Friday, December 29, 2006

Recent Meals (Restaurant Mini-Reviews)

Paloma (60 Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222, 718-349-2400)
d.o.c. Wine Bar & Trattoria (83 North 7th Street, Brooklyn, NY, 718-963-1925)
Iron Forge Inn (38 Iron Forge Road, Bellvale, NY 10912, 845-986-3411)
Ada (208 East 58th Street, New York, NY 212-371-6060)

Some old favorites were revisited during the holidays, courtesy of our Mother and her Christmas visit to Cafe Drake. Two Brooklyn standbys proved to have lost none of their luster, aging gracefully and with style. A wiser, smaller menu is the biggest change to Greenpoint's outpost of remote dining, Paloma, while the modernist concrete-meets-raw wood interiors have held up well. An even greater emphasis is placed on the cocktail menu and the house-infused vodka selection - the Mint Sidecar was a winner, and on our wish list is the Old Fashioned crafted with homemade bitters and vanilla-infused bourbon. A starter of dried cod fritters ($5.95) is extremely mild but enlivened by homemade onion relish and pickled vegetables. Even better were two fish entrees: a superbly cooked Black Sea Bass with Braised Root Vegetables ($13.95) and a Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia atop Couscous Salad ($14.95). The latter, despite starting with a fish generally characterized by its blandness, earned flavor points through its encasement in grated cheese and breadcrumbs, all fried to a crispy golden brown yet light and non-greasey. Dining companions championed their choice of the Braised Lamb Shank with Beet Polenta ($15). Paloma maintains a small but solid wine selection with several reds and whites available by the glass.

d.o.c. wine bar and trattoria can do no wrong it seems, and continues to boast one of the most consistent kitchens in the tri-state area. Dripping as always with Sardigian atmosphere, a recent candlelit late-night meal (post-Nutcracker at Lincoln Center actually) consisted of a perfect midnight snack of cheese and dried meats and salad and two excellent wine specials: an esoteric bone-dry red and an amarone with a velvet finish. And let's not forget the tiramisu!

It's no secret we love all things Indian, so difficult it is to restrain our enthusiasm for the Midtown East's Ada restaurant. The decidely upscale Northern Indian eatery soothes diners instantly with a warm cream and gold toned intimate room, pressed linens and elegant flatware. Equally welcome upon being seated is the presentation of a smart and carefully edited wine list. Two appetizers were both excellent, if perhaps too low in heat for Cafe Drake's fiery tastes: a Chicken Seekh Kabob is placed atop mesculun greens dressed in a tamarind vinegarette, while the Chicken Tikky consists of tender sliced poultry, fired in the tandoor oven, and enlivened by a tangy yogurt and cilantro sauce. Entrees reflected the French influence on cooking style at Ada; both a lamb loin in spinach sauce and Kashmiri-spiced beef were rich with cream and surprisingly served alongside fried cabbage and shredded wild mushrooms. No surprise however in the uniformly stellar quality of the complimentary dhal, rice and naan bread.


The charming upstate New York hamlet of Warwick is home to at least three respectable wineries. After all that tasting you'll want to lower your BAC with a solid meal, and the nearby Iron Forge Inn in Bellvale is a festive choice for a dinner splurge. Tucked away at the end of a scenic meandering side road, the historic building (dating back to the 18th century) is home to a lavishly appointed restaurant. Four dining rooms - most with fireplaces - are charmingly decorated in period detail, with tables unusually luxurious in size. We supped hearth-side in the Lincoln Room, and upon being seated, were offered an amuse bouche of potato cake with chestnut puree and herbed creme fraiche by our friendly and competent waiter. An extensive menu makes choosing difficult, but highly recommended as a starter is the cheese plate ($12) of local artisinal cheeses, all unpasturized and sided with wine-poached pears and a varied bread selection. Braised Short Ribs ($24.95) were meltingly tender after slow cooking in a Merlot-Balsamic reduction, yet still didn't steal the thunder from a bed of mushroom polenta, studded throughout with crisp fried parsnips. A must-have entree is the Seared Sea Scallops($26.95), delicately cooked until just warm throughout and sharing the plate with lobster bread pudding. If you can make room for dessert - and we did - by all means go for the warm banana pancake ($8), drowned beneath Valhalla chocolate sauce and local organic ice cream. Good house wines are available by the half and full carafe, and the small bar turns out superb versions of classic cocktails.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Candy & Carols

What's Christmas without fudge? Most people don't realize how easily this December indulgence can be made, and below we present two recipes so fast and foolproof you may be whipping up batches throughout the year.


