As the long weekend (and unofficial summer) begin…

…we hope all our Bistro friends will come join us soon for lunch or dinner, good friends and relaxing times, whether out on the patio or inside. We’ve got plenty for you to enjoy in the warm-weather season, so watch this space!

For example, we’ve added two new specials to tempt you in the door: Seafood Etouffee with Tempura Soft Shell Crab, Shrimp, Mussels and Clams and Rustic Italian Chicken and Pasta with Artichoke Hearts, Olives, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Roasted Garlic, and Shallots Tossed with Pappardelle Pasta. Mouth watering yet? Come in and enjoy!

Also, on Tuesday, May 31, at 5 p.m., we’re pleased to be part of the LGBT Restaurant Tour. This evening will benefit the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center of Greater Cleveland. Call 216.481.9635 to make your reservation and have a fantastic dinner with us!

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Irish Spirits Dinner a most tasty trip!

The Tenant is pleased to report that I made it all the way through the most recent special dinner just fine, as I thought I would. And I’m so glad I did, because missing out on any of the courses in this one would have been sad indeed. Irish or not, the Irish Spirits dinner was enough to–OK, sounds corny, but true–have your heart dancing a jig!

It was fun to taste the various Irish spirits, but that wasn’t my primary reason for attending this one. I tend to be more of a food person, so while it was an education to try out the various liquid libations, I focused more on the edibles.

The first course of House-Smoked Irish Salmon Ravioli was just amazing. The ravioli was Ohio City Pasta, filled with the most tender and sensational smoked salmon, gently coated in a cream sauce that exuded the wonderful fragrance of dill right off the top. The delicate saucing was just ideal for this dish. It was accompanied by Bushmill’s 16 Year single malt whisky, which is powerful stuff indeed. As I said, I’m not big on alcohol in general, but my dining companion certainly enjoyed it, as I don’t doubt any fan of Irish spirits would.

Next was an unusual idea for an Irish platter. On St. Patrick’s Day, and even throughout Cleveland’s ethnic restaurants, corned-beef-and-cabbage specials abound. But who else bundles that dish into a neat, tidy little empanada? This one was fantastic, the empanada lightly flaky and not at all greasy, with the horseradish mustard sauce served alongside just the right condiment to bring out the flavors. This one belongs on the Happy Hour Menu! Alongside the empanada was a Potato-Leek-Bacon Chowder so creamy and rich with flavor that I could have eaten a potful.

The spirit accompanying this course was Boru Irish Vodka, which I found interesting for its smoothness and a kind of intriguing, slightly sweet taste. I’m used to thinking of vodka as flavorless unless some kind of flavor has been added, so this was a different experience for me. As strong as the legendary Irish king for whom it was named, Boru is made from pure spring water and distilled five times. Definitely a change of pace!

The third course was probably the most interesting to me from a “brand-new food experience” standpoint. I had never before had a Scotch egg: a shelled, hard-boiled egg, wrapped in a layer of sausage, then rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Well, now I know of something new to me that I like a lot! (I guess when it comes to fried food, and sausage, I am there.) Chef Ruth’s Scotch egg was served on a lovely, refreshing bed of leafy Bibb lettuce and drizzled with a delightful Green Goddess dressing that made it even tastier. The drink for this course was Magner’s Hard Irish Cider–quite different from what I’m used to thinking of as cider–more like apple juice with a kick.

The fourth course was a pair of Baby Lamb Chops with Mint Shallot Sauce, resting on a bed of mashed Red Bliss Potatoes with Spring Onions. The lamb was just slightly pink and oh, so tender. Now it can be told, I suppose: when asked, I shared a bite with someone (who shall not be named) who had not signed up for this particular dinner (being more of a wine buff) but who had come to the Bistro that evening anyway and couldn’t resist wanting to know what the lamb course was like. Well, once he tasted it, he was a pretty happy guy, which came as no surprise to me. Perhaps he had second thoughts! Regarding the potatoes, they were aptly named, because to me, they were pure bliss, with just a hint of cider vinegar in the sauce that really brought the flavor out. I never would have thought on my own that mashers would benefit from a touch of cider vinegar saucing, but these did, and in spades! Another “I could eat a whole pot of this alone” dish.

