Ay, caramba! We had a great Tequila Dinner!

The Tenant is back, and you’re going to have to make do with me for a while, because Ruth and Marc are going off on a well-deserved vacation. But they’ve entrusted me to write another of my reviews, this one of Wednesday’s Tequila Dinner. At this event, we were able to enjoy some of the many distilled forms of the blue agave plant, which is a succulent plant related to lilies — not a cactus, as some think. It’s been cultivated for many thousands of years, and people have been making tequila from it for quite a long time! We got to taste a few products of that experience.

Things got off to a rousing start with the combination of a Shrimp Tamale and two paired glasses on our tables: one of fresh pickle juice and one of Tierra Organic Blanco Tequila. Tierra is the only organic tequila sold in the United States, and blanco tequila is 100% agave tequila, unaged and untreated with additives. The contrast of the tart pickle juice with this slightly sweet tequila was a tastebud-tingler. So was the tamale, a combination of shrimp, plantain, cornmeal mush (with many tasty spicings and flavorings, including fresh cilantro and lime) served in a corn husk.

The second course was ropa vieja — shredded beef brisket cooked for 24 hours in a bath of Tex-Mex seasonings, seated atop jalapeño corn pudding, and topped with refreshing sour cream. But before it arrived, we were able to get a start on the accompanying tequila drink, an intriguing iced latte of Kahlua and Mexican chocolate known as a “Daring Dylan.” This drink, which I could enjoy as a substitute for chocolate milk any day of the week, featured Don Julio Anejo Tequila (aged in oak at least one year) and was rimmed with a very Mexican flavor combination of cocoa and cinnamon. OK, I admit it: the rim tasted so good, I licked it off!

You’d think the second course of a meal would be an odd place for a chocolate drink to be served, but the Daring Dylan was actually an excellent complement that helped cool the spicy-hot ropa vieja on the palate.

Next came another hearty dish, House-Made Black-Bean, Goat Cheese and Poblano Ravioli. These large, fairly flat ravioli were full of rich flavor from the beans, cheese, and poblano peppers, and sauced with a delicious roasted red pepper sauce streaked with cream. The tequila for this course was a powerful, pungent Don Julio Repasado (100% agave, stored in oak between two months and a year).

Following the intense flavors of this course came some gentle, cooling refreshment. Normally this point of a meal features a salad course, but this one was a little different: Chef Ruth had prepared three different kinds of guacamole. We each had a scoop of traditional guacamole made with avocados, a scoop of sweet and fresh guacamole made with mangoes, and a tart and tangy guacamole made with Marc’s smoked trout. The guacamoles were served with long fried plantain chips atop a bed of carrot and jicama slaw. These were very tasty; I thought the contrasting flavors of the mango and trout varieties were a fun and out-of-the-ordinary twist on the theme. The refreshment continued in the drink served with this course, a Mexican Mojito made with Don Julio Blanco Tequila, spiked with plenty of fresh rooftop-garden mint. Yum!

By this time, though, my eyes were getting bigger than my stomach. I had to have my fifth course, the Seafood Vera Cruz, packed up to go. But that was fine, because I had an absolutely wonderful lunch of it the next day! If anything, the seafood stew, rich with fish, mussels, shrimp and grilled scallop, full of peppers and onions and served over a timbale of saffron rice, tasted even better with the broth aging that extra day for the flavors to marry even more. Utterly delicious. The Tierras Organic Repasado tequila served with it was fiery and intense.

Somehow, even packing up the stew, I found room for the dessert course that night. And was it ever wonderful: tiny chocolate cups of margarita sorbet — like the most concentrated form of margarita slush you’ve ever had — along with smooth, soothing caramel flan and a fantastic churro, or Spanish fried doughnut stick, dipped deeply in molten chocolate. Mmmm-mmm! And the final drink was something special, too: a “Frisky Surprise” featuring Tierra Organic Anejo tequila. This slushy fruit drink was served in tall glasses with an orange slice, and was a refreshing and unusual treat.

So, it was another success for a Bistro 185 special dinner evening — but if you think this one was good, what Ruth and Marc (especially Ruth) are cooking up for October is really going to amaze you. Be sure not to be late signing up for it, because it’s going to be a dinner with a bit of a Halloween-style theme like you’ve never seen or tasted before. What is it? You’ll have to wait a little longer to find out. But watch this space — soon you’ll know!

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A flurry of activity going on now!

