In just a few months, Bac Asian American Bistro (2661 West 14th St., 216-938-8960, bactremont.com) will cross the four-year mark in one of Cleveland's toughest culinary proving grounds: Tremont. Chef and owner Bac Nguyen chose the name Bac for his restaurant because its Vietnamese translation, "north," aptly described the focus of the menu on foods from his birthplace in northern Vietnam.
Nguyen grew up in the local restaurant business. But not just any restaurant: His late grandmother Minh was the founder of Minh Anh, the first Vietnamese restaurant in the region. But when it was Bac's time to continue the family tradition and open a place of his own, he understood that today's culinary scene required a modern touch. Instead of straight-up authentic ethnic food, Bac merged East with West for a synergy of flavors.
To further contemporize his eatery, Bac embraces seasonal cooking like any good chef. And with the signs of fall all around us, he turns to two staple ingredients: pumpkins and apples. But the seasonal approach isn't as easy as it might sound.
"The flavor profile of the items we most frequently use don't particularly blend easily with a lot of American fruits," he explains. "So after quite a bit of experimentation, I finally found the perfect way to present the flavors of autumn in an Asian format of food and drink."
The cocktail menu includes two fall features. The first is an autumn apple crisp sangria. Hand-picked McIntosh apples from Patterson Fruit Farm in Chesterland are macerated for 48 hours in brandy and sugar. The apples and liquid are then blended with chardonnay, orange juice and zest, lemon juice and zest, cinnamon sticks and brown sugar simple syrup. Finally, Absolut Orient Apple Vodka and Mapleside Farms apple cider is added to the mixture and it's left to chill overnight before being served over ice.
Another seasonal cocktail is the Pumpkin Snap, which stars vodka that's been infused with ginger for 10 days. Fresh pumpkin from Avon's Pickering Hills Farms is steeped with ginger, cinnamon and molasses. The resulting mixture is pureed and combined with the ginger-infused vodka. The cocktail is served up, martini style, in a glass featuring a ginger- snap cookie dust-coated rim.
The seasonal treats don't stop at happy hour. Bac works timely ingredients into the main menu as well, most notably with the autumn rolls ($7.50). "This is my take on a Midwestern-style egg roll featuring the flavors of fall," he explains.
For the filling, fresh ground turkey from Kaufmann Poultry at the West Side Market is combined with finely sliced Patterson Farm apples, coarsely ground dehydrated cranberries, blanched cabbage, sautéed scallion ends, spices and eggs. The mixture is rolled by hand in traditional Chinese egg roll skins before being tightly sealed. Fried to order, the rolls are served with a pumpkin-spiced dipping sauce made from pureed pumpkin, hoisin sauce, honey, water and a blend of secret spices.
Who knew fall in the Midwest could taste so good and so exotic?