New year, new events: mark your calendar and make reservations now!

We’re barely into the new year, and we’ve already got some very special events planned in the near, near future for the Bistro. Plan to join us for these soon:

VEGAN NIGHT GOES ASIAN: Vegan Night returns with a special Asian flavor! This $30 Asian Vegan Night Dinner Thursday, January 19, served from 5 to 9:30 p.m., will feature these three courses:

First Course
Lemongrass-Ginger-Miso Soup with Shiitake Mushroom Wonton

Second Course
Panko-Nori and Sesame-Crusted Eggplant Cutlets
Edamame–Mint Sauce
Jasmine Rice
Sauté of Asian Vegetables

Dessert Course
Coconut–Mint Panna Cotta
Fresh Berry Garnish

FAT CITY: If you’re a wine lover, you know there are times when only a “big fat red” will do. Enjoy a sampling of five top-notch red wines paired with five equally robust courses at our Big Fat Red Wine Dinner Thursday, January 26 at 6:30 p.m. For $100 per person, you’ll enjoy these sumptuous dishes and wines:

First Course
Foie Gras French Toast with Fig Balsamic Reduction
Wine: Chateau Haut Beausejour 2007

Second Course
Medallion of Beef Tenderloin with Black Truffle Hotel Butter
Potato and Onion Galette
Wine: Salus Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Third Course
House-Cured Gravlax with Eggplant Caponata
Wine: Merryvale Profile 2006

Fourth Course
Duck Confit Bolognese with Polenta
Wine: Archery Summit Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2007

Fifth Course
Lemon Tart with Italian Meringue
Wine: Dow’s Crusted Port

MORE CHOCOLATE TREATS FOR VALENTINE’S DAY: Our Chocolate Dinner during last February’s Valentine’s season was so popular that we’re doing it again–with a brand-new selection of dishes. Once more, rather than giving that same-old box of candy, you’ll be able to share chocolate delights with your Valentine via a truly original and romantic dinner. Join us at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 15, for our Chocolate Valentine’s Dinner and see just how versatile chocolate can be! Watch this space for our menu, coming soon. Oh, and if you missed last year’s Chocolate Dinner, take a look at this video to get an idea of what it was like:

As you can see, our upcoming events offer something for everyone. Call 216.481.9635 now to ensure your reservations!

Private Reserve wine tasting: eight high-quality wines for only $20

The Tenant returns with a brief review of this past Tuesday’s wine tasting featuring wines from Purple Feet Distributing and Private Reserve Wine Distributors. If you’re a wine lover, tastings like these are a deal you shouldn’t miss: you have the opportunity to taste eight high-quality wines for only $20. If you don’t know much about wine (that would be me), these tastings help you become acquainted, for not much money at all, with what kind of value you can get for your dollar if you learn a little about what’s out there.

Allow me to speak for a moment to my fellow wine naïfs (oenophiles, forgive me). If you’re like many people who don’t know much about wine, you may have come to the conclusion that only expensive wines can really be any good. And you might think that for sure, no good imported wine is going to be inexpensive. Wrong on both counts, as we saw, and tasted, Tuesday night. Of the eight wines we tasted, only one cracks the $25-a-bottle ceiling, and two are available for about $9 per.

A small word about the food. For the wine tasting, the Bistro extended its $5 Happy Hour appetizer policy until 8 p.m. This meant that while appetizers were additional, it was possible to purchase one or two and eat both inexpensively and well. My choice was the Pot Roast Sliders. I’ve had the Bistro’s regular burger sliders before, but not these, and they were exquisite: thick little squares of juicy, melt-in-your-mouth pot roast, on the traditional tiny buns, lavished with as many caramelized grilled onions as the burger kind. Accompanied by a generous mound of sweet potato fries, these make a great meal. (I recommend asking for a side of ranch or Gorgonzola dressing for your fries.)

Now, about the wine. Selections consisted of six reds and two whites, so for the red-wine fan especially, this was a treat, and each wine had something to recommend it.

We got a taste of both the white and red Esporao Monte Velho wines from Alentejo, Portugal. The white was described as “Aroma of floral and spicy fruit. Intense, elegant and well balanced” and a good accompaniment for grilled fish, shellfish, cheeses, and vegetarian dishes. It does seem suited to that purpose; it struck me as fairly dry, but with a nice soft fruity quality. As for the red version, if I were to pick a favorite amongst all the wines, this would probably be it. I really liked the intense ripe berry bouquet that this one gave you right off the top, not to mention the taste, which seemed a bit oaky without being extremely so. And at $9.99 a bottle for either wine, they’re a steal. If you want a really good, yet inexpensive, foreign wine, try the Portuguese.

Not to say that California doesn’t have decently priced, very good wines as well. We were poured two Havenscourt wines, 2008 Chardonnay and 2008 Pinot Noir, and each had things to recommend it. The Chardonnay has “creamy vanilla and lemon flavors enhanced by toasty oak aromas,” our literature said. I found it less dry than the Monte Veho, but not overly sweet either, just a nice balance. The Pinot Noir, with a taste that “hints of currants, ripe berries and violets,” had a powerful bouquet but a smooth, not highly intense flavor on the tongue. These are $8.99 a bottle — terrific bargains indeed.