O’Hara’s Irish Stout was the drink of the course, and I had a sip or two, although I’m not really a stout drinker. I think the people across from me were more experienced in the realm of Irish spirits, though, and enjoying the chance to sample a wide variety like this.

Last, but most certainly not least, came the dessert course: Baileys Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse with Scones, Berries, and Clotted Cream. The clotted cream was served on top of each tiny, halved scone next to our ramekins of mousse. My dining companion summed up the scones excellently: “off the hook!” As for the mousse, it was topped with whipped cream made from more of the Baileys. My dining companion offered a taste of her mousse to a third party, who was very appreciative! I think we ended up convincing two more people that maybe they should’ve signed up for this dinner after all!

The final spirit was Homemade Tullamore Dew Irish Cream, which was tasty but seemed almost a surfeit of riches considering what we already had in the mousse and the cream. Still, a fine end to a very satisfying meal.

The takeaway? If you love great food but the lineup of alcoholic beverages at a given Bistro 185 dinner is a take-or-leave, you might want to give it a try regardless. Because if you don’t, you’re going to miss out on some incredible food that’s worth the price of the dinner on its own. And those of us who attend regularly can testify to that! Of course, if you are a huge fan of both Emerald Isle food and drink, this one had to leave your Irish eyes smiling.

Don’t forget: this dinner was not the end of special cuisine Irish-style at Bistro 185 this month. They’ll be wrapping things up this Wednesday with the 3-for-$30 Vegan Irish Dinner, so be sure to plan on stopping by on the 30th so as not to miss out. Is it possible to enjoy Irish cuisine without corned beef? You bet, when your Irish stew is made with gardein! Not to mention which, this is another chance to get some of those Red Bliss potato mashers that delighted me–and some more unbelievable mousse. So, get your Irish up and come to the Bistro Wednesday! You’re sure to enjoy it!

This week’s Chef Todd Special: Meyer Lemon Chicken Française

If you’re a chicken dish lover, you owe it to yourself to try Chef Todd’s new special for this week, Meyer Lemon Chicken Française. It’s chicken battered in seasoned flour using a Dijon-mustard egg wash, pan-seared and topped with a sauce of Meyer lemon juice, shallots, chicken stock and butter. The tender, lightly breaded chicken cutlets are served with a cherry tomato salad tossed in a balsamic glaze with garlic and shallots, as well as crispy smashed fried potatoes to help soak up all that delicious buttery lemon sauce. (You should ask for bread too, though…in case there’s any sauce left on your plate.) Altogether, it’s delicious!

This week’s Chef Todd Special: Seafood Crêpes

Todd Mueller has cooked up another winner for this week’s Chef Todd Special: Shallot, Chive and Garlic Crêpes with Crab, Shrimp, Spinach, Artichokes and Lobster Sauce. What a seafood delight awaits you! You get three crêpes folded around tender, succulent crab meat, topped with shrimp, surrounded by artichokes and sautéed spinach, and doused in a rich, creamy lobster sauce. Come on in and treat yourself!

Night at the Oscars: Oo là là!

Tonight’s French dishes should definitely make you feel like An American in Paris. The Fennel Salad is sautéed sweetly with a touch of shallots (not in the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe, but Chef Todd added them) in orange juice and olive oil to the point of perfect tenderness and nestled in a bed of mixed greens. Fennel also comes into play in our Tenderloin of Pork with Green Peppercorns, helping to flavor a slightly spicy, slightly sweet sauce that uses a mix of whole-grain and Dijon mustards. The sauce is perfect for being soaked up by the baby redskin potatoes. Dessert? The Pain Perdu is like slices of bread pudding, rich with toasted almonds and Grand Marnier and slivered strawberries. C’est magnifique indeed! If you missed it Monday, join us Tuesday!