So much is happening here at the Bistro that it’s hard to even keep up with it all. To bring you up to date:

WINE TASTING TONIGHT: We’re having a special $10 wine tasting tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. with light hors d’oeuvres, featuring Vino Con Brio Wines: “Matzin” Old Vines Zinfandel, Vino Con Brio Pinot Grigio, Vino Con Brio Petit Sirah, Vino Con Brio “Late Harvest Matzin” and Old Vines Zinfandel. Availability is limited, so if you’re interested, call to reserve a spot.CHEF TODD SHOWS OFF HIS MUSSELS: This week’s new Chef Todd Special will be added tomorrow night. In the meantime Todd is continuing to offer specials from last week. One we hadn’t yet mentioned here (yes, he ultimately came up with three!): Mussels Provençal, steamed in garlic, white wine, roasted red pepper and tomato, flavored with roasted garlic cloves, parsley and scallions, served with thin spaghetti. Try this one for a hearty seafood-and-spaghetti dish!

WEDNESDAY NIGHT IS VEGAN NIGHT: This Wednesday, Bistro 185’s new featured Vegan Dinner Series entree of the evening will be Sundried Tomato Pesto with Tofu, Sauteed Vegetables and Vegan Parmesan over Pasta. Don’t miss this one!

IT’S SWEET TO TWEET: Also, if you take a look at the right column of this page, you’ll see our big news: Bistro 185 has joined Twitter! (We’ll be adding a similar widget to our Web site and Facebook pages shortly.) If you’re on Twitter, please add us to your Follow list; if you’re not there as yet, you can still follow us by searching for “Bistro185” on the Twitter Web site or just following our activity here and on our Web site and Facebook.

Twitter is the place to read our “short bites” on the latest on what’s happening at the Bistro, and also where you can take advantage of special time-sensitive offers available only to those paying attention to our tweets. So keep your eyes on us — it might just pay off! Also, we’d love to hear tweets back from you — did you enjoy your latest meal with us? What would you like to see on the menu in the future? What’s gone that you miss? Let us know!

Review: “Spring Into Whites” Wine Dinner

The Tenant is back, to tell you that the Bistro 185 “Spring Into Whites” Wine Dinner was a real spring fling! This special dinner featuring nothing but white wines was a fine introduction to the season we look forward to here in Cleveland so much.

The first course, Sea Bass Veronique, featured a slice of tender pan-roasted sea bass atop a tiny slightly sweet, light-as-air polenta-mascarpone cheese cake. The Veronique was topped with a chive beurre blanc accented with green and red grapes. The gentle, subtle flavors of this dish were enhanced by the Scharffenberger Brut sparkling wine, a blend of two-thirds Pinot Noir and one-third Chardonnay, equally light and soft in flavor as this dish.

Lollipop Lamb Chop Milanese was the second course: a pair of lollipop-style lamb chops in spicy breading atop a cake of orzo risotto and accompanied by a sweet peach-ginger chutney that was an ideal complement for the flavors of the lamb. The Conundrum White Blend served with this course, an intriguing blend of California white grapes, had a sweet overall touch that combined well with the chutney.

Next came the salad course, with something special indeed: Grilled Pineapple Carpaccio with Fresh Raspberries and Arugula, drizzled with a champagne vinaigrette. Grilling the thinly sliced pineapple really caramelizes it and brings all its sugars to the fore, and it made for a delicious salad, with a wine — Yalumba Viognier — that made for a beautiful and light companion.

The fourth course brought richer and spicier flavors: Chicken Wellington with Shiitake Mushrooms and Spinach in an Herb Crêpe Beggars’ Purse, tied with a ribbon of leek and seated in a creamy roasted red pepper and basil sauce. It was a dish of contrasts: the creamy, tender chicken and the spicy pepper sauce. The Cloudline Pinot Gris, a fruity but drier wine than many of the preceding wines, worked well with this dish.

Course number five had an Asian touch, with Thai Seafood Coconut-Mango Curry. This was another opportunity to enjoy one of Chef Ruth’s perfectly seared grilled scallops, topped with a perfect shrimp and dressed in a curry sauce rich with mangoes, coconut, red pepper, corn and Thai basil. The wine for this dish was Valley of the Moon Chardonnay, a 100% Chardonnay that was very enjoyable.

