Monday, December 26, 2005

Classic Cocktails Revisited

Several visitors to Cafe Drake have requested that drink recipes be included on the site. Let it be known that no prayers fall on deaf ears here at Cafe D. (though they may fall on drunken ones). As hearty imbibers we naturally have our favorites, and like most people who know what they like, we often fall into the trap of shaking up the same libations night after night. If I had a dime for every Sidecar we've served, a nickle for every Gimlet concocted on a hot summer night . . .But we thought it best to present below three cocktails you may not be familiar with, old standards now forgotten in an age of kumquat-flavored vodka, startling in their simplicity, devilish in their addictive charms.

Bloodhound Cocktail

Fill large bar glass 1/2 full with shaved (or finely cracked) ice. Add 6-8 chopped fresh strawberries. Add 2 jiggers of your best gin. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry or strawberry slice.

Champagne Julep

Fill a julep cup or small highball glass about 1/3 full with crushed ice. Add to the cup 2 t. sugar and 2 sprigs of bruised mint. Slowly pour champagne into the cup, stirring very gently all the while. Dress with fruit slices and top with a dash of brandy. Serve with a straw and a smile.

Fog Horn

Fill a large shaker with ice and add the juice of 1/2 a lime and 1/2 a lemon. Add 1 t. sugar and 2 jiggers of gin. Shake and strain into a tall thin glass without ice. Fill the glass to the top with ginger ale or ginger beer. Garnish with a slice of orange or a kumquat on a toothpick.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Fondue Fun for Winter

We don't understand fondue's current status as a cheesey relic of the Swingin' Seventies. But then again we feel the same way about The Hustle and Leif Garrett. You don't have to be a retrofile to enjoy a dinner of melted cheese and high octane booze however, so either dust off your parents' rusting set or pick one up on Ebay or your local kitchen supply store. Fondue as a meal is communal, highly festive and perfect for the plummeting temperatures. So whether it's apres-slopes or the office, invite a few selective friends over for a night of fondue. The old Swiss tradition dicatates that whoever drops their bread in the pot must then kiss everyone at the table. Again, invite selectively when assembling your guest list.

Below are a couple of recipes we especially enjoy here at Cafe Drake, where the fondue pot barely has time to soak overnight before we fire it up again. Another Swiss rule is to serve hot tea with the fondue, presumably to aid in the digestion of pounds of melted cheese. Never have we suffered a stomachache after fondue, so Cafe Drake recommends a crisp white with the meal, or even a fruity rose. If you're planning on losing your bread in the mix on a regular basis, you might want to spring for bubbly. A botle of champagne will soon have everyone tossing their bread aside and plying you with oily kisses.


1 clove garlic, halved / 8 ounces rose wine / 4 ounces grated Gruyere cheese / 8 ounces grated red-veined Cheddar cheese / 3 teaspoons flour / 2 teaspoons kirsch / Cubes of sesame-coated French bread
  1. Rub the inside of the fondue pot with the cut side of the garlic.
  2. Add the wine and heat until bubbling, then gradually stir in the cheeses until melted, stirring frequently.
  3. In a small bowl, blend the flour smoothly with the kirsch and stir into the cheese mixture. Cook for a couple of minutes until smooth and thickened, stirring frequently.
  4. Serve with cubes of French bread.


2 avocados, halved and seeded / 3 teaspoons lemon juice / 1 clove garlic, halved /3/4 cup dry white wine / 3 cups grated Edam cheese / 2 teaspoons flour / 5 tablespoons thick sour cream / Cubes of sesame-coated French bread / Cubes of red and green bell pepper

  1. Scoop out flesh from avocados into a bowl and mash until smooth with lemon juice.
  2. Rub the inside of the fondue pot with cut clove of garlicc, then pour in wine and heat until bubbling.
  3. Over a gentle heat, stir in cheese and cook until melted, stirring frequently.
  4. In a small bowl, blend flour smoothly with or sour cream, then add to cheese mixture with mashed avocados. Continue to cook for 4 to 5 minutes until thick and smooth, stirring frequently.
  5. Serve with cubes of bread and red and green pepper.

There are many, many other variations possible of course; creativity and an adventurous spirit will yield new favorites in your kitchen. We're wild for a Welsh version of sharp English cheddar and beer, soaked up with roasted sweet potatoes. A Highlands Fondue can be assembled from wine, Scotch whiskey and orange cheddar. Or try the Dutch variety, composed of Gouda, gin and caraway seeds.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Brooklyn Restaurant Round-Up (Part 1)

Chestnut (271 Smith St, Brooklyn, 11231 - (718) 243-0049)
LouLou (222 DeKalb Ave, Brooklyn, 11205 - (718) 246-0633)
Paloma (60 Greenpoint Ave, Brooklyn, 11222 - (718) 349-2400)
Bonita (338 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, 11211 - (718) 384-9500)
Chimu (482 Union Ave PHONE: 718-349-1208)
Lodge ( 318 Grand St. Brooklyn, NY 11211 (718) 486-9400)
Tainted Lady Lounge (388 Grand Street @ Havemeyer PHONE: 718.302.5514)

