“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!

Advertisements

“OPA!” Greek Wine Dinner menu is here!

There’s so much going on at the Bistro this month it may seem hard to catch your breath. And indeed, the menu we’ve got planned for the “OPA!” Greek Wine Dinner on Wednesday, April 27, may just take away what breath you have left! Plan to be here for this culinary visit to the Greek Isles:

First Course
Lamb Keftede with Tzatziki Sauce
Wine: Santorini ’06

Second Course
Sea Bass in the Style of Corfu
with Artichokes, Lemon, Potatoes, Greek Olives, Oregano, Rosemary,
and Garlic
Wine: Moschofilero ’09

Third Course
Greek Village Salad with Pita Bread
Wine: Merlot Xinomavro ’09

Fourth Course
Chicken and Spinach Spanakopita with Dill-Lemon Beurre Blanc
Wine: Naoussa ’04

Fifth Course
Shrimp Santorini: Shrimp, Tomatoes, Feta Cheese, Orzo, and Ouzo
Wine: Nemea ’05

Sixth Course
Phyllo Nests with Fresh Berries and Honey-Infused Crème Fraîche
Caramelized Pistachio, Walnut, and Almond Tartlet
Wine: Metaxa Brandy

The “OPA!” dinner is $65 per person plus tax and gratuity. Doesn’t just reading about it make you feel like doing Zorba’s dance? Call 216.481.9635 to reserve your spot. We won’t be smashing any plates at the Bistro, but this Greek feast will be plate-smashing good!

A toast to another top-notch Champagne Dinner!

Hi! The Tenant is back, and, along with Ruth and Marc, hoping you have had a wonderful holiday season so far. They have asked me to remind you that they’ll be open tonight for New Year’s Eve and open tomorrow night, New Year’s Day, for dinner, so you can put a nice cap on your holiday season fun. Are your out-of-town guests heading for home soon? Bring them to the Bistro for a nice New Year’s dinner. Then kick back, relax, and enjoy life returning to normal!

Now, about the Champagne Dinner last Tuesday…I’m not shy to tell you, after having suffered from a dragging-on illness last winter that kept me from being able to attend last year’s Champagne Dinner, I was really looking forward to this one. I had seen the pictures of last year’s, and they were mouthwatering enough to make my soul ache. So this was a Bistro dinner not to be missed for me — and apparently also not for a lot of other people, as the entire “restaurant side” of the Bistro was filled with this sellout dinner group. If you couldn’t make it, though, or didn’t reserve soon enough to get a spot, at least you’ll know what you missed. (This review might even give you a few ideas if you’re still looking for a good champagne to uncork tonight.)

The first course took no time setting the tone for an incredible meal. The Herbed Crêpe with Salmon Caviar, House-Cured Gravlax, Crème Fraiche and Poached Asparagus kicked things off excellently. It was an amazing combination of gentle, paper-thin crêpe, savory gravlax, slightly salty caviar, and dairy-fresh cream. The asparagus was just unbelievable in flavor…it tasted as fresh as if it had been picked off the roof in springtime. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that fresh-tasting a vegetable out of season. The champagne with this course was also especially fine, Lamarca Prosecco. An Italian wine produced champenoise style every few months, and subjected to a panel review before being released (!), it has a just slightly sweet touch, but not excessively so. Not only that, but it’s an incredible deal, usually available for between $13 and $15 a bottle. Our wine rep of the evening, Greg Webster of Wine Trends, also advised us that it makes great mimosas, so if you’d rather have New Year’s brunch than a New Year’s toast, it’s a fine choice for that as well.

