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!

Tequila!

Sure, everyone knows that in 1958 the Champs had a big hit with “Tequila.” But how many know or remember that they recorded a follow-up song called “Too Much Tequila”? They did!

Well, at the Bistro 185 Tequila Dinner, our goal is to make sure you don’t get too much tequila, but just the right amount — and it’s going to make you feel like partying! This special dinner features six Southwestern-style courses paired with six tequilas, and it’s all guaranteed to have your tastebuds doing a dance. Here’s our lineup of courses and tequilas:

First Course
Shrimp Tamale
Tequila: “Tickle My Pickle” with Marc’s Fresh Pickle Juice
Featuring Tierra Organic Blanco Tequila

Second Course
Ropa Vieja — 24-Hour Tex-Mex Shredded Brisket
Jalapeño Corn Pudding
Tequila: “Daring Dylan” — Kahlua — Mexican Chocolate Latte
Featuring Don Julio Anejo Tequila

Third Course
House-Made Black Bean-Goat Cheese-Poblano Ravioli
Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Tequila: Don Julio Repasado

Fourth Course
Trio of Guacamole:
Smoked Trout Guacamole
Mango Guacamole
Traditional Guacamole
Tequila: Don Julio Blanco

Fifth Course
Seafood Vera Cruz — Seafood Stew with Saffron Rice
Tequila: Tierras Organic Repasado

Sixth Course
Margarita Sorbet
Flan
Churros
Tequila: “Frisky Surprise” Featuring Tierras Organic Anejo

Our Tequila Dinner is $55 per person, tax and gratuity additional. Call 216.481.9635 to make your paid reservation, because this one will sell out quickly!

Join us for “From Russia with Love” June 23

Get ready for a special kind of dinner this month as Bistro 185 presents “From Russia with Love,” pairing six Russian-themed courses with a variety of vodkas and champagnes, Wednesday, June 23 at 6:30 p.m. Our menu is already set, and you’re going to love it!

First Course
Three Caviars with Buckwheat Blini
Sour Cream, Chopped Egg, Onion and Parsley

Second Course
Cold Beet Borscht with Mushroom Dumpling

Third Course
Beef Filet with Wild Mushroom Stroganoff Sauce
Savory Noodle Kugel

Fourth Course
Trio of Russian Salads

Fifth Course
Chicken Kiev with Black Truffle Butter
Almond Saffron Pilaf
Apricot-Cumin Chutney

Sixth Course
Cheese Blintz with Cherry Brandy Sauce

The cost of this culinary visit to Russia is $65, plus tax and gratuity. To join us, call for reservations at 216.481.9635. очень вкусный (Delicious!)

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.

Ruth Levine Events caters a wedding

In early September, Ruth had the opportunity to create a very special catered menu for a highly special occasion: the wedding of our son Ari.

She wanted to create a wedding feast that would reflect the South American heritage of his bride, Ursula. With that type of cuisine in mind, here was the menu she devised:

Baby Lamb Chops with Curry Mojo Glaze

Seviche on Spoon

Tequeños

Chilean Sea Bass with Platano Maduro Frito (Fried Sweet Plantains)

Arepa with Roasted Corn Salsa

Mache and Baby Sprouts and Greens with Brunois of Mango, Papaya, Strawberry and Corn Nuts with Broken Sherry Vinaigrette

Black Bean, Goat Cheese, Roasted Pablano and Jalapeño in Saffron Ravioli with Spicy Tomato and Crème Fraiche Sauce and Annatto Oil Drizzle

Mojito and Pineapple-Basil Sorbet

South African Mini Lobster Tail with Hollandaise Sauce and Tomato-Basil Concasse

Black Truffle Risotto with Herb Paste and Sautéed Shrimp

Cuban Black Beans and Rice for Table

Pan Cubano and Medianoche Breads

Guava Cheesecake

Dulce Con Leche Crêpes with Sautéed Apple

Croque en Bouche

Not all these dishes may be familiar to you, so here’s a glossary:

Seviche — raw fish marinated in lime or lemon juice, often with oil, onions, peppers and seasonings, and served especially as an appetizer

Tequeños — fried breadsticks formed by wrapping dough around queso blanco; a popular appetizer in Venezuela, especially at weddings

Arepa — a bread made of corn, originating in the northern Andes, similar to a tortilla

Mache — a salad green with a mild, lettuce-like flavor

Brunois — a very small dice

Annatto oil — a dark red-orange oil made by infusing an oil with annatto (achiote) seeds, used in South American cooking