For the first time in a decade, Cafe Drake did not host Thanksgiving dinner this year, but opted for a night out with no silver to polish and no dishes to clean. Luckily myself and three old friends ended up at Chestnut in Carrol Gardens. Swept through the front door by an Arctic wind, a well-lit and intimate dining environment greeted us, and after a quick removal of coats, hats and scarves, we were saddled up to a glowing bar and professional cocktails. Although we were forced to wait for a table that cleared nearly an hour after our reservation time of 7:30pm, the bartender (and owner) treated us to a round on the house, thereby instantly defusing any cranky grumblings. When our table was ready, it was unfortunately located in front of French doors. And the frigid night air on the other side of the glass. Again we were accomodated by a cranking up of the heat and a bread basket of cheese scones, light and eggy popovers and a whole grain raisin loaf, with cranberry puree as a seasonal spread. The four courses to follow were all successful, albeit to varying degrees. A terrine of rabbit was spicy and toothsome, a pool of soft polenta was enhanced with earthy mushrooms, while oysters baked with marrow lacked a distinctive flavor from either ingredient. The winter salad to follow was refreshing with a combination of pomegranate and Asian pears atop butter lettuce, but not remarkable. The star of the evening was the wild venison platter: thin slices of wonderfully gamey loin, drizzled with a gunpowder jus, and sided with rosemary-skewered venison sausages and sweet potatoes au gratin. Desserts were stellar, especially a bourbon bread pudding doused with caramel sauce.

LouLou's is for us a Fort Greene institution. Helmed by a local chef trained as a fisherman on the rugged shores of Normandy, seafood is always a good choice here. The bouillabase is amongst the best sampled, loaded with crayfish, whole shrimp and a number of choice cuts of halibut, flounder, sea bass etc. Warm and inviting, with a well-trained staff and a smart wine list, LouLous has hosted birthday parties for Cafe Drake, as well as been a haven on a cold and rainy night for a long, evolving meal with friends. Check out their prix fixe Monday-Thursday if you're in the area.

A relative newcomer on the burgeoning northern Greenpoint dining landscape, Paloma has become a fast favorite with Cafe Drake. Numerous visits have allowed us to sample nearly the entire menu (varied but quite small), but the nightly specials are what keeps us coming back with alarming frequency. Do try the sweet pea, microgreens and feta salad as a starter, and if you should luck into the fresher-than-fresh tuna entree, be sure to indulge. Very reasonable prices, plus a lovely wooden bar at the front (stocked with house-cured vodkas, such as persimmon and kumquat), make this off the beaten path jewel worth the trip. (On a sadder note, the service as of late has deteriorated at Paloma. Let's hope a return is planned to the professionalism that once characterized the staff).

In the proper scope of Life, restaurants age like fine wines and cheese, not growing haggard or tired or relics of their former selves, but evolving in complexity and sophistication. Williamsburg's erstwhile standard Bonita is the Catherine Denueve of the neighborhood. While sticking to the original one-page menu, Bonita has managed to incorporate increasingly creative and scrumptious dishes into its roster of roataing specials. The lime-chicken soup is still a knockout, and the appetizer portion of nachos remains a brilliant take on the stuffy classic, but nowadays we go for the chef's whims of the night - and have yet to leave underwhelmed. Tacos filled with pork shoulder and carmelized pineapples are a revelation. Short ribs slow-braised in a dense gravy of chilies Colorado - genius. And if your entree comes without sides, kick in a whopping $3 extra for the transcendent rice and beans and/or tostones (double-fried without a trace of excess grease).

We'll confess we never gave Chimu a chance. Its strip mall decor and location next to Union Pool (surely a dreary low point in the Brooklyn bar scene) scared us away. Luckily we were invited to a birthday dinner last year and discovered the plethora of skillful Peruvian cuisine on offer. Not to be missed are the ceviches, generously portioned, reasonably priced and dressed with all manner of garnishes, from a tangy salsa-esque relish to roasted corn nuts. Any of the beef entrees are good choices, but try the tender strip steak across a vast mound of spaghetti green with basil and cheese (Latin pesto?).

On the corner of Havemayer Street and Grand Avenue sits Lodge - a near perfect location blessed with picture windows and a view of this lively intersection. true to its name, the decor evokes apres-ski hot toddys, with porcelain antler chandeliers and a stone mantel (and sunken-level bar seating. Soak up the casual atmosphere (no pretense here) and strong cocktails (the Bloody Marys are especially satisfying), but stick to the basic burger and fries when ordering more substantially. Said combo is terrific, but visits for brunch left us cold and still hungry.

If you had too many sips the night before at Lodge, why not head the following afternoon back to the scene of the crime? Literally located next door is Tainted Lady Lounge, a bar venue that now serves enormous brunch entrees and 2-1 drinks all day Sunday. Make no mistake, this is heavy Southern cuisine - lots of grits, corn bread and biscuits to supplement your eggs and sausage. The price is right and although your waistline may grumble, the staggery amount of fatty (and tasty) carbs is sure to settle your alcohol-addled stomach.

Check back soon for Brooklyn Restaurant Round-Up Part 2, when we'll take a hard look at newcomer Fanny's, check in on a few old favorites such as Diner and Aurora, and host a culinary tour of Grand St, stopping along the way at Bozu and more.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Restaurant Review: Savannah, Georgia Food Scene

17Hundred and 90 (307 E. Presidents St., 912-231-8888)
Firefly Cafe (321 Habersham St.,912-234-1971)
The Crab Shack (40 Estill Hammock Rd,Tybee Island,912-786-9857)
The Olde Pink House (23 Abercorn St., 912-232-4262)

For a city of such moderate size, Savannah, Ga. boasts a wide array of restaurants, bars and lounges, all nestled amidst that incomparable Deep South ambiance. For a taste of truly Olde Georgia, try dinner at 17Hundred and 90, tucked away in the basement of Dixie's oldest operating inn. Original brick walls and oak beams, adorned with Murano glass sconces and chandeliers, immediately set the mood of historical elegance. Superb service and a solid menu of perfected standards heightens the experience.