Chef Ruth really got to show off one of her favorite kinds of dishes to prepare in the second course, Duck Three Ways. I’ve heard her and Marc describe this kind of dish to me before, but I’ve never actually had the chance to enjoy it. At center plate: tender, rosy, gently fat-ringed slices of seared duck breast, topped with a delicious mango chutney. At one side, a hearty slice of duck pâté, rich with nuts and savory spice, dressed with a dollop of French grainy mustard. (I love the Bistro’s pâtés. One of my sisters and I have joked that if the liverwurst sandwiches our mother used to pack for our school lunches had only been made like this, we would have enjoyed them much more.) On the other side of the duck breast, a duck confit — tender leg of duck cooked in its own fat to fall-off-the-bone tenderness, then crisped and caramelized in a balsamic ginger glaze. Sounds good just reading about it, no? Oh, it is. The champagne for this course was Domaine des Baumard Brut Cremant Carte Turquoise, a Loire Valley pick that is drier than the Lamarca and well suited to this sweeter dish. It is also not a pricey selection, either!

It was time for the salad course, but this was honestly like no salad I’ve ever had before; it was on another plane. Marc had told me earlier that the basis of this Caesar salad was grilled Romaine lettuce. “Grilled?” I asked. I’ve heard of and enjoyed many kinds of vegetables being grilled, even fruits, to caramelize them and add a crispy texture, but this was the first time I’d ever heard of anyone grilling salad lettuce. Well, they grilled it, and it’s absolutely incredible. Each serving of salad consisted of grilled Romaine leaves topped with Caesar dressing and a shower of Parmesan shavings; four escargot shells, each containing a former resident sautéed to perfection in butter, garlic, and parsley (we had to tease the little devils out with canapé toothpicks); thin, grilled slices of baguette; and garlic cloves roasted until sweet and soft enough to spread on the baguette slices. Remove an escargot from its shell, place it atop the baguette slice smeared with garlic, and take a bite…ahh, perfection! Oh, and then take a sip from your glass of Casteller Cava Penedes, a Spanish sparkler even drier than the second champagne, but still lovely and not so astringent as to get puckery. It just danced on my tongue.

Course number four was a tender, savory chop from Australian aged rack of lamb, cooked perfectly with a crackly skin outside, topped with a rosemary-mint demi-glace that went just as well with the unbelievable Potatoes Anna as with the meat itself. The paper-thin-sliced potatoes were creamy and baked just enough to form the perfect crispy brown crust on top. The champagne for this course was a Laetitia Brut Cuvée, a blended sparkling white that was probably the driest of all we enjoyed. I’m not any more crazy about extreme dryness in wine than I am in too much sweetness, but this one didn’t go overboard and I liked it as much as the others.

Then came course five. To my mind, they were all great, but this was the one that had people around me moaning with pleasure and saying it just has to go on the specials menu. The Seafood Waffle Topped with Lobster-Shrimp-Crab Imperial sounds simple, and it is — but oh, how good! Each serving included one quarter of a round Belgian waffle made with a savory herbed batter; an absolutely huge, split, freshwater flame-grilled scampi shrimp; and a butter-soaked cream sauce studded generously with tender chunks of lobster, Laughing Bird shrimp, and crab. You may recall that a while ago Marc and Ruth explained that Laughing Bird is a brand of Caribbean white shrimp farmed in Belize, raised in filtered sea water, fed a vegetarian diet, never treated with additives or sulfites, and sold fresh. The end result is a shrimp that’s wonderfully succulent and sweet. As for the scampi shrimp, it was so big, plump, and sweet that some of my fellow diners mistook it for a lobster tail. It was that delicious! Along with it we were served Champagne Delamotte, a “capital-C Champagne” in that it’s from the actual region. It was a nicely dry complement to the rich, creamy, buttery seafood dish.

The meal came to a simple but delightful conclusion with a heavenly Chocolate Lava Cake (with the classic crusty exterior/liquid interior) on a bed of strawberry coulis, garnished with blackberries and topped with a generous snowfall of powdered sugar. With it, the only rose wine of the evening, Patrick Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon, also the only one we were served in coupes rather than flutes. It was the fruitiest wine of the evening, but still not excessively sweet…just right.

The verdict: if you missed this dinner, oh dear…too bad, because you missed out on some amazing dishes and champagnes whose goodness is hard to express in mere words! You can, however, console yourself a bit by making a New Year’s resolution not to miss the next Bistro special dinner. This one’s going to be a post-Valentine’s Day fête that just might make an excellent gift for that special someone…the Chocolate Dinner, Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Don’t wait until the last minute, because this one is likely to be another sellout…call now at 216.481.9635 and make your reservations! Happy New Year!