The Castelnoble Tempranillo, from Spain, provided yet more proof that “foreign” and “good” doesn’t have to mean “pricey.” This wine, described as having aromas and flavors of black currant, raspberries, and toasted vanilla, had a bright flavor with a full, heady bouquet, with a spicy feeling in the mouth. It also sells for $9.99 — very affordable if you want a wine for an elegant dinner that doesn’t cost more than the dinner.

It was back to California for the 2007 Tin Barn Napa Valley Zinfandel, and it was a nice trip. Strong bouquet, nice and smooth drinking with a fruity, peppery-spicy flavor. This one is a little more costly at $19.99.

The Urano Malbec, an Argentinean selection, was described as “intense red fruit, hints of spice, subtle French oak, touch of coffee and tobacco. Solid with a pleasant finish.” I found it dense, fruity, and quite smooth and silky, but not with a terribly intense flavor — more subtle. If you like something that really jumps on your tongue, this one may not be for you, but if you like a really silky-smooth wine, it could be a perfect match at $12.99.

Last was the 2006 Ahnfeldt Provocative Cabernet. This Cab is actually a blend of 75 percent Cab, 14 percent Merlot, 1 percent Petit Verdot, and 10 percent Syrah. It makes for a spicy-cinnamony red wine that’s smooth with subtle hints of sweetness (cherry, milk chocolate, caramel, and currant, so the literature says). It was the priciest wine of this group at $25.99, but also a very nice choice in red wines.

If you couldn’t make it to this tasting, because of the weather or for some other reason, there’s still plenty of time to call 216.481.9635 and make reservations for the $10 tasting on Tuesday, the 25th. It’s sure to feature more very drinkable and affordable wines to tempt your palate.

Vegan Dinner Series March 10: Fingerling Potato Stew

We know our vegan friends enjoyed our first Bistro 185 Vegan Dinner Series entree, so here’s another special to lure you back to us Wednesday, March 10: a delicious stew of tri-color fingerling potatoes stewed in red wine with kale, kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, garlic and onions with barley and seitan (wheat gluten). Mark your calendar and make plans to join us for this special entree next week!

Behind the Dish: Lamb Shanks with Beans

Tonight’s James Beard dish is pretty basic on the surface: lamb shanks braised in red wine and beef stock with a bit of tomato paste, bay leaves and other herbs. But as usual, we at the Bistro like to change things up a bit, so we couldn’t just serve plain old white beans alongside: our beans are a bit dressed up with bacon, onions and shallots, and some fresh rosemary and thyme. You can really smell the perfume of the herbs coming off this dish and making the beans and the lamb even more flavorful.

But, of course, that’s not all. We’ve got a full lineup of other standards and specials to tempt you. Like a little spice? Has the great weather today made you feel like pretending for a while that you really do live someplace where it’s always warm like this? Go Jamaican tonight with a jerk barbecue mahi-mahi accompanied by tropical fruited rice, rich with bananas, papayas, pineapple and coconut. Or try something else on the specials that’s caught your fancy. For example, the Four-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese with Smoked Chicken and Black Truffle:

This is creamy, smoky, cheesy comfort of the best kind. Or maybe you’d prefer a “Petit Poulet” (chicken) wrapped in bacon with cornbread-andouille sausage stuffing and a cranberry-orange chutney. Or an Italian seafood cioppino, rich with South African lobster tail, scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams, crab leg, Italian sweet sausage and penne pasta in a spicy marinara broth, topped with tempura calamari.

Whatever you do, again, you want to keep one more course in mind, because, as always, there are some beauties in our dessert case. Some of the ones we have on hand right now: pumpkin pie topped with maple-brown sugar whipped cream; triple chocolate cheesecake; and fresh vanilla-bean ice cream. Oh, and did we mention we still have Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel Pie?

It’s Saturday night, and it’s going to be a beautiful one. Come celebrate it at the Bistro!

Behind the Dish: Roasted Lamb Inspired by the Renaissance Agnello Al Forno

The Tenant is back, with the story behind tonight’s Julia dish. Once again, it’s lamb, but this time roasted.

The inspiration for this dish comes from the American food writer and radio journalist Lynne Rossetto Kasper, who noted that while orange flavoring used to be highly popular in the cooking of Ferrara, Italy, during the Renaissance, it is seldom used there today, which is a shame. (A link to a video of preparation of this dish can be found here.) This dish really highlights orange zest as a flavoring with garlic, anchovy filets and basil, as well as kalamata olives. The Bistro recipe will use lamb shank, rather than the leg of lamb in the original recipe, roasted in a bath of red wine and (unpitted) kalamata olives, with salt and pepper for seasoning. The sauce is made from strong veal stock and a bit of tomato paste, and when the flavors of the roast lamb, roasted olives, sauce, anchovies, garlic, basil and orange all meld together…the result is supposed to be pow. Why not try it tonight and see?

UPDATE: Just saw Ruth and Marc…yes, they are back and they are going to be back here soon, too! Some more notes on tonight’s dish…it will include lemon as well as orange zest, and rather than the lamb being marinated in the zest, anchovies, garlic and basil, those elements will be added to the sauce. So will cherry tomatoes. The lamb will be accompanied by a Mediterranean couscous with raisins, whose sweetness will contrast with the tartness of the kalamatas, and sprinkled with chunks of feta cheese.

One more thing: the Levines didn’t have their family honeymoon in Rochester like Marc told me they did. They went to Ithaca! OK, so Marc isn’t as up on his upstate New York geography as he could be. They’ll be back here to tell you about the wedding and their adventure exploring the Wegmans supermarket in Ithaca. Later!