My mother (seated above in Bonaventure Cemetary) started with the escargots ($8.75), simply prepared but with a unique addition of tomatoes. Tiny mushrooms throughout the dish add a woodsy compliment to the earthiness of the snails. I opted for the crab cakes ($9.75) and was not disappointed with two thick patties, lightly fried and drizzled with remoulade. The star of the meal though was the quartered duck ($17.95), fork-tender and shellacked with a port-lingonberry reduction. Side dishes of mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus were outstanding as well. The wine list is comprehensive though geared towards the higher end.

Locals love to lunch at Firefly Cafe, though tourists will enjoy not only the food but the outside table service on one of Savannah's loveliest shaded squares. The brunch menu is admitedly small, and based almost entirely around egg dishes, but luckily the offerings are unique and health-concious. A "stir-fry" of egg whites and wild rice, piled atop local baby greens, tastes far better than it might sound. Far from puritanical the cooks at Firefly wisely sprinkle the quirky mixture with crumbled goat cheese and dried cherries for a bold morning meal. Also recommended is the sizable spinach and crab omelette; mine was properly cooked (softly), loaded with fresh crustacean and drenched in a fresh hollandaise sauce. Most dishes are served with seasoned grits and a local speciality, the hoecake (nothing special though, other than a non-sweetened pancake). The al fresco charm is probably the best reason to brunch (or dine) at Firefly Cafe, but the food stands up well enough for a light meal or snack.

A short scenic jaunt down Victory Drive (the longest palm-lined street in the world!) will take you towards Tybee Island, a small outcrop of land open to both salt marshes and the Atlantic Ocean. On such a marsh, spread throughout a compound that might at first glance be a survivalist camp, lies the legendary Crab Shack (and its several freestanding bars and attractions, amongst which is a gator pool). As numerous cats stroll amongst the tables, and locals and tourists alike gather to scarf down platters of wildly fresh seafood, the atmosphere begins to soak into the meal itself. Who knew dining under Christmas lights in a swamp could be this enchanting? With a menu so vast it would take days to plow through it, sticking with the simple platters is probably a good idea. I loved the Low Country flavors of the Deviled Crab plate($10.99), which comes with two perfectly seasoned specimens and delicious tangy coleslaw. Salted and buttered potatoes are a remarkable accompaniment to the spicy crabs. Another good choice, for a lighter appetite, was the crab stew and shrimp salad special($6.95). Naturally beer is on offer, but also a decent selection of moderately priced wines (mostly whites).

Rounding off this culinary tour was a special treat - dinner at The Olde Pink House, the only restaurant in Savannah set in a historic mansion (18th century). From the gorgeous dining rooms spread throughout the first floor, all softly lit with candles and period chandeliers, to the rollicking, fire-lit tavern beneath, the Pink House screams destination dining. Luckily the food lives up to the grand surroundings (so often not the case as we know). When in Savannah, do as the Georgians, and start with the appetizer of two fried green tomato slices, drizzled with a sweet corn sauce ($7.95). My entree of apricot-glazed grouper ($23.95) was phenomenal; served whole, the flat but wide fish was scored and pan-fried with the lightest of pecan crusting, and sided with that Mason-Dixon standard, Hoppin' John.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A History of Victuals

Recently I have received three emails requesting more dinner party menus be included on the Cafe Drake site. As we aim to please all visitors, I have listed below various meals enjoyed by myself and my guests over the past few years. Hopefully they may provide some inspiration to those seeking new ideas, or be used as springboards for your own theme dinners. Please send us your menus of great success or distinction so we may share them with other website viewers.

Dinner Before a Night of Clubbing
January 12, 2002

Roasted Hazelnut Soup

Grilled Sausages over Lentils
Watercress salad

Coffee & Chocolates

Dinner with the Jens & Jorge
February 8, 2002

Pate with mustard and rye bread

Rabbit Stew
Roasted Asparagus

Apple Cobbler

A Thursday Night Feast
May 9, 2002

Wild Greens Salad with Avocado and Tomato Vinaigrette

Roasted Cod
Cilantro relish
Mushroom Couscous

Maytag Bleu Cheese with Raisin Bread

Late Summer Dinner Party
August 24, 2002

Cauliflower Soup with Black Mustard Seeds

Yogurt Marinated Chicken
Roasted Vegetable Salad with Ginger Dressing

Homemade Cinnamon Ice Cream

Lamb and Trimmings
December 8, 2002

Roasted Leg of Lamb
Mint Jelly
Roasted Potatoes & Carrots
Braised Red Cabbage with Apples

Hard Cider

New Year’s Eve
December 31, 2002

Hoppin’ John
Braised Collard Greens


Dinner after the Gallery
February 27, 2003

Old Fashioneds & Peanuts

Chicken with Wild Mushrooms
String Beans
Garlic Bread

Indian Spring
April 28, 2003

Sapphire Martinis

Beef Vindaloo
Urad Dal
Onion Relish
Sweltering Summer Fare
July 26, 2003

Gin Gimlets

Skillet-fried Calamari with Hot Peppers
Tomato Bruschetta

Avocado Salad

Blackberry Sorbet

Tree Trimming Dinner 2003
December 6

Rosemary Gin Fizzes

Stewed Chicken with Green Olives
Cheddar Polenta

Hot Mulled Wine & Butterscotch Brownies

Chinese New Year’s Celebration
January 19, 2004

Whole Roasted Red Snapper & Striped Bass
Sticky Rice
Sesame Noodles

Almond Cookies

Protein Night
August 22, 2004

Ouzo with lemon
Mixed Nuts

Steak au Poivre
Spinach Salad
Buckwheat Noodles with Cabbage & Onions

Birthday at Zenon Greek & Cyprian Restaurant

Zenon Taverna. 34-10 31 Avenue, Astoria (718) 956-0133

It's hard to not enjoy a meal when surrounded by loved ones, and I'll be the first to admit that the warm zeitgeist of my recent birthday dinner may have colored my overall impression, but the food at Zenon taverna in Astoria's Greektown can stand on its own even if scarfed from paper plates in the backseat of taxi cab (or some similarly unpleasant environment). As a group of 7 we sampled the three full dinner options – Vegetarian, Seafood and the Cypress Dinner. A simple table covered with a white linen cloth and sparsely adorned with fresh sunflowers was soon replete with dish after dish of Cyprian specialities, including the native retsina wine (an acquired taste which I seem to develop after the second glass) and ceramic pitchers of the very drinkable house red.