Pan Cubano — A Cuban type of bread, with a distinctive taste created by its starter and enriched with lard that creates a smooth texture

Medianoche bread — A sweet, eggy type of bread roll, the type used to make a smaller version of the “Cuban sandwich” known as the “midnight special” (that’s another story)

Croque en bouche — a tower of tiny cream puffs, glued together by a caramel glaze and drizzled with the glaze (ours had a large cake as a base)

Here are some pictures, courtesy of our son Zachary:
Black Bean Ravioli with Tomato SalsaLobsterTail with Corn Pudding and Hollandaise SauceMojito and Basil-Pineapple SorbetBlack Truffle Risotto with ShrimpCroque en BoucheOne of the nicest things about this wedding was, of course, was that we got to enjoy playing the exalted role of Parents of the Groom. Here we are in a position you don’t often see us: relaxing and enjoying our own food, right along with everyone else.

Ruth and Marc at Ari's Wedding DinnerThe ceremony was held in our backyard in Pepper Pike, and the lovely late summer weather helped create a magical setting for the perfect wedding and a lovely and intimate wedding dinner.

If you have an event like a small, intimate wedding coming up in your future — or want to plan something special for the holidays (sorry we can’t provide weather like this for that!) — we invite you to find out what Ruth can do for you. Visit the Ruth Levine Events Web site and call 216.404.0500 or send her an email to set your plans in motion.

Visit Spain without leaving Cleveland: Enjoy our Spanish Wine Dinner Nov. 17

If you love the rich history and savory flavors of Spanish cuisine — or if you’re a fan of wine in general or Spanish wine in particular — Bistro 185 has the perfect event for you this month. Our November 17 Spanish Wine Dinner will feature a selection of classic Spanish-style tapas, followed by five courses of specially crafted Spanish cuisine. And, naturally, each course will feature an accompanying carefully selected wine from Spain.

MENU

Tapas
Selection of Dried and Cured Olives
Marcona Almonds
Manchengo and Cabrales Cheeses
Crabmeat-Stuffed Deviled Eggs
Salt Cod Fritters with Garlic Aioli
Spanish Tortilla
Gazpacho Shooters with Shrimp Garnish

First Course
Sautéed Clams and Chorizo

Second Course
Chicken Marbella — Chicken braised with garlic, green olives, oregano and white wine with Yukon Gold potatoes

Third Course
Orange and Fresh Fennel Salad with Organic Honey and Lemon Vinaigrette

Fourth Course
South African Lobster Tail, Sea Bass, Scallop in a Saffron Broth with Timbale of Saffron Rice with Peas and Roasted Red Peppers

Fifth Course
Spanish Flan, Almond Cake and a Selection of Chef’s Whim Desserts

Cost of our Spanish Wine Dinner is $50 per person, tax and gratuity additional. To enjoy this special evening, make your reservations now at 216.481.9635.

Here’s the beef…and it’s delicious

JuliaProject916This is what Filets of Beef in Pasilla Chile Sauce looks like when we’re done with it. Our chile sauce includes Cuban black beans, cooked in a sofrito of onions, tomato, garlic and peppers, added to the pasilla-poblano-chipotle combo that serves as the mail flavoring. After the seared beef medallions are cooked in this sauce, it’s topped with a fresh avocado salsa and queso fresco. To the left, you can see the ravioli, made with saffron pasta with a stuffing of goat cheese and black beans with a touch of roasted jalapeño and poblano chiles, topped with a creamy corn sauce. Garnished with grape tomatoes, a few plantain slices and a sprinkling of parsley, this is a truly incredible dish, a marriage of flavors from spicy to creamy to sweet that just dances on your tongue. Try it — you won’t forget it!

Behind the Dish: Filets of Beef in Pasilla Chile Sauce

Filets of Beef in Pasilla Chile Sauce is another of Julia’s cookbook recipes that comes to us by way of Robert del Grande, whom you can see making the dish in a video you’ll find at this link. It’s another one in which the use of chiles imparts a unique Southwestern flavor to a cut of meat. If it puts you in mind of Texas, that’s no accident.

