Things are growing beautifully on the roof!

How does our rooftop garden grow? Now that we’re hitting the middle of the summer season, you’re probably wondering. Here’s a little visual update for you. First, here’s how the tomatoes looked not long after planting:

Now, a recent picture:

Quite the change, no? The smaller varieties — the Sweet 100s and the Bonnie Grapes — are already starting to ripen:

There are plenty of green tomatoes on the bigger varieties, such as the Bush Goliaths, and with the fine sunny weather we’ve been having, they’ll be ripening soon as well:

Did we mention we put in cauliflower? That’s getting big too:

In their various varieties, the peppers are starting to pop:

The squash is emerging:

And the eggplant, you might say, is hatching:

In short, you’ll soon see plenty of rooftop veggies joining the rooftop herbs like chives, thyme and basil that have been thriving upstairs for quite some time. We are often asked “When are we going to be able to get those Caprese Salads with rooftop tomatoes?” As you can see, the answer is “Soon!”

But even that’s not all. As summer draws to an end, we’ll be reaching beyond our rooftop to add something special to our menu that will also be locally sourced. What will it be? Watch this space to learn more in the future!

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A preview of rooftop garden delights

A while back, we mentioned that the Bistro is putting in its rooftop garden so we’re ready to start producing the freshest possible tomatoes and veggies for your lunches and dinners. To really whet your appetites –and maybe even give you some ideas for your home garden — we thought we’d let you know which varieties we’re planting this year. We’ve got plenty of tomatoes of all varieties, but also some veggies we think you’ll find quite tasty when they come straight from our rooftop to your plate.

First, because we always put in so many and they’re so appreciated in this part of the country, let’s talk tomatoes. Here’s what we’ve planted…

Patio: These are dwarf tomatoes that, as you might guess by the name, are ideal for cultivating in patio gardens. They produce relatively large fruit and a good yield. For those who love the taste of a fresh homegrown tomato, they’re one of the most popular container plants.

Early Girl: Home gardeners who’ve been waiting all winter for a fresh tomato love the Early Girl hybrid, because it usually produces fruit within 50 to 62 days of replanting. Given how brief a window we often have in this region for growing tomatoes, we want them as quickly as we can get them! Once it gets started, the Early Girl produces lots of fruit all summer long.

Celebrity: Celebrity tomato plants produce good salad tomatoes: round and firm, with a juicy taste balanced between sweetness and acidity.

Better Boy: Better Boys are another favorite home gardener’s choice because they’re reliable, flavorful, disease resistant and prolific. When you need plenty of tasty tomatoes for your summer, Better Boys are a best bet.

Bush Goliath: It may produce Goliath-sized tomatoes, but this one is more of a David-sized plant. It’s a compact tomato that produces fruit larger than you’d expect from a patio-sized variety. This is another good choice for gardeners who want a reliable tomato source all summer long.

Big Beef: This is another disease-resistant reliable fruit producer that grows sizable, tasty tomatoes throughout the summer. Puts those pink ones you find in the supermarket to shame!

Golden Honey Bunch: Sure, it sounds more like a name for a cereal than a tomato, but don’t be deceived. These babies take only 65 days to grow and produce loads of golden-orange grape tomatoes in large clusters that really do look something like bunches of grapes! Not only that, but they’re delightfully sweet.

Rutgers: Rutgers tomatoes, the descendants of a line originally developed in 1934, were once a hugely popular tomato for commercial processing. Home gardeners still love them today for their flavor, color, smooth skin, fleshy fruit and vigor. A great sauce tomato.

Japanese Black Trifele: The name may say “Japanese,” but actually this variety of tomato has Russian origins, and it may say “black,” but the fruit of these tomatoes is more mahogany-colored and somewhat pear-shaped. It has a rich, complex flavor and is another reliable all-summer producer. It looks and tastes beautiful in a salad! Try one and you’ll see why Russians are willing to pay high prices for Trifele tomatoes.

Cuore di Bue: The Cuore di Bue is a classic old Italian tomato type, with a heart shape, a slightly pinkish look and a creamy texture — perfect for our caprese salads. Taste one in combination with a fresh bite of mozzarella. Bellissimo!

Stupice: An heirloom tomato from the former Czechoslovakia (the name is pronounced stoo-PEECH-kuh), the Stupice is another early and fruitful producer that makes an ideal salad tomato.

Koralik/Legend: As you might guess, this one is a result of two tomato varieties being grafted together — the Russian cherry-tomato heirloom Koralik and the early, sweet, full-size Legend tomato. It produces early, delicious, compact cherry tomatoes, and is another fine choice for the grower with limited garden space.

Chianti Rose: No, it’s not a type of wine — although one bite may go to your head. The Chianti Rose is a rosy beefsteak, a throwback to the days when it seemed all tomatoes really tasted like tomatoes. Sweet and tangy, it’s also highly productive and disease resistant.

Sweet 100: This hybrid cherry tomato grows tall and produces big, so make sure your cages are ready — they can grow to be more than 7 feet! Forget “100” — these can produce as many as 200 tomatoes per plant. Should keep us well in stock at the Bistro!

Bonnie Grape: This is another tall-growing hybrid, only the fruit it produces is grape-style rather than cherry. It supplies loads of firm, sweet grape tomatoes from vines that can grow to 8 or 9 feet. No worries about running out of salad tomatoes or components of a fine ratatouille with these around.