The fleet-footed waiter is constantly streaming between the kitchen and table, with each visit depositing new plates of an astonishing variety of dishes. Beginning with warm flatbreads and slices from an olive wholegrain loaf, we feasted on fresh tahina dip, tarmasalota, tzkiki, tangy beets, eggplant chopped with feta and a truly remarkable Greek salad. Throughout the evening a new surprise arrived unbidden: platters of smoked ham, two types of meatballs, homemade sausage of an intriguing richness, grilled vegetables, charred octopus seasoned with sea salt and olive oil, fried cheese rubbery and toothsome, tender calamari, both deep-fried and dressed in a vinagarette, various filets of fish and everywhere, the bite of fresh lemon and Greek herbs. We closed the evening with a semolina and honey cake and the regional coffee, black and thick as tar with cooked grounds nestled at the bottom of each delicious demitasse.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Mushroom Bruschetta (inspired by Thordis A.)

If you're not yet acquainted with the work of Icelandic painter Thordis Adalsteinsdottir, you definitely should be. This quick-rising art star happens to be one of the nearest and dearest at Cafe Drake, but also hosts wonderful dinners herself. Recent memorable meals include a bright summer pasta of zucchini and lemon, a North American variation of an Icelandic classic dish featuring baked fish and potatoes in a mustard sauce, and a multi-course luncheon (pictures from the afternoon below). Visit her website to view her intriguing work ( and see when she may be showing at a gallery or museum near you! In honor of many lovely meals shared with together, we present below an adaptation of an Adalsteinsdottir luncheon starter that is a favorite of ours.


A perfect cocktail party food, as almost everyone likes mushrooms and certainly EVERYone likes a hot appetizer with a drink. Make the mushrooms ahead of time and re-heat and assemble crostini just before guests arrive. I once served these with an endive salad as a light luncheon entrée.

1 T. butter / 2 garlic cloves, minced / 1/3 lb. or so mushrooms, assorted varieties (washed and chopped) / ¼ cup white wine or vermouth / Salt and pepper /1 baguette, thinly sliced and toasted
  1. In a large skillet melt the butter over medium heat.
  2. Add the garlic and mushrooms and turn heat to high. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated from mushrooms, stirring constantly. This will only take a few minutes so be careful not to burn.
  3. Add the wine and reduce to a simmer until almost all liquid is cooked out. Season with salt and pepper and spread mushrooms on toasted bread slices. Serve hot.

Additional Suggestions: If you like the flavor of nutmeg (who doesn’t?) sprinkle a bit in during the final stage of cooking. Garnish with snipped chives or chopped hazelnuts. Also, a tiny dollop of sour cream adds a rich touch. Use a whole grain baguette if readily available; it’s both healthier and tastier I think.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Splendors of Sardegna

d.o.c. wine bar, 83 North 7th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 718/963-1925
Vino Italiano, Joseph Bastianich & David Lynch. Clarkson Potter Publishing. 2005

One senses these days that the Great Carb Scare of the early 21st century is nearing its overdue end, a superstitious and pathological fear held only by a remaining few masochists only a few pounds lighter. A release from this Dark Age has naturally given rise to a reemergence of enthusiasm for Italian cuisine, that food of peasants and kings, so given to breads and rice and cornmeal and pasta. Since the world has long esteemed Italian culinaria, adventurous diners are searching for new signs of undiscovered life, and finding it among the lonely savage landscapes of Sardegna.

On a once quiet block in Williamsburg, Brooklyn the d.o.c. Wine Bar (or Denominazione di Origine – the highest Italian wine classification) has opened shop (actually for about two years), run by young family members serving the food and wine of their native island. Repeated visits to d.o.c. continually confirm the restaurant's inherent charm, as well as that of the region's cuisine. An extensive handwritten wine list awes with its comprehensive selection of novel grape varieties, in addition to nightly wine specials. Cheese and cold cut boards make up the bulk of the menu and are essential to dinner here, but also available is a selection of crostinis, pressed sandwiches, salads and pastas. Soup of the day is always a good idea at d.o.c., where we've enjoyed a chicken broth laced with grainy cheese dumplings in the winter, and a chilled potato-fennel puree in summertime, topped by a dollop of Sardegnian goat cheese. Bravely order the white sardines marinated in balsamico and you'll be plesantly surprised by their briny and tart bite (hint: one plate for a table of four should be enough).

In their numbingly thorough opus Vino Italiano, Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch describe the cuisine and wines of Sardegna as being amongst Italy's most untouched and removed from revision by the world, an “ethnicity unto itself.” Therefore, “the wines that crop up in the islan's remote boulder-strewn soils often have a similarly indefinable, incomparable quality”. The recipe below is pure Sardegna, and slightly adapted from Vino Italiano; it is so basic and delicious you will want to prepare it over and over. What better excuse to try a different Sardegnian varietal with each meal? We suggest seeking out a bottle of cannonau (the Italian version of grenache) or cargignano (a firm tannined, rich red). After sampling both of course at the charming d.o.c.