The delicious conclusion to it all was a dessert that continued the Asian theme: Phyllo Wrapped Roasted Banana and Caramel, along with an assortment of “chef’s whim” delights. The banana was heavenly sweet and delightful; the “chef’s whims” consisted of tiny lemon tarts topped with a raspberry and mini-mocha mousses in tiny chocolate cups. The wine for this course was Von Wilhelm Haus Riesling Beerenauslese, a very appropriate wine with a nice hint of sweetness.

Much thanks to Vintage Wine Distributors and Jonathan, their representative, who joined us and helped me, especially, learn more about the wines we enjoyed.

If you have yet to make it to a Bistro 185 Wine Dinner, but your mouth waters when you read about this and the others (and watch the video!), you should take advantage of your next opportunity to enjoy one — Wednesday, April 28. We’ll be announcing our menu and wines soon, so keep an eye out here for it!

It’s party time!

No, we’re not talking about tomorrow’s football game. We’re talking about tonight! It’s Bistro 185’s fourth anniversary — and as you can see, we’re ready to celebrate in style.

We never could have made it this far without you, our patrons who have so enjoyed themselves here and have returned again and again to tell us so. Please join us for dinner tonight and help us celebrate by enjoying a complimentary glass of champagne and taking home a slice of our anniversary cake!

As always, we’ve got fantastic specials to tempt your tastebuds. Such as our Argentina Style Beef Tenderloin Filet with Chimichurri Sauce, Cilantro and Lime-Marinated Shrimp with an Arepa and Sweet Potato Tostone and Yellow Rice; our Bistro 185 Fish Fry, starring day boat scallops, shrimp and cod in a cornmeal batter with remoulade sauce and sweet potato fries; our Rack of Lamb with Roasted Red Pepper Orzo Risotto; and our 12-ounce Long Bone Veal Chop with Shiitake Mushroom-Marsala Sauce and Wild Mushroom Tortellini. Or go with a classic or an old favorite; we’ve still got dishes you know and love, from the Four Cheese Mac & Cheese with Smoked Chicken to the Chicken Schnitzel to the Lobster Ravioli to our own Boeuf Bourguignon. Whatever you choose, it’ll make for a happy celebration!

So stop on by, wish us a Happy Anniversary and join in the champagne toast. With the support of you, our friends, we hope to enjoy many more years of serving exciting, creative and delicious bistro cuisine.

Night at the Oscars: Doctor Zhivago and Chicken Kiev

Tonight’s salute to our favorite movies to celebrate Academy Awards season features the 1965 winner for Best Picture, Doctor Zhivago. Relive the romance of this classic film tonight by dining on our featured special: Chicken Kiev, stuffed with Brie cheese and basil with potato gnocchi toppped with a creamy vodka-tomato sauce and sautéed spinach. We’ll be featuring this special for the rest of the week (we had originally planned to salute three films per week, but we’re going to feature two per week instead to give everyone a few more days’ opportunity to experience each dish).

We’re also featuring some other wonderful specials to warm your heart this time of year. If you haven’t yet tried our Green Pasta — penne pasta with pesto, asparagus, haricots verts, pea pods and scallions — it’ll provide a welcome spot of color in your cold gray winter. You can add shrimp, filet of Bay of Fundy salmon or chicken breast to this dish as well.

Looking for something completely new? How about our Italian Meatloaf — a combination of veal, sausage, ground beef and pork topped with marinara sauce, served with mashed potatoes and steamed green beans? That’s real wintertime comfort food. Or maybe you’d rather take a mini-vacation in the tropics with Sautéed Wild Caught Caribbean Lane Red Snapper served with a red-pepper aioli, black bean, corn and mango salsa and some bacon corn fritters on the side.

If the bacon corn fritters alone sound wonderful to you, you can get a small plate of them for $5 at the bar during our Happy Hour — along with many other delightful mini-dishes, from sliders to crab cakes, and a nice $5 glass of wine to join them.

Don’t forget, this Saturday is our Fourth Anniversary Party, and we’re going to have even more special things planned, plus a complimentary glass of champagne and a slice of cake for everyone who helps us celebrate!

This time of year, it’s easy to allow cabin fever to get the best of you — but Bistro 185 is your cure. Come on in and say hello. You’ll find we’re just what the doctor ordered!

Our Veuve Clicquot Champagne Wine Dinner video

We hope you enjoy this video presentation of the courses featured in our Champagne Wine Dinner December 28:

We’ll let you know when and what we’re planning for our next wine dinner in the near future!

Pop some corks with us December 28!

