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!

A change in plan

It’s almost the middle of December, and here at the Bistro we’re changing things up a bit. Rather than continue our James Beard project all the way through to Christmas, we’re going to put it on a little hiatus, and then resume the daily specials based on James Beard dishes in January. Tonight, however, if you missed last night’s Portuguese Fish Stew, you can catch it one last time — we’re bringing it back by popular demand, as our final Beard special until next month.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we won’t still be here blogging. Watch this space to learn more about our current specials of the non-Beard variety through the rest of December. There will be plenty of them, and they’ll sure to tempt you in the door for a taste, especially when you get tired of holiday cooking, baking and entertaining and have a hankering to just sit down and relax while someone else is in the kitchen. As time gets shorter and things get more hectic, you’ll always be able to find a little oasis of peace, quiet and pampering right here at Bistro 185. Come on in and treat yourself!

Behind the Dish: Navarin (French Lamb Ragôut)

James Beard’s Navarin is a French lamb ragôut, or stew — and it’s hearty and rich. It requires first browning and then braising lamb meat (his original recipe calls for shoulder or breast; we’re using leg) in beef broth while caramelizing turnips and onions in butter and sugar. After the lamb is done braising, the fat is skimmed from the broth, the broth is strained and the caramelized vegetables and other veggies are added, along with some spices, for the final simmering. The recipe calls for leeks, carrots, new potatoes and peas, spiced with cloves, salt and pepper; we’re adding purple potatoes and rutabagas with some parsley. This is a sure heartwarmer for cold weather; give it a try!

The James Beard Project: Week 5

Our apologies for the skimpy blogging on the Beard dishes this past week. We’ve had some assistance getting those posts to you regularly, and last week our assistance got sick. However, recovery is in process, so we look forward to being able to bring you regular “Behind the Dish” posts this week as usual.

For now, here’s the delicious lineup of dishes we have planned for Week 5 of the James Beard Project:

Monday, Nov. 30 — Old-Fashioned Chicken Fricassee with Shell Pasta (Beard on Pasta, p. 108)

Tuesday, Dec. 1 — Corn and Shrimp Chowder with Tomatoes (James Beard Celebration, p. 115)

Wednesday, Dec. 2 — Filet of Sole Casanova (James Beard’s Fish Cookery, p. 194)

Thursday, Dec. 3 — Navarin (French Lamb Ragôut) (The New James Beard, p. 395)

Friday, Dec. 4 — Le Plaisir’s Truffled Pasta (James Beard Celebration, p. 140)

Saturday, Dec. 5 — Roast Duck with Peaches and Bourbon (James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, p. 84)

So, when you stare into your fridge this week at that turkey carcass, and the prospect of more turkey sandwiches, turkey soup, turkey casserole, or turkey whatever just isn’t doing it for you, join us for more of the best of James Beard. We guarantee: no turkey on our menu!

Present and future specials: tonight, this weekend, this fall

We have some truly exciting things in mind for the coming weeks! Here’s a preview.

First, tonight’s specials will be basically the same as last night’s. For those wondering what the Soup of the Day is, it’s Chicken Vegetable Tortilla.

Now, for we upcoming weekends, starting tomorrow night, we have some real goodies planned, so make your reservations now if your mouth starts watering!

First, we’re going to feature amongst our specials this weekend a 14-oz. Veal Osso Bucco Cooked with Pureed Fall Root Vegetables, served on a bed of pappardelle pasta.

Then, starting this Friday and Saturday and continuing each weekend through the first two weeks of November, we’re going to offer a Bistro 185 Individual Clambake. It’s just like any other clambake, only each one is personal-sized: big enough for just you! Each person who orders a Personal Clambake will receive his or her own potful of goodies cooked in clam broth, including a “maris section” crab leg (the portion between the knuckle and the claw), a South African lobster tail, jumbo shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops, chicken thighs, redskin potatoes, and corn on the cob. Your clambake will be served with cornbread and melted butter so you can enjoy it to the fullest!

But that’s not all we’re working on that’s new and special. This Monday, October 12, the Bistro introduces its new Fall Menu, featuring some specials we think you’re really going to love. Here are some of the items we have planned:

House-Smoked Chicken with Four-Cheese Macaroni and Cheese: Replacing our Limoncello Chicken summer special, this treat will star our own smoked chicken with a combination of Gruyère, Brie, Emmenthaler and Parmesan cheeses on medium shell pasta, with black truffle, finished with a bit of white truffle oil. We like to call it “Ultimate Mac & Cheese.” We think you will, too.