PORCHETTA SARDA (Roast Pork, Sardinian Style)

2-3 lb. Pork loin / 2 T. salt / 8 cloves garlic, cut into large pieces / 1 cup vermentino wine (a Sardinian variety, but any dry white may be substituted) / 8 fresh sage leaves, chopped / 1 large bunch parsley / about ¼ cup olive oil / 1/3 cup honey / zest and juice of 1 small lemon / 1 cup chicken stock

  1. Overnight: place loin in large pan and cover with salt and up to 3 cups of water. Place in the refrigerator. Mash garlic into a paste and place in a bowl with the wine. Allow to sit at room temperature.
  2. At least 8 hours later, heat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse pork well and pat dry.
  3. Place garlic-wine mixture in a larger bowl and add to it the sage and parsley. Whisk into it all of the olive oil. Season the loin with this mixture and place in a roasting pan.
  4. Mix honey, lemon juice and the zest together, and brush over top surface of pork. Place in oven and bake for 40 minutes or until internal temperature reads 140 degrees. Bast every 10 minutes.
  5. When cooked, remove loin from pan and rest on platter for 30 minutes. This is a good time to season teh meat thoroughly with fresh ground black pepper. Meanwhile, place roasting pan onstove and scrape up cooked bits from bottom, boiling until juices thicken. Drizzle this "gravy" over pork loin, slice and serve.

Good sides might include: baked white beans or fresh fava beans cooked in olive oil; sauteed escarole or chicory or, in springtime, dandelion greens; pumpkin or acorn squash roasted with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and honey; brussels sprouts cooked with bacon and sweet onions.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

May 21, 2005 Dinner at Cafe Drake

Whenever our dear friend Ms. Amee Simmons visits from Detroit Rock City it's always time to celebrate with a special meal. The menu below was from a late-spring dinner honoring one of our greatest muses. Following the menu is a recipe for a most unusual gazpacho, served cold but tasty enough to be enjoyed even in the winter months.


White Gazpacho

Chicken Marbella
Sauteed Escarole

Nutmeg Ice Cream with Fresh Blackberries and Butter Cookies

3 cups peeled, diced cucumbers / 1 clove garlic / 1/2 cup parsley / 2 T. white wine vinegar / 1 t. salt / 2 cups yogurt / 1/2 cup sour cream
  1. Combine cucumbers, garlic, parsley, salt and vinegar in a blender and process until smooth.
  2. Pour in a large bowl and mix in yogurt and sour cream. Chill before serving.
  3. Serve in cold bowls, garnished with croutons and chopped parsley or snipped chives.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Fresh Corn Spoon Bread

It's almost the end of corn season, and the only thing scarier than running into He Who Walks Behind the Rows is passing up the final harvest of this most American of foods. The following recipe is a marvelous addition to your repetoire of side dishes, and goes well with virtually all meats prepared in any manner of ways. Spoon bread can also serve as a vegetarian main course; at Cafe Drake we love it alongside baked beans and cabbage salad. For an Indian Summer dinner party, try it as a starter, nestled in a pool of red pepper puree and topped with shaved Parmesan or Gruyere.


2 1/2 cups water / 1 cup yellow cornmeal / 1 t. salt / 2 T. butter / 4 eggs, beaten / 1 cup milk / 1 t. cayenne pepper / 2 cups corn kernels, fresh cut from the cob

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and butter a square casserole dish.
  2. Stir 1/2 cup of cold water into the cornmeal to prevent lumping.
  3. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add salt and then slowly pour in cornmeal. Cook for 1 minute stirring constantly. Beat in the butter, eggs, milk and corn until smooth.
  4. Pour in casserole and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a straw inserted in the center comes out clean.

Spoon bread is especially good with roast chicken and sliced ripe tomatoes. To drink, Cafe Drake suggests a Loire white, such as a Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Restaurant Review: Dining in Newport, R.I.

The Newport, Rhode Island Food Scene (at least in August, 2005)
The Black Pearl (1-99 Bannisters Wharf)
Pop! (160 Broadway)
Flo's Clam Shack (4 Wave Ave., Middletown, RI)
Rhumbline (62-64 Bridge Street)

