Vegan Dinner spins Mediterranean magic

Because The Tenant had weekend guests, I’m a bit behind reporting on the latest Vegan Dinner. But now that I have a bit of time to describe it, one word covers it well: WOW.

Festivities began with the platter of mezze, the Mediterranean term for a selection of small dishes served as appetizers. This particular selection of mezze was so delicious and filling it could serve as a meal in and of itself!

Laid out beautifully on a platter atop a trio of romaine lettuce leaves and dusted with spice were an assortment of Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves, Tabbouleh Salad, Hummus, Greek Olives and Spanakopita, accompanied by still-warm toasted pita wedges and lemon slices. I’m Southern Italian on my father’s side and we suspect there’s some Greek in our heritage, too, even if we can’t directly point to it, so to me this is like ethnic soul food in many ways. I didn’t grow up eating it, but something in me just gravitates to eating it very naturally. What struck me most strongly about this platter was that everything on the plate was just so absolutely fresh. The hummus, that well-known paste of ground chickpeas, seemed as if it had literally just been made, and spread on a piece of warm toasted pita wedge, it was simply fantastic. The tabbouleh salad was cool and rich with flavor and smacked perfectly of lemon juice and mint. The stuffed grape leaves, or dolmades, were delightful little packages of tasty rice. The spanakopita, normally a spinach-feta cheese turnover, was still warm, the phyllo dough crisp and flaky. Obviously, the cheese used must have been vegan, but I couldn’t tell the difference. And the olives were a true treat.

This dish alone nearly filled me up. It was all I could do to find room for the rest of the meal. But it’s a good thing I did find room for at least part of it, because the vegan moussaka was wonderfully done.

Layers of eggplant, tomato, spices and a custard made with a soy-milk base–indistinguishable to me from traditional moussaka custard–topped a healthy pile of yellow couscous. Yum. I couldn’t finish it all that night, but I am doing so tonight.

What can I say? I had to make some type of room for dessert–or at least try. And I’m glad I did, because the Apple, Apricot and Pine Nut Galette with
Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise was superb.

Flaky open pastry, tender and sweet fruit accented with toasty pine nuts, snowed with powdered sugar and an amazingly rich creme anglaise served on the side to pour over the top–thick, rich, indistinguishable from dairy–and all of it served heartwarmingly hot, as the best pastry should be. Divine!

If you’re vegan, and you’ve never tried the Bistro’s vegan dinners, you owe it to yourself to give them a try. If you’ve been considering going vegan for whatever reason, trying one of these dinners will open your eyes to the amazing things talented chefs can do to make vegan dining just as varied and tasty as any other dietary choice. But as always, I wouldn’t recommend taking my word for it. Tasting is believing!

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Join us for dinners celebrating Middle Eastern cuisine!

Have you signed up yet for the amazing special dinners we have planned for September? If not, what are you waiting for? We’re headed to the Mediterranean and Israel for our inspirations this month. You’ll want to join us. You don’t have to be vegan, Mediterranean, Greek or Jewish to enjoy these feasts, but it certainly won’t hurt!

We begin next Thursday, Sept. 15, with our 3-for-$30 Vegan Dinner, Flavors of the Mediterranean. This one’s almost sold out, so don’t delay:

First Course
Mezze Platter: Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves, Tabbouleh Salad, Hummus, Greek Olives and Spanakopita

Main Course
Moussaka
Couscous

Dessert
Apple, Apricot and Pine Nut Galette
Vanilla Bean Creme Anglaise

The following week, Wednesday, September 21 at 6:30 p.m., Ruth will be going back to her roots–and celebrating a variety of Jewish heritages–by creating our Israeli Fusion Wine Dinner. At this six-course, $65-per-person dinner, the first five dishes will be paired with a wine from the Recanati Winery of Israel, and the closing dessert with an Israeli liqueur:

First Course
Apple-Potato Latka
Israeli Feta Herb Cream
House-Cured Salmon
Wine: Recanati Sauvignon Blanc

Second Course
Ruth’s Mother’s Ashkenazi Chicken Soup
with Middle-Eastern Inspired Matzoh Ball
Wine: Recanati Chardonnay

Third Course
24-Hour Sous Vide Moroccan Lamb Tangine
Israeli Couscous with Pine Nuts and Currants
Wine: Recanati Cabernet Sauvignon

Fourth Course
Chicken Curry from the Cochin Jews of India
Wine: Recanati Shiraz

Fifth Course
Ladino Style Fish Ragout
Wine: Recanati Merlot

Sixth Course
Cheese Blintz
Blood Orange Couscous
Liqueur: Chocolate Sabra

We’ll be providing a bit more information about the Israeli dinner in the near future. In the meantime, to ensure you enjoy either of these feasts, call 216.481.9635 and make your reservation now!

