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.