Bannister's Wharf's The Black Pearl, located directly on the waterfront amidst sailing excursion shops and moored boats, has a wonderful location, and is even more atmospheric inside. The low-ceilinged dining room is covered with nautical prints and acoutrements of the sea, and generally bustling with a mixed crowd of well-heeled locals and sporty vacationers. The menu is fairly basic, and the main attraction here is the clam chowder ($3.50 per cup), so reknown the restaurant ships quarts around the world via their website. Salty and overly watery, the chowder failed to live up to its reputation on my lunch visit. Not terrible, but honestly, rather ordinary. A Syrian burger to follow, encased in a warm pita with a mint and tomato salad on top, was again, ordinary and without distinction. It seems the best reason to visit the Black Pearl is to soak some local coastal flavor, and may be better suited to a quick bar visit in the afternoon or before dinner.
You can get your drink and dinner on however at Pop, situated on a restaurant row section of Broadway a few blocks from the water. Monday night is the time to go, with all food being 50% off the menu prices. Susan (seen above) and I sampled two salads (essentially the same but with slightly different garnishes) to start. Both had slices of cold grilled chicken resting on either baby greens or spinach leaves, and an assortment of nuts, seeds and vegetables. The salads were over-seasoned in my opinion, and swamped in dressings too tart. A main course of steamed clams in garlic butter was more successful, and a meatball calzone ina pool of tomato sauce was satisfying in the manner of all things indulgently fatty. The cocktails are the star attraction here though, and upon being seated, we were presented with a 6-page drinks menu. Go for the house special, the POPsicle ($7), a plesantly refreshing concoction of berry-infused vodka and raspberry liqueur.
Every seaside town has the waterfront fried food shack, and Easton's Beach (just down the road a mile in Middletown) boasts a legend since 1936, Flo's Clam Shack. If your arteries and stomach can handle it, dive into a greasy platter of fried clams or oysters ($7.95 & $8.95 ). Place your order at the outside window and be prepared within 5 minutes to pick up a heaping plate of perfectly fried seafood and sides. The clam strips were among the tenderest I've ever tasted, the fries crunchy and the coleslaw tangy. Spice it up with a few drops of the homemade hot sauce and you've got a tasty lunch that demands to be eaten on the windswept second-story deck. When in Newport it seems a shame to pass on the opportunity to have a regional speciality, but Flo's stuffed quohouge was the only disappointment. The gargantuan bivalve was overstuffed with a poorly seasoned breadcrumb mixture that tasted of little else than soggy carbs.
Rhumbline is the restaurant currently getting the most attention from the foodies in the area, and its location on a residential quiet street in the historical Point neighborhood earns it points from the beginning. We began the meal with expertly mixed Manhattans and Sidecars and warm sourdough bread. A first course salad of romaine, shaved fennel and pecorino ($8) was lacklustre however; the flavors were too subtle and the presentation was non-existent. Entrees were far better: Susan enjoyed a melting tender osso bucco ($24) served with creamy soft polenta, while I had a nightly special of scallops ($25). Each scallop was seared to bring out the sweet flavor of the tender flesh, and the centerpiece sweet potato cake melded beautifully with the shellfish. A five-minute stroll after the lovely meal will take you to Farewell Street and the oldest tavern in America - The White Horse. Pricey to be sure, but don't forgo a digestif in the candlelit saloon, certainly the oldest and one of the loveliest spots for a nightcap you can imagine.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Hitchcock Icy Blonde Dinner Party

[Dream Guest List: Eva Marie Saint, Grace Kelly, Tippi Hendren]
First, all guests must be platinum-haired and defiantly aloof. Since bubbly conversation and warm friendship obviously aren't on the menu, food and ambiance will be the focal points.
A simple table is best: navy flannel tablecloth, gray or tan linen placemats, white or ivory napkins. Flowers should be kept to neutral shades - pale yellow, cream or white. Roses or tulips are best, in a silver vase perhaps. Mercury glass would also be a nice touch. Candlelight is too soft; instead, light your table from below, with uplights strategically placed to lend severity to the guests' fierce countenances.
Cocktails are to be served upon arrival. Martinis of course. Cold trimmed radishes in Alvar Alto glass bowls might be placed around the room. Endive spears tipped with crab remoulade could be passed.
Oysters on the half shell, a half-dozen per guest, on individual plates of rock salt make a wonderful first course.
Follow this with a tiny scoop of lemon sorbet to cleanse the palate.
Poached salmon with a sabayon sauce is the perfect entree. In the dead heat of summer the fish might be served cold, with a homemade mayonnaise and fresh dill.
Since the meal has been light, a creme brulee or floating island is an appropriate dessert, served with your finest champagne.
After dinner usher your guests into the cool living room for a chilled creme de menthe.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Creole Tomato-Peanut Soup

June 21, 2005 Dinner at Cafe Drake

Sloe Gin Fizzes

Creole Tomato & Peanut Soup

Onion Tart with Japanese Greens

Coffee & Ouzo

David Sellers (as seen above relaxing in the warm glow of Cafe Drake) is a marvelous cook and host, impressing guests with ambitious and complex meals. A memorable dinner at his apartment in Williamsburg began with icy Martinis and hot bruschetta, followed by an appetizer of seared foie gras and morel mushrooms with a (freshly squeezed!) pomegranate glaze. Hard act to follow, but the stuffed Cornish hens and roasted acorn squash held their own in this gourmet feast.

The menu above is far simpler, but once again, perfectly suited to a post-work, mid-week dinner. Make the soup (recipe below) the night ahead to allow flavors to mingle and mature. Wash and saute the greens as a first step; you can reheat later or serve at room temperature. I used a mixture of baby mustard greens and mizuna, which lend an appreciated bite to the creamy mildness of the tart (basically, onion quiche. Frozen pie crust? Natch). The cooking time for these tender greens is less than 5 minutes.


2 T. oil / 1 cup chopped onion / 1/3 cup chopped green bell pepper / 1 t. cayenne / 1 T. whole wheat flour / 1 cup milk / 1/2 cup chunky peanut butter / 1 cup chopped tomato / 2 cups tomato juice

  1. Heat oil in large pot and cook onion and pepper until softened. Add cayenne and cook 1 more minute.
  2. Stir in flour and milk, and when smooth add peanut butter. Cook for 2 minutes then add juice and chopped tomatoes.
  3. Stir frequently for about 10 minutes until soup has thickened nicely. Season as desired with salt.

Rabbit with Prunes and Mustard Sauce

Outside of Italian butcher shops, French bistros and the Appalachian hinterlands, rabbit is rarely found as a fresh meat in this country. Of the possible reasons for America's gastronomical shunning are: this nation's desire to proudly detach from the Old World, disassociation with our hill-dwelling (and meth cooking) countrymen, and the hare's adaptability to cultural icon status and domestication. We don't smile politely in other words on the idea of slaughtering the Easter Bunny or eating Bugs.

