Jewish cooking with a Spanish accent:  in this case, a good-sized chunk of halibut simmering in a tomato-based sauce with fingerling potatoes. The flavor and quality of this fish was just outstanding and the sauce complemented it wonderfully. Another upper Galilee-sourced wine, a 2009 Merlot, was served with this course.

Finally–somehow I managed to find room for it, and am glad I did–came dessert. Actually, a quite simple, Eastern European dessert: cheese blintzes, served with a blood orange coulis and garnished with fresh raspberries. My blintz was hot and tasty and sweet and delicious. The original plan was to serve Israeli Sabra liqueur, which combines the flavors of chocolate and oranges, with this dish, but unfortunately the distributor was unable to obtain it in time, and as a result the Sabra was substituted with a Washington State red wine called Chocolate Shop. The wine is infused with chocolate to provide it that classic flavor, and while it wasn’t the Sabra, it made an interesting and pleasant companion to the blintz.

I enjoyed this dinner from beginning to end, even if my eyes were a bit bigger than my stomach. And, of course, as you already know, the Bistro has yet another lineup of special events ready for October, each of which will offer its own pleasures: the Vegan Taste of Fall Oct. 13, the Clam Bake Oct. 14, the Twenty-First Amendment Beer Dinner Oct. 18, and the sure-to-be-amazing True Blood Season 2 Wine and Spirits Dinner Oct. 27. Save the dates and make your reservations now!

In the meantime, in case you missed it, here’s a link to the News-Herald’s story this past Wednesday in which Chef Ruth talked to Janet Podolak about Rosh Hashanah food traditions. It includes a recipe for her chicken soup with matzoh balls, so you can give it a whirl yourself. Try it; it could make a sweet New Year for you! I only wish I had about five gallons of it in my apartment right now–I think it would knock this cold right out of me!

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Vegan “Farm to Table” fresh and delicious

Apologies for the delay! The Tenant is back with a description of the Vegan Farm to Table Dinner of Wednesday. It was delicious from beginning to end — and the notable thing about this one was that Chef Ruth cooked it on her own, without any of the customary assistance from Chef Jakub. Looks like she’s got this vegan thing down cold! Or, should I say, hot and delicious!

Vegan Corn Chowder and Jalapeno Muffin

The starter course, Ohio Corn Chowder with Jalapeno Corn Muffin, could not have been better for me. I am a corn lover, and this is the time of year to grab that Ohio sweet corn and make amazing things out of it while you can! Ruth did just that with this incredible chowder. It was full of all the savory sweetness of the corn, yet with a special kick of heat enhanced by the red-pepper “cream” swirled atop it (which I believe was made with the assistance of almond milk). This is the kind of soup that, like the chestnut soup from Thanksgiving, makes even non-vegans say “What’s that you’re eating? Looks delicious.” It’s delicious, all right, and the muffin was perfect for sopping up any extra soup the spoon didn’t catch.

Organic Vegan Ratatouille and Gardein

On to the entree: Local and Organic Ratatouille with Rooftop Garden Herb-Crusted Gardein and Roasted Local Fingerling Potatoes. This was a concoction of classic ratatouille vegetables (including yellow squash, zucchini, tomatoes, onions, eggplant, red peppers) with garlic and rooftop herbs, combined with the crispy-outside, tender-inside tiny potatoes, and the crunchy-coated herbed gardein sitting atop it all. The melange of flavors was pure summer, and as I mentioned earlier, I like the chickeny texture and flavor of gardein myself, so I found this dish perfect for me.

Finally, dessert, and I’d already heard tell that this was going to be something else. Many times, cooks think of grilling meat but don’t consider what kind of amazing flavors grilling can impart to other foods (even lettuce, as I once learned at an earlier Bistro dinner). In this case, the Grilled Stone Fruit Compote demonstrated how succulent and tasty stone fruit (I believe this was peaches and apricots–not sure if there were plums too) can become when subjected to the grill, and what an incredible saucy glaze can be made from them as well. As for the Olive Oil-Lemon Cake…wow. You might be inclined to think “Wouldn’t olive oil ruin the sweet flavor of a cake?” But of course, there are many different kinds of olive oil, and not all of them have that “olive” taste. In the case of this cake, all the olive oil did was make it moist and spongy, with a tender, light, crunchy crust. The cake soaked up the fruit glaze beautifully and itself had just the slightest dusting of powdered sugar. Snuggled beside it was a mound of almond-milk whipped cream, boosted, I believe, with a touch of tapioca that made it a bit firmer and more puddinglike. Altogether, it was a tasty treat of the kind easily as enjoyable by non-vegans as by vegans.

