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 Dinner spins Mediterranean magic

Because The Tenant had weekend guests, I’m a bit behind reporting on the latest Vegan Dinner. But now that I have a bit of time to describe it, one word covers it well: WOW.

Festivities began with the platter of mezze, the Mediterranean term for a selection of small dishes served as appetizers. This particular selection of mezze was so delicious and filling it could serve as a meal in and of itself!

Laid out beautifully on a platter atop a trio of romaine lettuce leaves and dusted with spice were an assortment of Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves, Tabbouleh Salad, Hummus, Greek Olives and Spanakopita, accompanied by still-warm toasted pita wedges and lemon slices. I’m Southern Italian on my father’s side and we suspect there’s some Greek in our heritage, too, even if we can’t directly point to it, so to me this is like ethnic soul food in many ways. I didn’t grow up eating it, but something in me just gravitates to eating it very naturally. What struck me most strongly about this platter was that everything on the plate was just so absolutely fresh. The hummus, that well-known paste of ground chickpeas, seemed as if it had literally just been made, and spread on a piece of warm toasted pita wedge, it was simply fantastic. The tabbouleh salad was cool and rich with flavor and smacked perfectly of lemon juice and mint. The stuffed grape leaves, or dolmades, were delightful little packages of tasty rice. The spanakopita, normally a spinach-feta cheese turnover, was still warm, the phyllo dough crisp and flaky. Obviously, the cheese used must have been vegan, but I couldn’t tell the difference. And the olives were a true treat.

This dish alone nearly filled me up. It was all I could do to find room for the rest of the meal. But it’s a good thing I did find room for at least part of it, because the vegan moussaka was wonderfully done.

Layers of eggplant, tomato, spices and a custard made with a soy-milk base–indistinguishable to me from traditional moussaka custard–topped a healthy pile of yellow couscous. Yum. I couldn’t finish it all that night, but I am doing so tonight.

What can I say? I had to make some type of room for dessert–or at least try. And I’m glad I did, because the Apple, Apricot and Pine Nut Galette with
Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise was superb.

Flaky open pastry, tender and sweet fruit accented with toasty pine nuts, snowed with powdered sugar and an amazingly rich creme anglaise served on the side to pour over the top–thick, rich, indistinguishable from dairy–and all of it served heartwarmingly hot, as the best pastry should be. Divine!

If you’re vegan, and you’ve never tried the Bistro’s vegan dinners, you owe it to yourself to give them a try. If you’ve been considering going vegan for whatever reason, trying one of these dinners will open your eyes to the amazing things talented chefs can do to make vegan dining just as varied and tasty as any other dietary choice. But as always, I wouldn’t recommend taking my word for it. Tasting is believing!

Join us for dinners celebrating Middle Eastern cuisine!

Have you signed up yet for the amazing special dinners we have planned for September? If not, what are you waiting for? We’re headed to the Mediterranean and Israel for our inspirations this month. You’ll want to join us. You don’t have to be vegan, Mediterranean, Greek or Jewish to enjoy these feasts, but it certainly won’t hurt!

We begin next Thursday, Sept. 15, with our 3-for-$30 Vegan Dinner, Flavors of the Mediterranean. This one’s almost sold out, so don’t delay:

First Course
Mezze Platter: Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves, Tabbouleh Salad, Hummus, Greek Olives and Spanakopita

Main Course
Moussaka
Couscous

Dessert
Apple, Apricot and Pine Nut Galette
Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise

The following week, Wednesday, September 21 at 6:30 p.m., Ruth will be going back to her roots–and celebrating a variety of Jewish heritages–by creating our Israeli Fusion Wine Dinner. At this six-course, $65-per-person dinner, the first five dishes will be paired with a wine from the Recanati Winery of Israel, and the closing dessert with an Israeli liqueur:

First Course
Apple-Potato Latka
Israeli Feta Herb Cream
House-Cured Salmon
Wine: Recanati Sauvignon Blanc

Second Course
Ruth’s Mother’s Ashkenazi Chicken Soup
with Middle-Eastern Inspired Matzoh Ball
Wine: Recanati Chardonnay

Third Course
24-Hour Sous Vide Moroccan Lamb Tangine
Israeli Couscous with Pine Nuts and Currants
Wine: Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon

Fourth Course
Chicken Curry from the Cochin Jews of India
Wine: Recanati Shiraz

Fifth Course
Ladino Style Fish Ragout
Wine: Recanati Merlot

Sixth Course
Cheese Blintz
Blood Orange Couscous
Liqueur: Chocolate Sabra

We’ll be providing a bit more information about the Israeli dinner in the near future. In the meantime, to ensure you enjoy either of these feasts, call 216.481.9635 and make your reservation now!

Taste the Mediterranean at our September Vegan Dinner

In the Vegan Dinner Series, the hits just keep on coming…and if you’re a fan of Mediterranean food, you won’t want to miss our 3-for-$30 special for September. On Thursday, September 15, our Vegan Dinner Series features “Flavors of the Mediterranean.” Take a look at this lineup:

First Course
Mezze Platter
Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves
Tabbouleh Salad
Hummus
Greek Olives
Spanakopita

Main Course
Moussaka
Couscous

Dessert
Apple, Apricot and Pine Nut Galette
Vanilla Bean Crème Anglaise

Sounds good? Don’t miss out! Call 216-481-9635 and make your reservation now for this vegan Mediterranean feast.

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!