Vegan Dinner a three-time pleaser

Hello again from the Tenant. I tried the Bistro’s “3 for 30” Vegan Prix Fixe Dinner last Wednesday and if you did, too, you know what I’m about to say. If not, definitely read on!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not vegan, but I have found that when I eat Bistro 185’s vegan concoctions, I enjoy them so much that I truly do not miss the meat. And if you’re a dedicated vegan, you can’t help but appreciate not only the care Chefs Jakub and Ruth take toward ensuring the 100% vegan content of every dish, but the gourmet flair they bring to each one. This dinner was certainly no exception!

The starter course was Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Vidalia Onions. I don’t think I have words to describe how delicious and satisfying it was. All I know is, I feel as if I could have eaten several more bowlsful. The flavor was so rich—a combination of sweetness and fiery spice—and the texture thick and substantial. It arrived streaked with a garnish of almond milk and sprigged with thyme, and it was an amazing winter soup that drained any feeling of chill from the cold weather outside right out of my body.

Next in line was the entree, Eggplant Parmigiana with Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Vegan Mozzarella Cheese and Slow-Cooked Marinara. This dish was also a winner—its sauce full of fresh tomatoes and the eggplant slices tender, light, and un-greasy, ever so gently breaded and fried, laid atop fantastic whole-wheat pasta. Even the pully texture of the vegan mozzarella was perfect, just as natural as the real thing. I’m told vegan cheese is made from almond milk. Don’t ask me how—all I know is, this was great. It was accompanied by a savory piece of garlic toast for soaking up extra sauce.

The finishing touch was as tasty a dessert as I’ve ever had, the Vegan Apple Pie—or, to be more precise, a Vegan Apple Turnover. It arrived hot and flaky, full of juicy, saucy apple slices in delightfully light pastry, accompanied by a little scoop of cinnamon almond-milk ice cream, a dollop of almond-milk “whipped cream,” and a fresh raspberry and blackberry garnish, dusted all over with powdered sugar. The “ice cream” was a terrific variation on the regular-milk variety and the “whipped cream” just as yummy. The perfect conclusion to an excellent meal!

To summarize: if you eat vegan, you owe it to yourself to try eating vegan-style at Bistro 185 whenever you have the opportunity (info about next month’s offerings will go up when ready). And even if you don’t normally eat vegan, trying a vegan dish, or even a full meal, at the Bistro is a terrific introduction, because you’ll be both surprised and impressed by the high quality of everything you taste. The flavor and texture will be so much the same as what you’d find in a traditional meal that you may even mistake what you’re eating for a non-vegan dish! Keep your eyes on the blog for information about upcoming vegan features. You’ll be impressed—and very well fed!

Vegan Dinner menu is ready!

The menu for our three-course prix fixe Vegan Dinner Wednesday, December 15, is ready!

Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Vidalia Onions

Eggplant Parmigiana with Whole Wheat Spaghetti and Vegan Mozzarella Cheese and Slow-Cooked Marinara

Apple Pie and Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream

Remember, this dinner is $30 plus tax and gratuity, by prepaid reservation only (open seating). Make your reservation today at 216.481.9635 so you don’t miss out!

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!

Behind the Dish: Linguine with Tomato-Shrimp Sauce

Our James Beard dish for tonight should more properly be called “Spaghetti with Tomato-Shrimp Sauce,” because that’s really what it is. We’re using spaghetti instead of linguine for our pasta. It begins with a light sauce of tomatoes in puree, onions, salt, pepper, basil and butter. Shrimp, sautéed in garlic, parsley, olive oil, and Tabasco or red-pepper flakes are added to that. The whole thing is served atop the pasta, which in our case will be spaghetti. A spicy seafood excitement for the senses!

Tonight is also a great chance to catch up on some James Beard dishes you may have wanted to try earlier but missed out on: the Veal Chops Niçoise and Salmon Provençal are both back on the specials menu. And we’ve still got some of those Cream Puffs with Chocolate Sauce, filled with our vanilla-bean ice cream!

RUTH PITCHES FOR ONE OF OUR SUPPLIERS: If you haven’t yet seen Ruth’s new commercial for Dean Supply, check it out:

Like Ruth says, Dean Supply definitely helps keep us going! If you’re in the market for items to outfit your kitchen or bar at home, or searching for that perfect gift for someone who loves to cook or bake, stop by and see their selection. You just might find what you’re looking for!

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: Chèvre-Tomato Spaghetti

Chevre-Tomato SpaghettiThere aren’t many dishes simpler or more basic than James Beard’s recipe for Chèvre-Tomato Spaghetti. The sauce is a very straightforward marinara, made of tomatoes in puree (he recommends Redpack), sliced onions, fresh black pepper, dried basil and butter. To that, cubed chèvre — goat cheese — and Tabasco sauce are added, and it’s served atop spaghetti. A variation on the recipe suggests using blue cheese and omitting the Tabasco sauce, but we’re using the conventional recipe with chèvre and Tabasco. Try this change from the typical spaghetti and meatballs! It’s a little creamy to be sure, but mostly it’s a walk on the spicy side of pasta.

The James Beard Project, Week 2

Here’s the James Beard Project menu for Week 2:

Monday, Nov. 9 — Curried Mussels (James Beard’s Fish Cookery, p. 334)

Tuesday, Nov. 10 — Chèvre-Tomato Spaghetti (Beard on Pasta, P. 150)

Wednesday, Nov. 11 — Chicken Tetrazzini (Beard on Pasta, p. 110)

Thursday, Nov. 12 — Salmon Sauté Provençal (James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, p. 179)

Friday, Nov. 13 — Cream Puffs with Chocolate Sauce (James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, p. 244)

Saturday, Nov. 14 — Veal Chops Niçoise (James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, p. 136)

Mamma mia! That’s a spicy spaghetti!