This dinner was more than enough to rev my appetite for next week’s wine dinner. I’ll be there, and I hope you’re signed up to join us this Wednesday as Larry Laurello tells us about his wines and we enjoy dishes made from ingredients just as local as the wines. The growing season here is at its peak…come enjoy it at the Bistro!

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!

Behind the Dish: Salmon Provençal

What makes James Beard’s Salmon Provençal so Provençal? Well, the cooking of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France is distinctive in that it is heavily influenced by Mediterranean cooking. That means hot spices and seafood play a large role and, because the region is mountainous rather than farm country, dairy products figure in only a small fashion (such as in the use of goat cheeses). What you will find in Provençal cuisine is an emphasis on garlic, olive oil and olives, and the herbes de Provence, including savory, fennel, basil, thyme and lavender.

James Beard’s Salmon Provençal uses several elements of this cuisine — salmon (the seafood), olive oil and garlic — and we’ve added another — basil. Otherwise, our recipe is quite similar to his. It involves preparation of a rich sauce created by sautéeing onions and garlic in olive oil, then making a roux with butter and flour and adding white wine, parsley and basil. To this chopped tomatoes are added and stewed until the sauce becomes thick and full of flavor — a perfect complement for the baked salmon fillets.

We’re serving our salmon with a vegetable accompaniment of zucchini, yellow squash and spinach, on a bed of pappardelle pasta.

Behind the Dish: Spaghetti! Marco! Polo!!

OK! Marc and Ruth are a little busy today, as you might imagine, so for today their tenant’s taking over again! (You remember me from when I made Apple Turnovers? Or not? Well, anyway…) Today’s Julia Child dish is Spaghetti Marco Polo, and if you’ve never heard of it, no — it’s not spaghetti you eat in the pool, and you don’t have to eat it with your eyes closed while blindly feeling around for the plate. No, as my research reveals, it’s a dish that goes back to a long-held myth about the origins of spaghetti.

If you’re like me, you probably recall learning at some point that Marco Polo introduced Italy to pasta by bringing spaghetti home with him from his travels to China, where the people were already eating the long, stringy stuff. However, if you Google it, you’ll find a jumble of history, stories and evidence implying that he most likely didn’t, and that Italy may have acquired both durum wheat, the basis of dried pasta, and a method for making it into pasta from the Arabs, not the Chinese. Anyway, the Italian climate turned out to be perfect for growing durum wheat, and Italians were probably the first people to serve pasta with sauces. Ancient methods for kneading pasta dough had a lot in common with preparing grapes for wine — people did both with their feet!

So, the Chinese may not have invented spaghetti after all, and Marco Polo probably didn’t introduce it to Italy. (Wow. The next thing you know, they’ll tell us he didn’t invent the swimming-pool game either.) But somehow, that story that he did sticks with us. And that story inspired Julia Child to present a dish she called Spaghetti Marco Polo on her show The French Chef.

Julia’s dish included chopped walnuts, olives, pimiento and basil, and she encouraged her viewers to eat the completed dish Chinese-style: with chopsticks. (In fact, Ruth told me that she first taught her sons how to use chopsticks by introducing them to Spaghetti Marco Polo.) Some viewers didn’t think that it met the criteria of “French” cooking implied by the show’s title, and wrote letters telling her so, but Julia disagreed. To her, the essence of French cooking was “Taking ordinary everyday ingredients, and with a little bit of love and imagination, turning them into something appealing.” It wasn’t the ingredients or the origins of a dish that made it “French,” but the approach and the methods used to cook it. Once you learned French technique, in her eyes, you could apply it to any set of ingredients — even foods we don’t think of as “French.”

Julia’s experience living in China during her employment by the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, had left her with an appreciation for Chinese food, and in her heyday the story of Marco Polo introducing pasta to Italy from China was even more widespread and not well challenged. So it’s not surprising that she saw no problem with preparing a traditionally Italian dish on a show called The French Chef and advising her viewers to eat it Chinese style!

How’s the Bistro planning on doing it? Here’s the lowdown they gave me: the black olives in their recipe will be kalamata olives, and assorted colored peppers will substitute for the pimientos. Otherwise the dish is largely the same and fairly simple: spaghetti tossed with olive oil, the olives and peppers, walnuts, parsley, garlic, rooftop basil, salt and pepper, and garnished with Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese. Whether or not you want to eat it with chopsticks is up to you! (And if you do, you may have to bring your own!)