None of these delusional notions should prevent us from welcoming this extraordinarily tasty creature into our kitchens, as rabbit is delicious and more packed with more nutritional value (and less cholesterol) than skinless chicken breast. Two local restaurants have excelled in hare preparation - Williamsburg's DuMont pan fries the meat with a light crust and serves warm atop dressed salad greens, while Prune, in the East Village, cooks the rabbit in a sweet brown sauce laced with that restaurant's eponymous dried fruit.

The recipe below takes a cue from this sweet and savoury mix, while adding a mustard cream sauce typical to French cuisine. Although below we recommend sides of polenta and greens, rabbit is also very nice with a vegetable protein such as a white bean salad or stewed fava beans. Drink a non-oak aged Chardonnay with this dish, or a crisp and grassy Sancerre.


1 1/2 lbs. rabbit, cut into pieces / 1 T. flour / 1 T. each olive oil & softened butter / 1 onion, finely chopped / 6 oz. pitted prunes, roughly chopped / 4 oz. fromage frais / 1 1/2 T. Dijon mustard / seasoning to taste (thyme and rosemary or parsley work well)

  1. Place rabbit pieces in a paper bag with the flour and shake to coat evenly.
  2. Heat oil and butter in a large pan and fry rabbit until golden brown all over.
  3. Add onions and prunes to pan and pour over just enough water to cover. Season generously and simmer for 45 minutes until rabbit is tender.
  4. Remove the rabbit with a slotted spoon and keep warm. Stir fromage frais and mustard into the pan and simmer until reduced slightly. Spoon the sauce over the rabbit and serve with creamy polenta and sauteed greens.

Spaghetti with Red Wine Sauce


What makes this pasta unusual is the cooking method; the spaghetti is simmered for the majority of the time in the red wine. My first taste of this preparation was at the legendary Da Silvano on 6th Avenue in New York. I attempted the dish soon after trying it, and over time have fairly near perfected it (if I do say so myself). Personal modesty be damned: this pasta won rave reviews from my friend Angela Zorzi, for whom I served it to many years ago in my little apartment on East 11th Street. Ms. Zorzi, by the way, is a native of Roma, Italia! An entire bottle of wine may seem slightly extravagant to some, but Chiantis can be found quite cheap and you don’t need a superlative quality for this recipe.

Salt and freshly ground black pepper / ½ cup extra virgin olive oil / 1 T. minced garlic / 1 t. red pepper flakes / 1 lb. Spaghetti / 1 bottle red wine (such as Chianti) / 1 T. butter
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it.
  2. Place the oil and garlic and red pepper in a deep skillet. When the water boils add the pasta and turn the skillet to a high heat. In a couple of minutes add salt and pepper to skillet and ¾ of the bottle of wine. Bring to a boil and maintain it there.
  3. When the pasta begins to soften (about 5 minutes) drain it and add to skillet. Cook, adding a little wine at a time, until the mixture is almost completely dry. You will need to stir the pasta and sauce fairly often. When the noodles are done (soft but with a tiny bite), turn off the heat and stir in the butter. As soon as the butter glazes the pasta, serve immediately.

I prefer this as a pasta course before the entrée, but it also makes a marvelous side dish. Try a swirled mound of the spaghetti beside a thin breast of Chicken Fricasse or a meaty fish such as a roasted cod. If serving as a starter, garnish with just a sprinkle of fresh grated parmesan, chopped parsley and few red pepper flakes.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Restaurant Review: The Queen's Hideaway

The Queen's Hideaway
222 Franklin Street (Green Street), Greenpoint, Brooklyn; (718)383-2355

This aptly named restaurant is tucked away on a quiet, largely residential block of west Greenpoint's Franklin Avenue. Any qualms regarding the obscure location are dismissed once you enter the charmingly rustic dining room (or walk through the slender space to a beautiful back garden). Upon being seated a bowl of boiled peanuts are placed on the table for snacking while perusing the single page menu (which changes daily and is dependent on the freshest ingredients available that morning). The nuts are slightly wet, in-shell and a wee bit tangy, cooked as they are in a vinegary spiced broth. While the selection of entrees is small, there so far have been no mistakes from the kitchen. A larger appetizer menu would be welcome, but you can't go wrong with the cheese plate ($5) (often accompanied by exotic meats smoked on the premises and seasonal fruits) or the piping hot zucchini fritters ($4). Not at all greasy, and lighter than expected, they are served with a homemade hot sauce, which while not fiery enough for my taste is loaded with flavor and a surprising sweetness.

Of the entrees sampled, all have been delicious and added to the wish list for future kitchen appearances. A plate of perfectly cooked scallops ($12), atop a melange of tiny yellow and red cherry tomatoes, saided with just-fried tortilla strips is a great choice for a light dinner. The pan-fried trout ($12), topped with a remoulade sauce, is more substantial and also cooked to retain moisture and natural flavor. Those with large appetites (i.e. moi) should go for the witty pulled pork sandwich($13), again, smoked in-house and piled atop Wonder bread slices with various vegetable sides.

Okay, now that we've strongly urged you to make a trek to The Queen's Hideaway, it's time for the lone bitchy comment (which really is meant more as a good-natured suggestion). The restaurant charges a $5 corkage fee for those bringing wine - the only option given there is currently no liquor license. This is offputting enough for diners already inconvenienced by the lack of a bar, but insult is added to injury when the waitstaff hands the opener to patrons and forces them to fend for themselves. THEN, on two visits, there were no proper wine glasses in sight and guests were sipping Cab from coffee mugs.