You’ll have the opportunity to pop the champagne before New Year’s Eve when you join us for our special Champagne Wine Dinner Monday, December 28. We’ll be pairing a selection of Veuve Clicquot Champagnes with the following dishes:

Coquilles St. Jacques
Baby Lamb Chop with Roasted Red Pepper Orzo Risotto
Tuna Ceviche in Champagne, Lime, Cilantro and Jalapeño Vinaigrette with Organic Baby Greens
Duck Confit with Orange-Ginger Glaze
Lyonnaise Potato Timbale
Butter-Poached South African Lobster Tail with Confetti Vegetables
Dessert Course: Champagne Sorbet, French Crèpe with Sweet Cheese and Cherry Sauce

Cost of the Champagne Wine Dinner is $60 per person in advance, gratuity and tax additional. Don’t miss this chance to celebrate the end of 2009 with some truly fine champagne and some wonderful food — make your reservations now at 216.481.9635.

Hint, hint: A reservation for this dinner makes a perfect holiday gift for the wine lovers on your list!

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.

Behind the Dish: Chicken Tetrazzini

Chicken TetrazziniToday we think of Chicken Tetrazzini as a rather common dish, but it wasn’t named after a common person, or so the story goes. There was once a trend for naming culinary creations after celebrities, and Chicken Tetrazzini, we are told, was named to honor the Italian opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini, “The Florentine Nightingale,” star of the San Francisco Opera. Although there are many variations on the recipe, the common elements are chicken, a butter-cream-Parmesan cheese sauce flavored with wine and vegetables, spaghetti and a grated Parmesan topping.

Most people have eaten Chicken Tetrazzini at some point, but have you ever eaten James Beard’s recipe for Chicken Tetrazzini? Chances are you haven’t — and you’ve never had it quite the way we’re cooking it for tonight.

Beard’s recipe calls for chicken, sweet red peppers, butter, flour, chicken broth, heavy cream, black pepper, Tabasco sauce, sherry, spaghetti, bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese. We’re using close to the same ingredients, with a combination of white and dark meat chicken, but we’re roasting the sweet red peppers for extra flavor, adding roasted garlic, and substituting Sriracha hot sauce — the popular chili sauce most often found on the tabletops of Chinese and other Asian restaurants — for the Tabasco and Marsala wine for the sherry. The bread crumbs topping our tetrazzini are a combination of regular and Japanese panko bread crumbs for extra crispness.

This isn’t your old school cafeteria’s Chicken Tetrazzini — as you will find out when you taste it! You get crisp, creamy and just a little spicy in the same dish — definitely uncommon.

Behind the Dish: Ossi Buchi with Orzo

Osso Bucco is a dish we’ve been serving quite a bit of at the Bistro this fall. So how does tonight’s James Beard special, Ossi Buchi with Orzo, differ? Well, this time our seared, simmered veal shanks are accompanied by both the traditional gremolata (chopped garlic, parsley and grated lemon zest) and by an orzo risotto, combining the ricelike Italian pasta with cream, butter, Parmesan cheese, roasted red peppers, scallions and parsley. We think this will definitely delight you with tender fall-off-the-bone meat, a little spice and a lot of risotto creaminess.

Whatever entree you enjoy at the Bistro, you don’t want to skip dessert if you can possibly help it. For one thing, we’ve been making many of our Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Pies (a slice of which you can see in our Halloween video), because they’re so popular we just can’t keep them in the dessert case. And right now we’re preparing a couple of new treats to tempt you: Gingerbread-Root Beer Cake with Root Beer-Poached Pears (made with artisanal root beer) and Cheesecake Topped with Banana-Lime-White Chocolate Ganache and Slivered Almonds.

Ruth is also preparing some of her famous Asian Crab Cakes for tonight’s Dames Dish! for the Holidays event, hosted by Cleveland’s female culinary pros, Les Dames d’Escoffier Cleveland. The event, from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. in Parma’s Trevarrow Kitchen Showroom, is designed to please your taste buds and inspire your holiday entertaining plans, with appetizers, hors d’oeuvres and desserts from the group’s culinary professionals, accompanied by wonderful wines. The event will also feature a silent auction including prizes like a KitchenAid Artisan Series mixer, restaurant gift certificates and more. Advance registration of $50 is required; all proceeds benefit Les Dames’ Northeast Ohio Green Tables Initiative, which helps people better understand the link between rural and urban farms and their tables.

So…don’t let anyone tell you there’s nothing to do in Cleveland on a Friday night…or nothing good to eat!