Duck Three-Way: We’ve served duck the same way here at the Bistro since we opened. Time to change things up! That’s what we’ll be doing with this new dish: a duck ragout with a confit, served with a quarter roasted duck and sliced smoked duck breast. This creation will most likely be presented on a bed of pappardelle pasta.

Gumbo of the Week: We will feature a new and different gumbo each week. Next week’s will combine shrimp, chicken and andouille sausage.

Seafood Stews: We’ll be rotating a variety of seafood stews through our specials, influenced by different regions and countries, such as Thailand and Italy.

Cassoulets: Look for a rotating variety of cassoulets, including classic French and seafood.

Risottos: We’ll also rotate a variety of risottos highlighting various ingredients.

Julia Project Classics: We’ll rotate some of the most popular dishes we served during the Julia Project back through our fall menu.

A few items that are already on our specials, and have earned a permanent place throughout our fall menu, are our two most popular Julia Project dishes of all: the Lamb Shank with Baby Fall Vegetables and the Pork Tenderloin with Port and Prunes. We will also continue to offer our Calves’ Liver entree, which recently won Scene Magazine’s Best in Cleveland award for Best Liver That’s Not Foie Gras.

In the future, also look for another very special dish: Cornish Hen Wrapped in Bacon with a Ginger-Maple Glaze, Acorn Squash, Brussels Sprouts, Pecans, Roasted Shallots and Roasted Garlic.

To learn more about our fall menu, and to keep up with the nightly specials, keep checking this space. You won’t want to miss anything!


Behind the Dish: Bouillabaisse de Poulet

Julia’s variation on the traditional bouillabaisse — normally fish stew — that substitutes chicken for the fish is a tasty dish indeed. Here’s how we make it at the Bistro: the poached chicken is flavored by a combination of white wine, vermouth and “Provençal vegetables and herbs”: onions, scallions, our rooftop-grown tomatoes, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, fennel, saffron and orange peel. Swirled in as a final touch is a bit of pistou — a French variation on the Italian pesto — a combination of basil, tomato, garlic and cheese. We will serve it with Ohio-grown baby red potatoes for a hearty dish with plenty of local flavor.

And, what’s a birthday — especially a great chef’s birthday — without cake and ice cream? Our dessert choices tonight will include a special Angel Food Cassata with Cherries and Nectarines as Julia’s birthday cake, and our ice cream flavor of the evening is sure to be an eye-opener: Mango Jalapeño. Or, enjoy your mangoes and your cake together in a special dessert with a real taste of the tropics, Plantain-Mango Trifle with Banana Chips and Dulce de Leche Pastry Cream.

It’s going to be a special celebration at the Bistro tonight — don’t miss it!

Happy Birthday, Julia!

Julia Child would have been 97 today, and if there’s anything ironic about this great lover of French food having a birthday in the middle of August, it’s that when she lived in Paris, finding an open restaurant at which to celebrate the day was so difficult. When August arrives, most Parisians go on vacation for the month, restaurateurs included, and close their establishments for the duration. Well, no need to worry today; Bistro 185 will be open tonight and celebrating Julia’s birthday with Bouillabaisse de Poulet — Chicken Poached in White Wine, Provençal Vegetables and Herbs, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 2. We’ll tell you a little more about it later today in a “Behind the Dish” post.

Make plans now if you haven’t already to mark the day with us!

Veal Marengo: behind the dish

How did a traditional French dish get the name of a city in Italy?

Food lore tells us that the first “Marengo” dish in history comes to us courtesy of Napoleon’s own chef. Following Napoleon’s defeat of the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo in northwest Italy, Chef Dunand needed to create a dish for the troops from the food he was able to forage in the surrounding area. He combined a scrawny chicken, some crayfish, eggs, tomatoes, olive oil and garlic into a sauce, and thus Chicken Marengo was born. Napoleon associated the dish with his army’s good luck and forever after insisted that it be served following each battle. He also insisted it be made with the same ingredients each time, so as not to jinx his success. (No surprise, then, that there’s no such thing as Chicken Waterloo.)

The term “Marengo” has come to be applied to any sauce for meat or fish that includes tomatoes and, often, mushrooms and onions (although Napoleon would surely have frowned on these variations). Julia Child’s recipe for Veal Marengo from MtAoFC also leaves out the crayfish and eggs, all apologies to the Emperor.

One great thing about Veal Marengo is that it’s one of Julia’s dishes that’s not all that hard to make at home. Many cooks first tackling a Julia recipe try this one among their initial efforts. For our version, we core, blanch, seed and dice our own rooftop tomatoes to give it that extra-special fresh local tomato flavor, and if you have ripe garden tomatoes as well, this is a great way to use them. But if you don’t, it’s easy enough to make it with diced canned tomatoes instead.

