A delicious “Taste of Fall” vegan-style

Whew! What with all that’s going on at the Bistro this fall, it’s all a Tenant like me can do to keep up with events. (Not to mention eating all this food…oh well, it’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it, right?) I’m happy to report that last night’s Vegan Dinner, “A Taste of Fall,” continued in the tradition of the series. An ideal series of seasonal dishes for sure!

Things got rolling with the Fried Green Tomato and Arugula Salad with Green Goddess Dressing. Not being a native of the South, I’d never tried fried green tomatoes before, but I’m glad I did, because they tasted crispy and delicious on this salad, along with the arugula and more traditional cherry tomatoes. The Green Goddess dressing–an old classic that traditionally includes mayonnaise and sour cream–was an ideal accompaniment in my opinion, too. Obviously, this version didn’t contain mayonnaise, sour cream or anything else that would have required use of an egg or dairy product, but it tasted just as fine as the Green Goddess dressing I remember. And the little corn muffin served alongside was a delightful bonus!

On to the main course: Crispy “Chicken” (Gardein) Marsala with Shiitake Mushrooms and Vegan Gnocchi with Roasted Root Fall Vegetables. If it looks delicious, let me assure you it is. I’ve said before that, being an admitted meat eater, I’m impressed when vegan cuisine can truly provide anything that seems truly analogous to meat, and to me, gardein fills the bill by bringing the old cliche “tastes like chicken” to life. And it tastes even better when breaded and sauced with a rich, savory marsala-and-shiitake-mushroom sauce. The gnocchi, chunks of root veggies such as sweet potato, and fried strings of onion didn’t hurt any, either. (Oh, and once again my friend Mary happened to be visiting, and I gave her a gnocchi to try. She loved it. She’s skeptical about this vegan stuff, yet whenever she catches me on Vegan Night, she seems to end up trying some of what I’m eating and really liking it.)

To crown the proceedings, what better than a Pumpkin Creme Brulee for dessert? Mine arrived garnished with a plump slivered strawberry and a dollop of almond-milk-and-tapioca “whipped cream” (not appearing in your picture), and as the caramel glaze on top cracked under my spoon the same way a thin glaze of ice gives way atop a frozen pond, I knew what lay underneath was going to be rich and delicious. It was. Seems as if this might be a good recipe to share for Thanksgiving season. Just saying!

Speaking of Thanksgiving, even I don’t yet know what Chefs Ruth and Jakub have planned for vegan dining delight next month, but after this dinner, I certainly am more than curious! Watch this space to see!

Barbecue bliss Bistro-style!

Hi, Tenant here, to tell you about Wednesday’s barbecue dinner. Let me warn you: if you weren’t here and you read this, you’re going to be sorry you missed out. The good news is, it’s still possible to enjoy many of the components; it’s just that this was such a fantastic opportunity to enjoy all of them at once, at a great price!

Some previews first, from back in the kitchen:

These were the shortcakes lined up on pans, ready for bathing in strawberries.

Rows of jalapeno corn muffins awaited serving.

Pans of coleslaw were at the ready…

…as was the potato salad.

The meat was just about finished. Pans of chicken were all prepared and just needed a final finish on the grill…

…while the ribs were getting a nice brushing.

All this looked fantastic, but of course the final proof would be in the eating. I had no partner for this meal and it was being served family-style “for two,” but the way I saw it, that just meant I’d have plenty of leftovers of whatever I couldn’t eat the first time around.

So at the appointed time, I sat down. And here’s what was placed before me…

The half-chicken sat to the left, the slab of ribs to the right, and in between, slices and slices of amazing beef brisket.

On a separate plate appeared a trio of ramekins filled with creamy goodness both hot and cold:

At the front, the coleslaw; at left, the redskin potato salad; at the rear, rich and thick macaroni and cheese, topped generously with browned bread crumbs.