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this blog confused the scampi shrimp with the Laughing Bird shrimp, which actually stay small but are especially sweet and tasty and were included in the seafood sauce.

Champagne Dinner menu is set!

Get your tastebuds prepared, because the menu and list of accompanying champagnes for our December 28 Champagne Dinner is ready!

First Course
Herbed Crepe with Salmon Caviar and Lemon-Tarragon Sabayon
House Cured Gravlax with Creme Fraiche
Poached Asparagus
Champagne: Lamarca Prosseco

Second Course
Duck 3 Ways: Seared Duck Breast, Duck Pate, Duck Confit
Champagne: Domaine des Baumard Brut Cremant Carte Turquoise

Third Course
Grilled Caesar Salad with Escargot and Slow-Roasted Garlic
Champagne: Casteller-Cava-Penedes

Fourth Course
Australian Aged Rack of Lamb with Rosemary-Mint Demi-Glace
Potatoes Anna
Champagne: Laetitia Brut Rose

Fifth Course
Seafood Waffle Topped with Lobster-Shrimp-Crab Imperial
Champagne: Champagne Delamotte

Sixth Course
Chocolate Lava Cake with Raspberry Coulis
Champagne: Paringa Sparkling Shiraz

If you’re a lover of fine food and great champagne, this is the ideal way to ring in the New Year early–away from the noise and crowds, in a nice, peaceful, civilized celebration. And wouldn’t it make the ideal holiday gift for someone special in your life?

Cost of the dinner is $75 plus tax and gratuity. We start at 6:30 sharp, serving up six courses of fabulous dishes and bountiful bubbly. Make your reservation at 216.481.9635 today!

Our rooftop garden is blooming with flavor!

Summer is now in full swing, and it’s a Cleveland locavore’s favorite time of year. By “locavore,” of course, we mean someone who tries to eat locally produced food, over food shipped in from outside his or her home region, as much as possible. In this part of the country, our growing season is limited by the weather, so we’re all the more appreciative of the short period of time each year when we can truly enjoy eating local produce.

Here at the Bistro, our effort to source food as close to our restaurant as possible includes growing our own — right here on the rooftop! Each spring we put in new plants and welcome back perennials, creating a garden full of fresh delights to add to our menu all summer long.

We’re sharing some of our early bounty with you already, in the form of arugula and fresh herbs. Chives, German thyme, rosemary, mint and sweet basil are among our offerings, part of which you can see here:

We’ve also put in some green beans and some yellow squash. The squash is really growing at an amazing pace, as you can see:

We also have tomatillos in this year — a staple of Mexican and other Latin American cuisine:

Of course, what just about every Clevelander loves about summer is the opportunity to quit settling for those mealy-textured pink supermarket tomatoes and enjoy fresh, ripe, red ones right off an Ohio vine — tomatoes grown for flavor rather than for shipping well! Obviously at Bistro 185 we’re no exception, and once again we’ve put in lots of tomato plants on the rooftop:

We like to grow several tomato varieties — from those that produce fruit early to those that last later into the season, as well as types that are especially suited to particular uses, whether fresh for salads or cooked in sauces. And our efforts are beginning to show rewards:

Mmm, you can almost taste them now, can’t you? One of our favorite things to do this time of year is head up to the garden with a knife and a shaker of salt, just to taste how fresh and flavorful our tomatoes are with nothing but that small enhancement. Amazing.

What all this means for you, of course, is that when you come to the Bistro, you’re going to have some incredible local produce on your plate very soon. Whether it’s fresh tomatoes in your caprese salad, rooftop squash in your ratatouille or risotto, spears of rosemary flavoring your lamb shanks, or a pasta sauce with the kind of flavor that only comes from tomatoes that haven’t taken a long trip from California to your table, you’re in for some great summertime eating. These herbs and veggies will be making a very short trip to you: down a flight of stairs and through a hall! Sure beats a cross-country trip when it comes to flavor!

