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.

Present and future specials: tonight, this weekend, this fall

We have some truly exciting things in mind for the coming weeks! Here’s a preview.

First, tonight’s specials will be basically the same as last night’s. For those wondering what the Soup of the Day is, it’s Chicken Vegetable Tortilla.

Now, for we upcoming weekends, starting tomorrow night, we have some real goodies planned, so make your reservations now if your mouth starts watering!

First, we’re going to feature amongst our specials this weekend a 14-oz. Veal Osso Bucco Cooked with Pureed Fall Root Vegetables, served on a bed of pappardelle pasta.

Then, starting this Friday and Saturday and continuing each weekend through the first two weeks of November, we’re going to offer a Bistro 185 Individual Clambake. It’s just like any other clambake, only each one is personal-sized: big enough for just you! Each person who orders a Personal Clambake will receive his or her own potful of goodies cooked in clam broth, including a “maris section” crab leg (the portion between the knuckle and the claw), a South African lobster tail, jumbo shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops, chicken thighs, redskin potatoes, and corn on the cob. Your clambake will be served with cornbread and melted butter so you can enjoy it to the fullest!

But that’s not all we’re working on that’s new and special. This Monday, October 12, the Bistro introduces its new Fall Menu, featuring some specials we think you’re really going to love. Here are some of the items we have planned:

House-Smoked Chicken with Four-Cheese Macaroni and Cheese: Replacing our Limoncello Chicken summer special, this treat will star our own smoked chicken with a combination of Gruyère, Brie, Emmenthaler and Parmesan cheeses on medium shell pasta, with black truffle, finished with a bit of white truffle oil. We like to call it “Ultimate Mac & Cheese.” We think you will, too.

Duck Three-Way: We’ve served duck the same way here at the Bistro since we opened. Time to change things up! That’s what we’ll be doing with this new dish: a duck ragout with a confit, served with a quarter roasted duck and sliced smoked duck breast. This creation will most likely be presented on a bed of pappardelle pasta.

Gumbo of the Week: We will feature a new and different gumbo each week. Next week’s will combine shrimp, chicken and andouille sausage.

Seafood Stews: We’ll be rotating a variety of seafood stews through our specials, influenced by different regions and countries, such as Thailand and Italy.

Cassoulets: Look for a rotating variety of cassoulets, including classic French and seafood.

Risottos: We’ll also rotate a variety of risottos highlighting various ingredients.

Julia Project Classics: We’ll rotate some of the most popular dishes we served during the Julia Project back through our fall menu.

A few items that are already on our specials, and have earned a permanent place throughout our fall menu, are our two most popular Julia Project dishes of all: the Lamb Shank with Baby Fall Vegetables and the Pork Tenderloin with Port and Prunes. We will also continue to offer our Calves’ Liver entree, which recently won Scene Magazine’s Best in Cleveland award for Best Liver That’s Not Foie Gras.

In the future, also look for another very special dish: Cornish Hen Wrapped in Bacon with a Ginger-Maple Glaze, Acorn Squash, Brussels Sprouts, Pecans, Roasted Shallots and Roasted Garlic.

To learn more about our fall menu, and to keep up with the nightly specials, keep checking this space. You won’t want to miss anything!


Greatest Hits: Chicken Pot Pie

We apologize for no posts yesterday. We must have suffered a technical glitch in which we thought yesterday’s post posted, but it didn’t. Anyway, we do hope you stopped in to enjoy the Pork Tenderloin with Port and Prunes, whether to reexperience it or to find out why it was a sellout if you missed it the first time (you can revisit our posts about the dish here and here).

Tonight, we’re reprising the perfect dish for this cold, rainy Cleveland weather: Chicken Pot Pie! Read about it here and here, then come in from the chill and enjoy a hot and delicious comfort dish Julia-style.

Julia Project, Week 8: Return to your favorites!