And, last but not least, the jalapeno corn muffins:

It was an incredible repast, and there was just no way that even I with my hearty appetite was going to finish all this. After a few ribs, a slice of brisket and a generous stripping of the chicken, combined with making a serious dent in all the sides, I had eaten all I could hold and still find room for dessert. The ribs and brisket were just as I’ve come to love them from past experience: meaty and redolent of that amazing house-smoked flavor, coated with just enough sauce (although, as you can see, an extra container of the sauce arrived alongside, just in case). The chicken? Amazing. You know how chicken can very easily turn dried-out and stringy on the barbecue grill? Not this chicken. The recipe for barbecued chicken Bistro-style is to cook the chicken sous vide first, so it’s thoroughly cooked all the way through without being overcooked — then finished on the grill so the skin gets that perfect crispy char and the sauce melds into the flesh just so. It was a magnificent trio of barbecued meats all around, and the accompaniments were just as delicious. The coleslaw was a refreshing contrast to all the spice, and the potato salad was full of chunks of potato, chopped boiled egg, onion, celery and mayo. The macaroni and cheese? If you’ve ever come by at lunch for the fish fry, you know what I’m talking about. Rich, cheesy, just plain magic. The jalapeno corn muffins had just a slight hint of peppery heat and were just right.

After I had made my best dent in all this fantastic food, I asked for the rest to be boxed up and was served my strawberry shortcake:

Wow. This was good, old-fashioned, classic strawberry shortcake, saucy berries served on two halves of a neat white shortcake biscuit with plenty of fresh whipped cream. The perfect ending to the perfect dinner. My dining companions seemed to agree, as they enjoyed their dinner with a bottle of wine:

When I finally left, I had about three or four boxes of leftovers, and I knew I was going to enjoy eating them as leftovers as much as I had enjoyed my dinner. Part of the fun has been seeing how many meals I can get out of them. Yesterday, I finished off the chicken, the macaroni and cheese, and half the potato salad and coleslaw at lunch (the cats got tiny pieces of chicken as treats) and finished off the rest of the potato salad and coleslaw with the ribs and remaining corn muffin at dinnertime. Today, I made a delicious sandwich out of part of my leftover brisket. Now, the only question left is what to do with the rest of the brisket. Another sandwich, or do I cut it up and put it in a stir-fry?…Oh heck. Why not another sandwich. It’ll make it easier to taste the real flavor coming through. And it will definitely be tasty.

Only one way to end this. And that’s to say: Barbecue at the Bistro is the essence of summer! If you’ve never tried a platter featuring these amazing specialties, you should do it soon. If you have — especially if you did this past Wednesday — you may not be hungry again yet!

A toast to another top-notch Champagne Dinner!

Hi! The Tenant is back, and, along with Ruth and Marc, hoping you have had a wonderful holiday season so far. They have asked me to remind you that they’ll be open tonight for New Year’s Eve and open tomorrow night, New Year’s Day, for dinner, so you can put a nice cap on your holiday season fun. Are your out-of-town guests heading for home soon? Bring them to the Bistro for a nice New Year’s dinner. Then kick back, relax, and enjoy life returning to normal!

Now, about the Champagne Dinner last Tuesday…I’m not shy to tell you, after having suffered from a dragging-on illness last winter that kept me from being able to attend last year’s Champagne Dinner, I was really looking forward to this one. I had seen the pictures of last year’s, and they were mouthwatering enough to make my soul ache. So this was a Bistro dinner not to be missed for me — and apparently also not for a lot of other people, as the entire “restaurant side” of the Bistro was filled with this sellout dinner group. If you couldn’t make it, though, or didn’t reserve soon enough to get a spot, at least you’ll know what you missed. (This review might even give you a few ideas if you’re still looking for a good champagne to uncork tonight.)

The first course took no time setting the tone for an incredible meal. The Herbed Crêpe with Salmon Caviar, House-Cured Gravlax, Crème Fraiche and Poached Asparagus kicked things off excellently. It was an amazing combination of gentle, paper-thin crêpe, savory gravlax, slightly salty caviar, and dairy-fresh cream. The asparagus was just unbelievable in flavor…it tasted as fresh as if it had been picked off the roof in springtime. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that fresh-tasting a vegetable out of season. The champagne with this course was also especially fine, Lamarca Prosecco. An Italian wine produced champenoise style every few months, and subjected to a panel review before being released (!), it has a just slightly sweet touch, but not excessively so. Not only that, but it’s an incredible deal, usually available for between $13 and $15 a bottle. Our wine rep of the evening, Greg Webster of Wine Trends, also advised us that it makes great mimosas, so if you’d rather have New Year’s brunch than a New Year’s toast, it’s a fine choice for that as well.