Yes, the rooftop here at the Bistro is a wonderful place this time of year, and for more reasons than one. We’ve oftentimes had patrons ask if they can be seated on our rooftop deck during the warm months, and as a result, this summer we are opening our rooftop garden for private, catered parties. We will cater a special wine dinner for your group of eight on an evening you choose in advance. Our garden is a wonderful place to be on a warm summer night, and it just may be the ideal spot for that small get-together you have in mind. Whether it’s a birthday, a graduation, an engagement, an anniversary or just an opportunity to celebrate our all-too-short summer season, all you need to do is call 216.481.9635 to get Chef Ruth started on planning a menu that’s just right for summer dining al fresco.

Summer will only be with us for a little while. Make the most of it by stopping by and enjoying the bounty of our rooftop garden soon!

Mind if we smoke?

We don’t think you will. In fact, we think you’ll thank us for smoking.

You’ll thank Marc for smoking, anyway. Since he got his big opportunity to smoke as much as he wanted at our house, he’s become quite the heavy smoker. Lately, he just can’t seem to quit smoking. Yeah, go figure, it’s a new year and everyone else is making resolutions to quit smoking — and this guy resolves to smoke more. In the past week, especially, Marc has been smoking like crazy.

Meat, that is. (What, you thought we were talking about smoking something else?)

He’s been smoking beef brisket (and if you’ve ever had our brisket, you’ll be delighted to hear that), he’s been smoking ribs, he’s been smoking pork chops, he’s been smoking sausage and he’s been smoking turkey. Now, you can benefit from all his smoking, in the form of this wonderful Choucroûte: an Alsatian smoked meat platter.

Meat platters like this are the quintessential bistro dish in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, so influenced in the kitchen by Germany: great quantities of smoked meat, roasted to a turn, served with boiled potatoes, sauerkraut and flavorful mustards. This is our version. You get a plateful of smoked ribs, sausage, turkey and a pork chop. On the side, boiled baby potatoes and plenty of sauerkraut, made with Ruth’s special recipe that combines a touch of sugar and bacon to render the shredded cabbage sweet-tart-savory, not sour. The whole thing comes accompanied by two mustards — a hearty grainy mustard and a mellow honey mustard — and we suggest you ask for some bread as well, because you’re going to want some to soak up the sauce and juices. Order up a beer with this, and — ach du Lieber! — you can’t get a more heartwarming or satisfying winter’s meal. It’s on our specials menu this week; you need to get in here and taste it!

If for some reason that doesn’t ring your bell, though, we still have plenty of other delights with which to tempt you. Such as veal osso bucco; roasted half duck with cherry port sauce; long bone double cut pork chops wrapped in bacon and stuffed with prosciutto, Gruyère and apple with port and dried plum ginger sauce; slow braised lamb shank with rosemary-mint demiglace; a spicy jambalaya; four-cheese mac and cheese with smoked chicken and black truffle; Portuguese fisherman’s stew; mahi mahi with raspberry-chipotle glaze…

Come on by and fill your stomach and your soul with a lovingly prepared dish this week. Because at Bistro 185, we smoke ’em if we got ’em.

Behind the Dish: Braised Lamb Shanks with Tomatoes and Sausage

Here’s a secret: we’re swapping out the main element in a James Beard recipe tonight to bring you Lamb Shanks with Tomatoes and Sausage. Because, truth be told, his original recipe calls for veal shanks. However, we feel that the flavor will be even richer using lamb shanks — truly exceptional — so we’re subbing them for the veal.

The dish calls for braising the shanks in tomatoes and white wine, parsley and basil, then adding partially cooked sausages (we’re using Italian sausages) during the final cooking time, until they’re cooked all the way through. We’re serving our shanks, tomatoes and sausage with an assortment of fall root vegetables including parsnips, turnips, carrots, rutabagas, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and purple potatoes — and a little fennel and rosemary. Now that’s hearty — and the flavor is exquisite!

Warning to those who can’t resist dessert: we still have Cream Puffs with Chocolate Sauce available, and now you can choose them filled not only with ice cream, but with pastry cream. Either way, you will be amazed.