Taste the Mediterranean at our September Vegan Dinner

In the Vegan Dinner Series, the hits just keep on coming…and if you’re a fan of Mediterranean food, you won’t want to miss our 3-for-$30 special for September. On Thursday, September 15, our Vegan Dinner Series features “Flavors of the Mediterranean.” Take a look at this lineup:

First Course
Mezze Platter
Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves
Tabbouleh Salad
Hummus
Greek Olives
Spanakopita

Main Course
Moussaka
Couscous

Dessert
Apple, Apricot and Pine Nut Galette
Vanilla Bean Crème Anglaise

Sounds good? Don’t miss out! Call 216-481-9635 and make your reservation now for this vegan Mediterranean feast.

“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!

“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!

“Bottle Shock”: a fun tongue-teaser

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNtyO45slcI
Hi — it’s The Tenant again, here to give you another review of an exciting event at the Bistro. This time around it was the “Bottle Shock” Wine Tasting, a variation on the legendary 1976 “Judgment of Paris” wine competition that inspired the movie Bottle Shock. The film tells the true story of how a British sommelier surprised a group of Parisian oenophiles by having them conduct a blind taste-test of a selection of wines. The tasting proved to their discriminating palates that California’s best wine could indeed stand up against France’s for quality. In the Bistro 185 version of Bottle Shock, tasters were presented with six different wines and asked to guess whether each was from France or California and to attempt to “name that varietal.” At the end, the names and vintages of each wine were revealed so we could tell how close our guesses had been.

As I’ve mentioned before, I really am not a connoisseur of wine, so I participated in this tasting more for the fun and the opportunity to expose myself to some new tastes than anything else. It was also interesting to try to see whether I’d become any good at distinguishing French wines from California wines merely from my experience at Bistro wine dinners!

The tasting began with a white wine that to me seemed fruity, but not especially or cloyingly sweet. I took a guess on its being a California wine, but which grape it was I could not tell. My companion Mary, who knows far more than I do, took a guess that it was a Chardonnay. The second wine, also a white, seemed less fruity, drier and crisper — very clean, almost without any strong flavor at all. I wasn’t sure about this one, but I put down France as the origin just for a guess. I never did guess a varietal at all.

The third wine was a red with a strong bouquet and a very spicy spectrum of flavors. I guessed this one for a California, possibly a red Zinfandel. (I was remembering a friend of mine from the Bay Area who ordered it once when we were together at a bar, laughing at the tendency of the rest of the country to drink white Zin, which she regarded as a joke — which, I suppose, to serious wine drinkers, it is.) Wine number four was also a red, with a very smooth kind of velvety texture; I guessed it for, possibly, a French Merlot. Number five, a red for which a fresh bottle was opened just before my pour and which emerged very foamy at first, seemed to have a lighter flavor than some of the other reds; I had no idea what the origin or grape might be, so I guessed at a French Syrah. The last wine, another red, was another wine that seemed to have a certain smoothness of flavor and a flowery, fruity bouquet. I put this one down as possibly another California, but couldn’t think of what grape it might be.

When we had each had a taste of every wine and marked down our judgments/guesses, the identity of each wine was revealed to us. Wine #1: 2009 Treasure Hunter Alexander Valley Chardonnay! Our flyers described it as having “a succulent nose of exotic crushed fruit and lemon custard. With an opulent mouthfeel, it still shows good acidity and green apple, honey, spice and heaps of tropical fruit.” Mary got that one right, and I correctly identified it as a California wine.

Number 2: 2008 Escale Chardonnay Vins de pays de Mediterranee, from France. “The nose is very aromatic with notes of peaches and hints of passion fruit. Rich and full on the palate with a long-lasting finish.” I had guessed it for French, at least, so when it came to telling the two wine regions apart, I was two for two!