Hard to complain (well not that difficult obviously) given the rock-bottom food prices, and considering the carefully composed and well executed menu, but a liquor license would be appreciated. If not, then at least courteous treatment of those having gone to the bother to BYOB. Perhaps, somehow, somewhere, this review will not fall on deaf (and highly talented) ears.

Ginisang Munggo

My friend and upstairs neighbor, Jorge Manahan, is the undisputed King of Chicken Adobo. I always begin salivating if I get a call inviting me to join him for a meal of the Filipino national dish! Since I'm not quite willing to attempt it myself (and why bother when you have an adobo master living in the building), I've experimented with a few other Filipino foods recently. The recipe below is one of my favorites, and like all the dishes on this site, is a cinch to prepare. You can easily double the portions for a larger crowd (or more leftovers). Jorge's spirited chihuahua Ocho loves Filipino food, and Mexican, and Italian, and French et al. See Jorge and his pooch (with your web host) above.


1lb Large shrimp / 2 cups Dry mung beans / 1 Yellow onion, peeled and sliced / 2 tbsps Peanut oil / 2 cloves Sliced garlic / 4 1/2 cups Chicken stock / 1 Thin slice of fresh ginger / 1 tsp Salt / 1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

  1. Soak beans overnight, then hull them by rubbing them in your hands, scoop out the hulls from the container, then rinse the beans.
  2. Add peanut oil into a large preheated saucepan, and stir fry your yellow onion and garlic, then add your chicken soup stock and your slice of ginger.
  3. Bring the lot to a boil, reduce heat, cover, simmer for 20 minutes, remove your ginger, then continue cooking for about 10 minutes.
  4. Add shrimp, salt and pepper, and cook for another 6 or 7 minutes, allowing the shrimp to absorb the flavor.

I like to serve Ginisang Mungoo with plain brown rice, a watercress salad and sliced, vinegared cucumbers. A dry Riesling, well chilled, is a perfect partner for the meal.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Scallops in Sweet Pea Puree

My dear friend Jenifer Ruske, seen above sampling caviar potatoes during Cocktail Hour at Cafe Drake, is a marvelous cook and generous hostess. Stopping by her backyard in Ft. Greene earlier this summer, I was delightfully surprised to find a casual bbq yielding many types of cheeses, dips, chilled sake and from the grill - perfectly charred chicken, salmon and tuna steaks and sea scallops no less! The recipe here is in honor of Jen, who almost never passes up the opportunity for scallops when offered.


The following entree's grand taste and appearance both belie its ease of preparation,and with its verdant color and clean, simple flavors you're sure to impress even the most discerning guests. Pair prudently with an excellent wine. Let us suggest the absurdly well-priced Sauvignon Blanc from Washington state's Snoqualmie Vineyards. Very modern tasting, this crisp white compliments seafood while allowing gentler flavors to stand on their own.

2 t. olive oil / 12 sea scallops / 1/2 t. sea salt / black pepper / 1 cup chicken stock / 1 clove garlic, minced / 1 10-oz. package frozen petite green peas / 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves / 2 T. butter / 2 t. white wine vinegar

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet. Sprinkle scallops with salt and pepper and add to hot pan. Cook for 4 minutes, turning once and remove.
  2. Add broth, garlic and peas to pan and simmer for 3 minutes. Place pea mixture in blender with more salt, mint and butter and process until silky smooth. Add vinegar and blend again for 5 seconds.
  3. Spoon a small portion of pea mixture onto center of each plate and spread into a circle.
  4. Top each serving with 4 scallops.

Hot garlic bread makes a wonderful side. Since dinner is light here, follow with a rich Maytag Blue cheese and sliced pears and bread.

August 5, 2005 Dinner at Cafe Drake

Dinner at Cafe Drake
August 5, 2005
Gimlets & Pistachio Nuts
Beer-braised Pork Chops with Dried Anaheim & Colorado Chiles
Pozole with Italian Peppers & Tomatoes
Sauteed Summer Vegetables
Chocolate Cookies & Coffee
This is such an easy menu, perfect for a weeknight dinner party. The main course is all that requires cooking, and the pork chops, once floured, seasoned and browned, can simmer slowly in the beer and chiles for an hour or more. Pre-saute your vegetables and re-heat just before serving. Using canned pozole makes that side dish a snap to prepare. All one can ask for is a guest as lovely as my friend Jennifer seen above. (Note: these photos were taken AFTER dinner . . .and a few drinks)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Chinese Tea Ice Cream

Black teas are rich in anti-oxidants, and especially delicious when configured into surprising sweet or savory dishes. The weather is sultry now, so jumpstart your summer menus with the following homemade ice cream. Improbable and quirky, this smoky tasting dessert almost reminds us of a vanilla milkshake spiked with Scotch. Yum! Best served after a rich, non-dairy entree such as roasted leg of lamb or braised short ribs. Skip the hot coffee and finish with a chilled digestif.

1 cup milk / 6 Lapsang Souchong teabags / 3/4 cup of sugar / 6 egg yolks / 2 t. flour / 1/4 t. salt / 1 cup half-and-half / 1 cup heavy cream

  1. Bring the milk to a boil in large saucepan and remove from heat. Add teabags.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar until thick and yellow. Beat in flour and salt. Step away.
  3. Remove teabags from milk (after 15 minutes or so) and add half-and-half to milk. Bring to a simmer and slowly beat in egg and sugar mixture.
  4. Pour entire mixture back into saucepan and heat gently, stirring often, until thickening occurs. DO NOT overheat as will eggs will scramble (rather gruesomely we might add).
  5. remove from heat and pour through a strainer into a large bowl. Cool slightly, stir in the cream and refrigerate for several hours (overnight is best). When ready, freeze in ice cream maker following manufacturer's instructions.

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