Here they are: your favorites, our biggest sellers and most popular dishes from the Julia Project, back for our final week:

Monday, September 28 — Fricasee de Poulet a L’ancienne (We will also feature last night’s Yellowtail Snapper as a reprise dish)

Tuesday, September 29 — Pork Tenderloin with Port and Prunes

Wednesday, September 30 — Chicken Pot Pie

Thursday, October 1 — Paella with Chicken, Lobster and Clams

Friday, October 2 — Lamb Shanks with Baby Fall Vegetables

Saturday, October 3 — Lamb Moussaka

Whether you come in to enjoy one of your best-loved dishes again or to taste one you missed earlier, we hope to see you this week!

Behind the Dish: Pork Tenderloin with Port and Prunes

Our Pork Tenderloin with Port and Prunes is yet another adaptation from Julia Child’s cookbook with Jacques Pépin, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. In our version of the dish, we’re using pitted dried plums as the prunes, and instead of the black currant jam called for in the original recipe, we’re substituting blackberry preserves and plum preserves. Otherwise, we’re keeping to Julia and Jacques’ recipe: sautéeing chunks of perfectly trimmed pork tenderloin until they’re seared brown, adding shallots, deglazing the pan with red wine vinegar, then adding brown stock, ketchup, the preserves, the port and the prunes to the developing sauce (the preserves help thicken and add flavor to it). A fresh parsley and basil garnish provides the finish.

We’re serving our pork with an ideal accompaniment: Israeli couscous, which is larger than the tiny and yellow North African couscous you may have enjoyed in many dishes. Israeli couscous pearls are about the size of barley pearls or Italian orzo pasta, and they will absorb the flavor of this sauce beautifully. Which is good, because we don’t want you to miss a drop.

If you try making this kind of dish at home, keep in mind that just as with Beef Bourguignon, browning the meat properly is crucial. That means making sure it’s dry and well trimmed, and that you’re not trying to cook too many chunks at once. Better to cook in batches than to try to cook too much at a time and not get the proper caramelization you want. Also, this is one time when you definitely don’t want a non-stick pan. Ideally, as you remove the pork temporarily from the pan to make the sauce, the meat will stick to the pan a bit, leaving brown bits behind for the deglazing process. Stainless steel and anodized aluminum work well.

Of course, we hope that now that you’ve read about it, you’ll be eager to taste it. We’re happy to oblige!

Chicken Pot Pie hits the jackpot

Warm, creamy sauce, tender chicken and vegetables, and a delightful melding of flavors and aromas provided by the herbs from our rooftop garden, all under a flaky puff pastry crust…that’s Bistro 185 Chicken Pot Pie. It just may be on the lunch menu tomorrow, too…but why take the chance of missing out?

If you like this dish from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, you shouldn’t miss tomorrow’s either: Pork Tenderloin with Port and Prunes. We haven’t presented a Julia treatment of pork as yet, so this should be special.

A preview of Week 3

We hope you were able to join us last night for Veal Marengo — tender veal in a flavorful tomato-and-mushroom sauce. Whether you were or weren’t, however, we’re preparing another treat for tonight: Loup en Croûte — Fish in Pastry, with hollandaise sauce and haricots verts (good old-fashioned green beans).

Julia Project Menu Week 3 is Ready!

It just keeps getting better! Here’s what we have planned for next week:

Monday, August 17 — Salmon Filet en Papillote with Shallots and Tomato, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Page 220

Tuesday, August 18 — Chicken Pot Pie, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Page 278

Wednesday, August 19 — Pork Tenderloin with Port and Prunes, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Page 358

Thursday, August 20 — Home Made Veal Sausage with Scalloped Potatoes, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Page 364

Friday, August 21 — Chocolate Burnt Almond Ice Cream, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2, Page 421

Saturday, August 22 — Steak Diane, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Page 314

In the French tradition — minus about three weeks — Bistro 185 will be closed for our annual summer vacation from August 24 through the 29th. We will reopen Monday, August 31, bringing more Julia Project dishes with us!