Chef Ruth really got to show off one of her favorite kinds of dishes to prepare in the second course, Duck Three Ways. I’ve heard her and Marc describe this kind of dish to me before, but I’ve never actually had the chance to enjoy it. At center plate: tender, rosy, gently fat-ringed slices of seared duck breast, topped with a delicious mango chutney. At one side, a hearty slice of duck pâté, rich with nuts and savory spice, dressed with a dollop of French grainy mustard. (I love the Bistro’s pâtés. One of my sisters and I have joked that if the liverwurst sandwiches our mother used to pack for our school lunches had only been made like this, we would have enjoyed them much more.) On the other side of the duck breast, a duck confit — tender leg of duck cooked in its own fat to fall-off-the-bone tenderness, then crisped and caramelized in a balsamic ginger glaze. Sounds good just reading about it, no? Oh, it is. The champagne for this course was Domaine des Baumard Brut Cremant Carte Turquoise, a Loire Valley pick that is drier than the Lamarca and well suited to this sweeter dish. It is also not a pricey selection, either!

It was time for the salad course, but this was honestly like no salad I’ve ever had before; it was on another plane. Marc had told me earlier that the basis of this Caesar salad was grilled Romaine lettuce. “Grilled?” I asked. I’ve heard of and enjoyed many kinds of vegetables being grilled, even fruits, to caramelize them and add a crispy texture, but this was the first time I’d ever heard of anyone grilling salad lettuce. Well, they grilled it, and it’s absolutely incredible. Each serving of salad consisted of grilled Romaine leaves topped with Caesar dressing and a shower of Parmesan shavings; four escargot shells, each containing a former resident sautéed to perfection in butter, garlic, and parsley (we had to tease the little devils out with canapé toothpicks); thin, grilled slices of baguette; and garlic cloves roasted until sweet and soft enough to spread on the baguette slices. Remove an escargot from its shell, place it atop the baguette slice smeared with garlic, and take a bite…ahh, perfection! Oh, and then take a sip from your glass of Casteller Cava Penedes, a Spanish sparkler even drier than the second champagne, but still lovely and not so astringent as to get puckery. It just danced on my tongue.

Course number four was a tender, savory chop from Australian aged rack of lamb, cooked perfectly with a crackly skin outside, topped with a rosemary-mint demi-glace that went just as well with the unbelievable Potatoes Anna as with the meat itself. The paper-thin-sliced potatoes were creamy and baked just enough to form the perfect crispy brown crust on top. The champagne for this course was a Laetitia Brut Cuvée, a blended sparkling white that was probably the driest of all we enjoyed. I’m not any more crazy about extreme dryness in wine than I am in too much sweetness, but this one didn’t go overboard and I liked it as much as the others.

Then came course five. To my mind, they were all great, but this was the one that had people around me moaning with pleasure and saying it just has to go on the specials menu. The Seafood Waffle Topped with Lobster-Shrimp-Crab Imperial sounds simple, and it is — but oh, how good! Each serving included one quarter of a round Belgian waffle made with a savory herbed batter; an absolutely huge, split, freshwater flame-grilled scampi shrimp; and a butter-soaked cream sauce studded generously with tender chunks of lobster, Laughing Bird shrimp, and crab. You may recall that a while ago Marc and Ruth explained that Laughing Bird is a brand of Caribbean white shrimp farmed in Belize, raised in filtered sea water, fed a vegetarian diet, never treated with additives or sulfites, and sold fresh. The end result is a shrimp that’s wonderfully succulent and sweet. As for the scampi shrimp, it was so big, plump, and sweet that some of my fellow diners mistook it for a lobster tail. It was that delicious! Along with it we were served Champagne Delamotte, a “capital-C Champagne” in that it’s from the actual region. It was a nicely dry complement to the rich, creamy, buttery seafood dish.

The meal came to a simple but delightful conclusion with a heavenly Chocolate Lava Cake (with the classic crusty exterior/liquid interior) on a bed of strawberry coulis, garnished with blackberries and topped with a generous snowfall of powdered sugar. With it, the only rose wine of the evening, Patrick Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon, also the only one we were served in coupes rather than flutes. It was the fruitiest wine of the evening, but still not excessively sweet…just right.

The verdict: if you missed this dinner, oh dear…too bad, because you missed out on some amazing dishes and champagnes whose goodness is hard to express in mere words! You can, however, console yourself a bit by making a New Year’s resolution not to miss the next Bistro special dinner. This one’s going to be a post-Valentine’s Day fête that just might make an excellent gift for that special someone…the Chocolate Dinner, Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Don’t wait until the last minute, because this one is likely to be another sellout…call now at 216.481.9635 and make your reservations! Happy New Year!

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this blog confused the scampi shrimp with the Laughing Bird shrimp, which actually stay small but are especially sweet and tasty and were included in the seafood sauce.

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.