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: Roast Duck with Cherries and Wild Rice

Our Roast Duck with Cherries and Wild Rice is, we think, something quite special. As always at the Bistro, we like to improvise a little on any recipe we use, and that’s the approach we took to making the cherry sauce for our James Beard-style roast duck. The cherries we’re using are a combination of summer sour cherries we’ve had saved up in the freezer from back during the warmer months and canned Oregon Bing cherries. The base for the sauce is a veal demiglace we just prepared last week from 50 pounds of veal bones! To that we’ve added some spice in the form of rosemary, cinnamon sticks, and a little ground nutmeg and cloves, along with some Ohio honey.

Keeping our roast duck company are wild rice with wheat berries and some of our roasted fall vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, squash, and both Peruvian blue and redskin baby potatoes. Stop in tonight to try this marriage of the savory to the sweet — and enjoy a little taste of this past summer, too.

BEHIND THE DISH EXTRA: Another cold-weather delight that makes a great starter is one of our Soups of the Day, Chestnut Soup.

If you’ve never had chestnut soup before, you should give it a try and find out why, every holiday season, you always hear Nat King Cole singing about the pleasures of chestnuts roasting on an open fire. This is why — it’s one of the best things that can happen to those chestnuts after they get roasted. And it makes a great accompaniment for our duck dish…or just about anything else on the menu.

Behind the Dish: Lamb Moussaka

Tonight’s Julia Project dish, Lamb Moussaka, is familiar to most modern diners. If you know anything about Greek cuisine, you’ve probably heard of moussaka, and you may well have enjoyed it as part of your family’s cooking or at a Greek or other restaurant. The dish, which usually is made in the form of a kind of “lasagna” that layers slices of eggplant with ground lamb in a tomato sauce, originated in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, which makes it rather interesting that a recipe for it was included in Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1.

Julia’s instructions for how to structure and serve the completed dish are quite a bit different from how it’s normally done today; they’re much more classically French. Her original recipe uses a charlotte mold, which she instructs the cook to line with the skins of the cooked eggplant portion of the dish and then fill with a combination of the eggplant, mushrooms, lamb and sauce, resulting in a “shiny, dark purple cylinder surrounded with a deep red tomato sauce.” Wow! Her completed entree, brought to the table whole at a dinner party, must have looked rather like a purple Bundt cake. For our purposes, however, we used the more conventional rectangular pan and “layered” method of preparation commonly seen today. We’re also providing it with our own version of a “French twist.” And we’re proud to add that the vegetables are all organic, from Jim Darr’s Old Plank Farm in Windsor, Ohio — pesticide and herbicide free.

We’ve been prepping our moussaka since yesterday, because it is quite a bit labor-intensive. One of the steps requires slicing up the eggplant, sprinkling the slices with salt and letting them sit out for a half hour to “sweat out” the excess water (eggplant holds a lot of water) before cooking it. This process makes the eggplant more permeable to the olive oil in which it bakes before it’s layered, but it also requires a lot of room to lay out all the slices when you’re making as much moussaka as we are! With the limited space available to us in the Bistro kitchens, we had to do it in stages.

The recipe also calls for minced mushrooms, shallots or onions, the ground lamb (already cooked before being placed in the dish — which is probably why Julia describes it as a way to use “leftovers”), salt and pepper, thyme, garlic and rosemary, tomato paste, eggs, and a brown sauce. Rather than the brown sauce, however, we’re topping our moussaka layers with a classic béchamel, or white sauce, made with milk, flour and butter. Also, our bottom layer is sliced fried Yukon Gold potatoes — another item not in Julia’s original recipe. And, we added oregano and cinnamon, two other spices Julia’s version omits, but that are very much components of a classic moussaka.

The ingredients are layered and baked up to make a hearty, heartwarming dish, which we will top with an arrabiata pepper sauce. It will be accompanied by a classic Greek side salad featuring cucumbers, kalamata olives, our rooftop tomatoes and basil, red onion, orange and red peppers, and feta cheese, dressed in a Greek vinaigrette.

Sounds like a great fall dish? We thought so!