What’s the easiest thing you can do to make your stews taste better (aside from using better cuts of meat)? Caramelize the meat chunks properly by making sure you dry them thoroughly before browning them in oil. It makes all the difference in the world between getting pieces of steamed cooked meat and pieces of caramelized cooked meat — which means more flavor.

After we’re done caramelizing our veal, we remove it from the pan, add our onions and caramelize them, then return the veal and add mushrooms, the diced tomatoes and fresh Genovese basil from the rooftop garden, along with the other sauce ingredients. After it all simmers a good long while, it’s a hearty and satisfying dish, cozied up next to a bed of mashed potatoes.

Tonight we’re also bringing back a dessert favorite from last week, the Apple Turnovers for which we provide the recipe in today’s News-Herald. Sounds good? It tastes even better!

Read all about it…

Don’t miss Janet Podolak’s wonderful feature story in today’s News-Herald, “Inspired By a Child,” about our Julia Project. Learn about Ruth’s approach to cooking, the time she met Julia Child herself, and the Bistro’s take on the dishes in the Project — and get the recipe for our Julia-inspired Apple Turnover.

For a great local tribute to Julia Child’s legacy to the American kitchen, read Joe Crea’s piece today in The Plain Dealer. His piece points out that PBS is currently featuring video from Julia’s classic cooking shows on the video portal of its Web site. Go here to start watching her in action, and find other treats like an interview with Meryl Streep about playing her on film.

Tonight we’ll be serving up Saute de Veau Marengo from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1 — veal stew with tomatoes and mushrooms on a generous bed of our homemade mashed potatoes. We hope to see you here to enjoy this fabulous dish.

Eat your liver!

Did you ever hear that admonition when you were a child? Did you find yourself not too thrilled at the prospect, staring at a plateful of something that looked like a big slab of shoe leather — and had approximately the same consistency and flavor?

Or, are you a fan of that good old comfort food standard — liver and onions — who’s never tried liver the way the French do it? Or have you already discovered the pleasures of foie de veau — but wondered if you can experience something that good here in Cleveland? Thanks to our Julia Project, you can, tonight.

Our Sautéed Calves’ Liver with Cream Mustard Sauce is a far cry from shoe-leather country. These are soft, tender slices of liver bathed in a savory sauce of cream and top-quality grainy French mustard, sitting atop a cozy bed of mashed potatoes. Our accompaniments for this dish are sautéed spinach, rich with garlic, and celery root (celeriac) remoulade, the recipe for which is also from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1. Normally, remoulade is a term used for a kind of tartar sauce or condiment, but this French dish is actually thin strips of celery root combined with a mustard-based dressing. You might think of it as “coleslaw in a tuxedo.” Just as the cold creaminess of coleslaw complements battered fried fish, the crisp, cool, astringent texture and taste of this remoulade provides a refreshing contrast to the rich, warm flavor of the calves’ liver and sauce. Indeed, it’s a dish you’ll be more than happy to eat, no admonitions necessary!

In other news: The Julia Project list of dishes for the week of August 10 to 15 is ready! Here’s what’s in store for each day.

Monday: Potage Veloute aux Champignons — Cream of Mushroom Soup, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1 (page 40)

Tuesday: Coquilles St. Jacques — Scallops and Mushrooms in White Wine Sauce, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1 (page 216), accompanied by asparagus tips

Wednesday: Sauté de Veau Marengo — Brown Veal Stew with Tomatoes and Mushrooms, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1 (page 360), accompanied by mashed potatoes

Thursday: Loup en Croûte — Fish in Pastry, from Julia Child and Company, with hollandaise sauce and haricots verts

Friday: Savarin with Ohio-Grown Tart Cherries and Seasonal Stone Fruit with Crème Anglaise, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1 (page 664). Taste a classic French dessert made with local fruit at the peak of flavor!

Saturday: Bouillabaisse de Poulet — Chicken Poached in White Wine, Provençal Vegetables and Herbs, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 2 (page 261), with Ohio-grown baby redskin potatoes and pistou. (It will be Julia’s birthday August 15 — she would have been 97 — and we’ll be celebrating in style!)

Sound good? Make your reservation now! Also, don’t forget, if we served a dish this past week that you’d love to see again, let us know in the poll. We’ll keep it open until midnight Sunday to give you a good chance to vote.

A special shout-out to everyone who enjoyed sampling our food last night at the American Cancer Society 2nd Annual “Dining at the Diamond” event at Classic Park in Eastlake. Thanks for joining us in supporting a great cause, and hope to see you at the Bistro soon!