Hello, it’s The Tenant again, who just sat down to a plate of Spaghetti Marco Polo…They asked me what I thought of it, and I said this: “The use of the kalamata olives, combined with the garlic, makes this a spicier, saltier kind of pasta dish. Those who are used to a really sweet tomato-y spaghetti sauce, or those who like really creamy alfredo-type sauces, might not find it to their taste, but I do.” And that’s the truth. Maybe being half-Italian helps, but it’s hard to serve me any kind of a pasta dish I’m not going to like. And I like the way this one makes use of peppers and the completely unexpected (at least in most pastas) walnuts. As for the kalamatas, which are kind of intense for some people, well, I have reason to believe there’s a bit of Greek in me, too, so I’m fine with those. It is somewhat like a puttanesca sauce, which usually has salty anchovies along with black olives and capers, only this one is minus the tomatoes. Or maybe a linguini-with-clam-sauce, minus the clams. If you like puttanesca sauce, or linguini with a garlicky clam sauce, Spaghetti Marco Polo should appeal to you, too. But be warned: those olives have pits!

I saved some of mine for lunch tomorrow. Always nice having pasta for lunch when you don’t have to cook it yourself!

Behind the Dish: Spaghetti! Marco! Polo!!

OK! Marc and Ruth are a little busy today, as you might imagine, so for today their tenant’s taking over again! (You remember me from when I made Apple Turnovers? Or not? Well, anyway…) Today’s Julia Child dish is Spaghetti Marco Polo, and if you’ve never heard of it, no — it’s not spaghetti you eat in the pool, and you don’t have to eat it with your eyes closed while blindly feeling around for the plate. No, as my research reveals, it’s a dish that goes back to a long-held myth about the origins of spaghetti.

If you’re like me, you probably recall learning at some point that Marco Polo introduced Italy to pasta by bringing spaghetti home with him from his travels to China, where the people were already eating the long, stringy stuff. However, if you Google it, you’ll find a jumble of history, stories and evidence implying that he most likely didn’t, and that Italy may have acquired both durum wheat, the basis of dried pasta, and a method for making it into pasta from the Arabs, not the Chinese. Anyway, the Italian climate turned out to be perfect for growing durum wheat, and Italians were probably the first people to serve pasta with sauces. Ancient methods for kneading pasta dough had a lot in common with preparing grapes for wine — people did both with their feet!

So, the Chinese may not have invented spaghetti after all, and Marco Polo probably didn’t introduce it to Italy. (Wow. The next thing you know, they’ll tell us he didn’t invent the swimming-pool game either.) But somehow, that story that he did sticks with us. And that story inspired Julia Child to present a dish she called Spaghetti Marco Polo on her show The French Chef.

Julia’s dish included chopped walnuts, olives, pimiento and basil, and she encouraged her viewers to eat the completed dish Chinese-style: with chopsticks. (In fact, Ruth told me that she first taught her sons how to use chopsticks by introducing them to Spaghetti Marco Polo.) Some viewers didn’t think that it met the criteria of “French” cooking implied by the show’s title, and wrote letters telling her so, but Julia disagreed. To her, the essence of French cooking was “Taking ordinary everyday ingredients, and with a little bit of love and imagination, turning them into something appealing.” It wasn’t the ingredients or the origins of a dish that made it “French,” but the approach and the methods used to cook it. Once you learned French technique, in her eyes, you could apply it to any set of ingredients — even foods we don’t think of as “French.”

Julia’s experience living in China during her employment by the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, had left her with an appreciation for Chinese food, and in her heyday the story of Marco Polo introducing pasta to Italy from China was even more widespread and not well challenged. So it’s not surprising that she saw no problem with preparing a traditionally Italian dish on a show called The French Chef and advising her viewers to eat it Chinese style!

How’s the Bistro planning on doing it? Here’s the lowdown they gave me: the black olives in their recipe will be kalamata olives, and assorted colored peppers will substitute for the pimientos. Otherwise the dish is largely the same and fairly simple: spaghetti tossed with olive oil, the olives and peppers, walnuts, parsley, garlic, rooftop basil, salt and pepper, and garnished with Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese. Whether or not you want to eat it with chopsticks is up to you! (And if you do, you may have to bring your own!)

Julia Project Dishes for Week 5

You’ve waited patiently…and here they are!

Tuesday, Sept. 8 — Fireplace-Roasted 1⁄2 Duck with Sautéed Porcini Mushroom and Veal Demi-Glace with Wild Rice and Sautéed Haricots Verts (Cooking with Master Chefs, p. 103)

Wednesday, Sept. 9 — Spaghetti Marco Polo (from the French Chef series)

Thursday, Sept. 10 — Sea Scallops and Wild Mushroom and Green Sauce on Risotto (Cooking with Master Chefs, p. 75)

Friday, Sept. 11 — Côtes de Pork Robert with Sautéed Potatoes (Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1, p. 388)

Saturday, Sept. 12 — Braised Lamb Shanks with Baby Fall Vegetables (Potatoes, Turnips, Carrots, Haricots Verts) (Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1, p. 345-346)

Sounds good? Mark your calendar and make your reservation!