The recipe first requires toasting the chiles — which, in our case, will be a combination of not only pasillas (narrow chiles with a mild to medium-hot, rich flavor) but poblanos and chipotles, to add flavor, depth and a little more heat. Then the chiles are added to a sauce made with plum tomatoes, white onions, garlic and chicken stock. Meanwhile, medallions of beef are seared, then added to the sauce to cook just a bit longer. The dish is finished off with some brown sugar, cilantro, cheese (the original recipe suggests Cotija cheese — a Mexican hard cow’s milk cheese — we will use a softer queso blanco) and either an avocado salsa or a guacamole.

For an extra-special touch, Bistro 185’s chile-flavored beef filets will be served with roasted poblano-black bean ravioli made with saffron pasta. These ravioli are very similar to the ones we prepared recently for the dinner to celebrate our son Ari’s wedding (more about that Sunday!) and we think they will be perfect for accompanying this dish.

If your mouth is watering, you know what to do: pick up the phone and call 216.481.9635. We’ll be delighted to see you tonight.

Behind the Dish: Paella with Chicken, Lobster, and Clams in Saffron Broth

So, what goes into Paella with Chicken, Lobster, and Clams in Saffron Broth…besides the obvious? Well, you start with a recipe inspired by Julian Serrano of the Picasso restaurant in Las Vegas (you can find a video of him making it at the link provided here). Ours is flavored not only with the saffron necessary to give all paellas their beautiful yellow color, but with lots of onion, garlic, and red and yellow peppers. Although the recipe in Julia’s Master Chefs cookbook calls for using chorizo sausage, we’re going with andouille sausage instead (maybe that makes it more French than Spanish?). It’s cooking in fish stock we prepared ourselves earlier in the week from the red snapper we used as an earlier Julia entree. We’re also adding a little orange zest for more flavor.

Many cooks who make paella use plain old conventional white rice in their recipe. We prefer to use arborio rice — the kind used in making risotto — because its high starch content makes for a creamier, richer sauce, the same way it “creams up” risotto without the addition of milk or cream.

All these ingredients cook in one pan. In another go the heavy hitters of the seafood component of the dish: South African lobster tails, crab legs, shrimp, mussels, clams, and a little red snapper, along with some chicken thighs. We’re simmering them in a tomato broth made with our fresh rooftop tomatoes. When everything’s done, we’ll plate up the spicy rice-and-sauce mixture, ladle the seafood-and-chicken mixture on top, and there you have it: paella!

Hmm. Considering all we’re adding to the mix, maybe we should call it Paella with Chicken, Lobster, Clams, Crab, Shrimp, Mussels, and Red Snapper in Saffron-Tomato Broth. One thing’s for sure, if you’ve been craving seafood lately, this one’s going to satisfy you — and it’s going to bring the spice, too!

Not into seafood? We’ve got yet another reprise of our Pork Tenderloin with Hot Fanny Sauce as well. When we put it back on the menu last night, it sold out! Looks like this one is a definite winner. If you still haven’t tried it, or you did and liked it so much you would love to have it again, tonight’s your night!

Holiday Closing: After tonight’s dinner, we will be closed until lunch Tuesday for the Labor Day holiday. We hope you have a good one, but don’t stay away long — the Julia Project resumes with Week 5 Tuesday night (menu schedule to come soon)!

Julia Project Dishes for Week 4

Here’s our Julia Project lineup of dishes for Week 4, beginning with dinner on August 31.

Monday, August 31 — Grilled Pork Tenderloin with George Germon’s “Hot Fanny Sauce,” served with individual ramekins of marshmallow-and-pecan-topped sweet mashers. (This dish, from In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs, page 75, will feature a sauce Chef Todd learned while working under George at his award-winning restaurant Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island.)

Tuesday, September 1 — Filet de Boeuf en Feuilletons, Duxelles: Tenderloin of Beef sliced and stuffed with mushrooms and roasted. We will serve this with Yukon gold mashers and grilled asparagus (Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 2, page 180)

Wednesday, September 2 — Poached Filet of Red Snapper with Mushrooms and Fast White Butter Sauce, served with Israeli couscous (Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, page 238)

Thursday, September 3 — Fried Chicken with Chicken Gravy and Corn Pudding (In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs, page 192)

Friday, September 4 — Crêpes Suzette (Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, page 410). Also, Fridays of the Julia Project will be “Reprise Nights,” in which we will bring back a popular dish from earlier in the week in addition to our special Friday dish. (Last night, we brought back the Pork Tenderloin with Prunes — and you ate it up!)

Saturday, September 5 — Paella with Chicken, Lobster, and Clams in Saffron Broth (In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs, page 201)

Mark your calendar and make your reservations…when we come back, we’ll be cooking up a storm!