Wine #3: 2008 Hoe Down Cabernet Sauvignon. Another correct guess of a California, even though I was off on the grape. “This Cabernet has flavors of fresh raspberries and silky blueberries that balance perfectly. It has velvety oak nuances and round tannins.”

On Wine #4, I was again off on the grape, but right on the country. It was 2007 Escale Cabernet Sauvignon vin de pays d’Oc. “A nose of red and dark fruits. On the palate there is a silky texture with flavors of cassis and blackberries with a very nice structure and complex finish.”

On Wine #5, I made my sole correct guess of varietal, even though I missed guessing the origin. It turned out to be 2007 Clayhouse Vineyard Syrah. “Driven by dark berry fruit flavors (blackberry and plum), complemented with hints of black pepper, dusty oak, and slightly floral notes. The fine-grained tannins make it rich and soft in the mouth, and it’s balanced with a tart acid backbone.”

Last of all, Wine #6 was a complete miss for me: 2007 Côtes du Rhône Villages. “Old vines give this wine finesse and elegance. A deep ruby color, sweet aromas of black cherries, raspberries, and licorice. Full-bodied and fine, delivers a long and complex finish.”

At the end of the evening, though, considering how little I know about wine, I was pretty impressed with myself. I had managed to correctly guess four out of the six wine origins, even if I was only 1 for 5 on varietals. Maybe I am learning something! Oh, and congratulations to Ginger, who won the competition for most correct guesses. Thanks also to Greg of Purple Feet Distributing and Richard of Père Jacques Wine Imports for walking us through this test of our noses and palates.

One more thing to note: wine aside, this tasting was made even more enjoyable by the panoply of amazing hors d’ouevres that emerged unceasingly from the kitchen throughout. Chef Ruth outdid herself with mini-bruschettas featuring tapenades of artichoke, olive and roasted red pepper, spanakopitas, Hawaiian meatballs, antipasto skewers, smoked whitefish in phyllo cups, mini-crabcakes, Brie and raspberry preserves rolled in phyllo dough, smoked duck breast on mini-potato pancakes, and corn fritters with “Bistro sauce.” Sheer heaven! All of which means, the next time you see a wine tasting advertised at the Bistro, you’d better sign up quickly. Whether you can tell a French from a California or a Chardonnay from a Pinot Gris, a good time is guaranteed for all!

Our hors d’oeuvre lineup for Wednesday’s wine tasting

If you haven’t yet made your reservation for our “Bottle Shocker” wine tasting this Wednesday, take a look at the lineup of hors d’oeuvres we’re planning on serving with our California and French wines. If you have, take a look and let your mouth start watering!

Brie and Raspberry Phyllo Cigars
Trio of Tapenades on Bruschetta
Smoked Whitefish Paté in Phyllo Cups
House Smoked Duck Breast on Mini Potato Cake
Mini Crab Cakes
Antipasto Skewer
Spinach and Feta in Pastry

Hmm…what was that number for reservations again? We thought you’d be asking. It’s 216.481.9635. Don’t miss out!

Oh, and you may have already read on our Web site or in our Facebook events about the special dinner we have planned for October. We’ll be giving some more special details on that here soon!

Pacific Coast Highway Wine Dinner: a refreshing trip!

The video for the Bistro’s Pacific Coast Highway Wine Dinner is ready for your review. As The Tenant, I again had a wonderful time sampling the food and wines the latest special event had to offer, courtesy of chefs Ruth Levine, Todd Mueller and Phyllis Prybor.

Things started off deliciously with “A Taste of Half Moon Bay”: Roasted Oysters with Bacon and Spinach. The oysters were plump and lightly briny with garlicky spinach in their pearly shells, and is there anything that doesn’t taste good with bacon? The accompanying wine was ’06 Evergreen Vineyards Spruce Goose Pinot Gris, from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, a light and fruity contrast.

Next it was off to “San Francisco Chinatown” with Asian-Inspired Medallions of Beef Tenderloin in a Hoisin-Soy Glaze and Fried Rice. Being the lover of Asian food that I am, I’d have to choose this as my favorite course. The ’06 Annabelle Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley served with it was lighter than I expected it to be, especially given its heady bouquet, which is fine with me. I thought it was just right for the food.