Behind the Dish: Old-Fashioned Chicken Fricassee with Shell Pasta

For tonight’s James Beard featured dish, we’re going to get the blogging train back on the tracks by posting about a dish which, in Mr. Beard’s recipe, calls for a form of pasta called rotelle. What are rotelle? Sounds fancy, but it’s just Italian for “little wheels.” In his original recipe, the dish is served over what generations of Cleveland children came to know and love as “Choo Choo Wheels.” Maybe you even remember the train printed on the back of the box of Ideal Macaroni that you could cut out and glue some uncooked Choo Choo Wheels onto, if you got the chance to swipe a few before Mom used them all to make your lunch.

Well, nostalgia is fun, but given that most of our diners here at the Bistro are past the age of sitting at the table playing with their Choo Choo Wheels, we’re substituting shell pasta in our Old Fashioned Chicken Fricassee. Trust us, it’ll still taste the same. Our chicken is a mixture of white and dark meat, with some of it thigh meat still on the bone for richer flavor. And you’ll get a lot of chicken along with this rich sauce that includes butter, flour, heavy cream, onions, celery, shallots, egg yolks, and some spicing courtesy of salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg and lemon juice.

This is dinner just like Mom used to make…assuming Mom used James Beard’s cookbooks, that is. If not, you owe it to yourself to taste what you’ve been missing, especially on a day like today on which the snowflakes are starting to flutter down. Put your wheels down at the Bistro tonight, and enjoy some real comfort food.

Behind the Dish: Sautéed Calves’ Liver with Shallots and Madeira

Disclaimer: In James Beard’s recipe for sautéed calves’ liver with shallots and Madeira, we’re improvising on one of the main elements. Oh, don’t worry, we’re not skipping the calves’ liver — but the dish really should be called Calves’ Liver with Shallots and Sherry (try saying that five times fast), because we’re subbing sherry for the Madeira.

It’s pretty simple: finely chopped shallots (red onions can sub in a pinch) are sautéed in butter and oil, then the floured calves’ liver is added and sautéed, then seasoned with pepper, sherry and parsley.

Our liver enjoys a bed of mashed potatoes and an accompaniment of shoestring vegetables — carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, slivered fennel and green onions. If you’re a liver fan but never had it served up this way before, this is your night!

Another option: if you missed last night’s Chicken Kiev but would like to try it, it’s back on the menu tonight.

James Beard Project: Week 3

Here is the menu of nightly specials for the James Beard Project, Week 3:

Monday, Nov, 16 — Linguine with Tomato Shrimp Sauce (Beard on Pasta, p. 98)

Tuesday, Nov. 17 — Filet of Sole with Scallops Mornay (James Beard’s Fish Cookery, p. 201)

Wednesday, Nov. 18 — Chicken Kiev (James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, p. 203)

Thursday, Nov. 19 — Sautéed Calves’ Liver with Shallots and Madeira (The New James Beard, p. 451)

Friday, Nov. 20 — Viennese Goulash with Pappardelle Pasta (James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, p. 141)

Saturday, Nov. 21 — Braised Lamb Shanks with Tomatoes and Sausage (The New James Beard, p. 414-415)

Also — watch for a surprise James Beard dessert!

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: Coq au Riesling

Today’s James Beard Project dish is inspired by the cuisine of the Alsace region of France, in the east along the Rhine River at the German border. The cooking of this area has, of course, been heavily influenced by German cuisine, and that influence shows here. Coq au Riesling is a variation on the traditional French coq au vin dish that, instead of using the usual red Burgundy wine, uses a sweet Alsatian white Riesling instead.

The chicken is browned in butter to which oil and flour are added. Salt pork then goes in to flavor the dish further. Its fat is rendered, and sliced mushrooms, shallots, onions and carrots are added. The chicken is flambéed with cognac and seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic before the Riesling is added and the dish is simmered. Following the simmering, the sauce is thickened with a beurre manié — a dough of equal parts soft butter and flour.

James Beard’s recipe calls for the completed Coq au Riesling to be served over pasta noodles, which figure largely in Alsatian cuisine. However, we’re substituting a traditional German form of noodle, the small dumplings known (and again, well known to many ethnic Clevelanders) as spätzle. We think they do an excellent job of soaking up the rich, delicious sauce. Of course, there’s one way for you to find out, and we highly recommend that you stop by tonight to conduct your own taste test…perhaps with a nice glass of Riesling alongside.