Of course, tomatoes aren’t the whole story in our rooftop garden. We regularly grow a collection of herbs to harvest fresh whenever we need them (the chives are already going crazy and the mint is back, too — look for them to be accompanied by more herbs as the spring goes on). Our eggplant went crazy last summer, so we’ve put in a set of Ichiban Egg (Japanese eggplant) for this season, as well as something new — Brussels sprouts. And more peppers than ever! Get ready to enjoy not just fresh red bell peppers, but also New Mexico Big Jim chile peppers (said to produce the world’s largest chiles), mammoth jalapenos and sweet banana peppers. These peppers are big enough to stuff: perfect for chiles rellenos and jalapeno poppers, not to mention accenting a sauce or sandwich. So look out…things will be getting a little hot at the Bistro for Summer 2011!

Make plans now to spend some beautiful spring and lazy summer days with us, when our rooftop is in full production and you can enjoy the most local of local produce. We look forward to seeing you!


“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!

Join us for June’s Salute to Latin America and the Caribbean!

It’s summertime — time to celebrate the sunshine, and warm and sunny flavors. Here at the Bistro, that means we’re serving up a series of specials during the month of June based on the lively cuisine of Latin America and the Caribbean. We’re starting this week with a reprise of a terrific special we introduced a while back, Ropa Vieja.

Ropa vieja originated in Spain’s Canary Islands, then migrated to the New World and became a popular dish throughout the Caribbean islands. Deriving its name from the Spanish words for “old clothes,” it’s a concoction of shredded flank steak in tomato sauce that we prepare sous vide, so the seasonings permeate the tender meat, before combining it with bell peppers, onions, cumin, garlic, cilantro, tomato and jalapeño peppers. We’re serving it with jalapeño-cheddar corn pudding, accompanied by seasoned black beans topped with the Mexican cheese queso blanco. If you’ve enjoyed our Ropa Vieja before, you’ll be happy it’s back. If not, this is your chance!

Another new addition to our specials has a tropical flair: Halibut with a Tropical Fruit Barbecue Sauce. This tasty fish is served with corn pudding and fried plantain tostones.

The weather is fine and the food here at the Bistro will help you enjoy summer to the fullest! Keep watching this space for more additions to our June lineup of Latin American and Caribbean-style specials.

Chef Todd Special of the Week: Greek-Style Stuffed Leg of Lamb

With Passover and Easter just over and spring coming into full bloom early this year thanks to all the warm weather, Chef Todd has come up with a truly seasonal dish using lamb as the centerpiece. His approach is to do the way the Greeks do and stuff a leg of lamb with some of their favorite accompaniments: kalamata olives, red and yellow peppers, feta cheese, roasted garlic and spinach. He’s cooking it using the sous vide method to maintain all the color, texture and flavor of both the lamb and its stuffing.

It’s a tasty triplet of flavors. At center plate: slices of tender lamb and savory stuffing. Circling it: a ring of rich and creamy barley risotto. Surrounding the risotto: a moat of delicious brown lamb gravy, flavored with a bit of carrot and whole garlic cloves roasted until they’re soft and sweet.

Try this dish on a warm night and you just may feel as if you’re spending an April evening on the coast of Greece!

Mamma mia! That’s a spicy spaghetti!

Hello, it’s The Tenant again, who just sat down to a plate of Spaghetti Marco Polo…They asked me what I thought of it, and I said this: “The use of the kalamata olives, combined with the garlic, makes this a spicier, saltier kind of pasta dish. Those who are used to a really sweet tomato-y spaghetti sauce, or those who like really creamy alfredo-type sauces, might not find it to their taste, but I do.” And that’s the truth. Maybe being half-Italian helps, but it’s hard to serve me any kind of a pasta dish I’m not going to like. And I like the way this one makes use of peppers and the completely unexpected (at least in most pastas) walnuts. As for the kalamatas, which are kind of intense for some people, well, I have reason to believe there’s a bit of Greek in me, too, so I’m fine with those. It is somewhat like a puttanesca sauce, which usually has salty anchovies along with black olives and capers, only this one is minus the tomatoes. Or maybe a linguini-with-clam-sauce, minus the clams. If you like puttanesca sauce, or linguini with a garlicky clam sauce, Spaghetti Marco Polo should appeal to you, too. But be warned: those olives have pits!

I saved some of mine for lunch tomorrow. Always nice having pasta for lunch when you don’t have to cook it yourself!

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!)

Behind the Dish: Pork Tenderloin with “Hot Fanny Sauce”

So…we all know what pork tenderloin is (ours will either be grilled or cooked in a cast-iron grill pan), but what exactly is “Hot Fanny Sauce”? Chef Todd, who once cooked at the restaurant of its inventor George Germon, describes it as “a fresh-pepper barbecue sauce,” made with onions, jalapeño peppers, chicken stock, sherry, red-wine vinegar, salt, and ground red and poblano peppers. Todd tells us he doesn’t really recall preparing this sauce back when he worked at Al Forno (he worked at the pasta station, preparing all the pasta entrees and sides, and the starch sides such as potatoes), but is enjoying the opportunity to whip it up here as part of the Julia Project.

How did “Hot Fanny Sauce” get its name? According to Julia’s cookbook from which we derived the basic recipe, Cooking with Master Chefs, there’s no big story behind it. George Germon just liked the name! (To see him whipping it up, look for the video at this link.)

There’s another project going on today that you might enjoy knowing about. Ruth just gave Marc a rather special gift…the gift of a full kitchen inside our garage at home, complete with a smoker. And since that time, Marc has been busy smoking beef brisket like you wouldn’t believe. The end result? Bistro 185 is going to have yet another notable special on tonight’s menu: Smoked Beef Brisket with Ruth’s corn pudding. Now, how are you supposed to decide what to have tonight? Good luck deciding!