The third course was a true coastal cuisine classic: Cioppino, or Fisherman’s Stew, with Sourdough Toast in the San Francisco tradition. The tomato broth was rich with Alaskan halibut, mussels, clams, and shrimp. Our wine for this course was ’08 Michael Pozzan Russian River Chardonnay, which I found to be strong, heady, buttery rich yet dry, and nicely counteractive to the spiciness of the stew.

A crisp and cool salad course came next: Jicama-Carrot-Daikon Salad Brunoise of Melons in a Sesame Vinaigrette. It was an absolutely delicious slaw, dressed just right, and while I wouldn’t have expected it to be paired with a red, the red chosen for it really was a good choice: Kestrel Vintners Lady in Red from Yakima Valley, a smooth blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah.

Course number five was “L.A. à la Wolfgang Puck,” a tribute to Southern California cuisine and its light, fresh flavors: a Smoked Salmon & Arugula Pizzette Topped with Crème Fraîche and Chives. The bounty of the rooftop garden was already making itself known in this one! A more full-bodied wine arrived with this one: an ’09 Montoya Pinot Noir, with lots of depth and fruitiness.

Last but never least, the dessert course for this evening was a Panna Cotta with Mixed Berry Coulis. I’d never had a panna cotta before, and this dish, a kind of Italian pudding made with cream, milk, sugar, gelatin and a hint of lemon zest, was just delightful, especially topped by the zesty berry sauce. Combined with the tiny glasses of ’05 Norman Old Vine Zin Port, it made a fitting finish to the meal.

It was a great evening, and over the course of it the Bistro even celebrated a birthday or two. If this sounds like your kind of fun but you have yet to join us, be sure to sign up for “From Russia with Love,” a feast that will feature Russian champagnes and vodkas with each course, on June 23. You’ll love the food and you’ll learn a lot about what you drink — as well as having the opportunity to purchase some yourself. Don’t miss out!

Menu for Pacific Coast Highway Wine Dinner

The menus is ready for our Pacific Coast Highway Wine Dinner:

First Course
A Taste of Half Moon Bay
Roasted Oysters with Bacon and Spinach
Wine: ’06 Evergreen Vineyards Spruce Goose Pinot Gris

Second Course
San Francisco Chinatown
Asian-Inspired Medallions of Beef Tenderloin with a Hoisin Soy Glaze
Fried Rice
Wine: ’08 Michael Pozzan Russian River Chardonnay

Third Course
Cioppino (Fisherman’s Stew) with Alaskan Halibut, Mussels, Clams and Shrimp
Wine: Lady in Red Blend N-V

Fourth Course
Jicama, Carrot and Daikon Salad with Sesame Vinagrette
Wine: ’09 Montoya Pinot Noir

Fifth Course
L.A. à la Wolfgang Puck
Smoked Salmon Pizzette Topped with Crème Fraîche and Chives
Wine: ’06 Annabelle Cabernet

Sixth Course
Panacotta with a Mixed Berry Coulis
Wine: ’05 Normal Old Vine Zin Port

Cost of our dinner is $6o, plus tax and gratuity. Sign up for this California-style dining adventure by calling 216.481.9635.

Chef Todd Special of the Week: Greek-Style Stuffed Leg of Lamb

With Passover and Easter just over and spring coming into full bloom early this year thanks to all the warm weather, Chef Todd has come up with a truly seasonal dish using lamb as the centerpiece. His approach is to do the way the Greeks do and stuff a leg of lamb with some of their favorite accompaniments: kalamata olives, red and yellow peppers, feta cheese, roasted garlic and spinach. He’s cooking it using the sous vide method to maintain all the color, texture and flavor of both the lamb and its stuffing.

It’s a tasty triplet of flavors. At center plate: slices of tender lamb and savory stuffing. Circling it: a ring of rich and creamy barley risotto. Surrounding the risotto: a moat of delicious brown lamb gravy, flavored with a bit of carrot and whole garlic cloves roasted until they’re soft and sweet.

Try this dish on a warm night and you just may feel as if you’re spending an April evening on the coast of Greece!