QUICK WALNUT PANOCHA

1/2 cup butter, melted / 1 cup brown sugar / 1/4 cup WHOLE milk / 1 3/4 - 2 cups powdered sugar / 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

  1. Add brown sugar to melted butter in a saucepan and cook over low heat for 2 minutes.
  2. Add milk and stir until mixture reaches a boil. Remove from heat and cool.
  3. Gradually add powdered sugar until the mixture reaches a fudge-like consistency.
  4. Add walnuts, stir well and spread in a buttered 8 X 8 pan. Chill.

CREAM CHEESE CHOCOLATE FUDGE

3 oz. cream cheese, softened / 1 Lb. powdered sugar / 3 T. water / 1 t. vanilla / 3 1-oz. squares unsweetened baker's chocolate, melted / 1 cup chopped pecans or hazelnuts

  1. Combine cream cheese, sugar, water and vanilla and stir until very smooth.
  2. Quickly, stir in melted chocolate and nuts.
  3. Spread 1 inch thick in a buttered pan and chill thoroughly.


Always willing to offer an opinion on what you should be playing at your next gathering, Cafe Drake is recommending two album re-issues for the Christmas season - Stevie Wonder's uber-classic Someday at Christmas, filled with classics and original tunes, and the truly inspirational 1974 release, Christmas with Julie, a collaboration between Julie Andrews and Andre Previn. Both are nostalgic yet ageless and perfect for holiday brunches and dinners. Hip kids will no doubt enjoy Aimee Mann's new CD One More Drifter in the Snow and Sufjan Stevens' three-disc surprise seasonal drop Songs for Christmas. Test driving tunes for a New Year's Eve gala? Once again we refer you to the priceless www.samurai.fm and their ready-to-go streaming mixes; especially fierce new uploads include Lindstrom live from Oslo and the retro stylings of Todd Terje live in Fukuoka.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Holiday Buffet in honor of Gunnhildur

From atop a soft perch of winter coats, Sailor seems pleased with the party (and the anchovies).


Holiday Cheer at Cafe Drake.


Seasonal table setting.


Winter antipasto buffet.


Could David be the first person ever amused by Octavio's jokes?


Christine and the Christmas tree.


Gunnhildur needs food fast after the green tea martinis.


Thordis enquires as to the possibility of a fifth martini.


Cafe Drake is always happy to roll out the red carpet for friends visiting from Iceland, or more specifically in this instance, Gunnhildur of Iceland by way of Berlin (where she and Asi Asmmundson and kitty Api Jonsson currently reside). Holidays spirits were high as we sipped Mar-Green - Tinis around ye olde tannenbaum and supped on a winter antipasto buffet of baked pineapple dusted with chile, provolone cheese, cracked and marinated olives, broiled New Zealand mussels glazed with an orange-tomato sauce, wild salmon jerky, tomatoes, cornmeal-stuffed bell peppers, watercress salad and roasted cauliflower with raisins and anchovies. Guests supplied a plethora of red wines and even a white for contrast. Although the evening ended with a (literal) blaze of glory - a rogue candle burst its holder and set aflame a paper lampshade - all visitors, the proprietor of Cafe Drake and Sailor Page were unharmed in the making of this exciting evening. See photos and captions above of the dinner in honor of Gunnhildur.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

From Russia, With Love


Soviet food feels ideal for cold weather, hearty and rich, substantial and warming during the frigid months ahead. The few recipes below are fully tested and approved by Cafe Drake. Why not throw a Czar Dinner Party on an icy January evening, utilizing the finest servingware you have and requesting guests arrive dressed to the nines? Start with a toast (champagne, naturally) and tiny boiled new potatoes, sliced in halves and topped with sour cream and caviar (the inexpensive black variety found in jars in gourmet shops works fine). Mussorsky or Tchaikovsky would be an ideal soundtrack to the proceedings. Just don't invite any Bolsheviks, have a waltz before dining, and the party should be a grand success!

CABBAGE BAKED WITH FETA

Hailing from the Moldavia region, this side dish works best if you pay special attention to the second step and thoroughly pan fry the cabbage.

1 head green cabbage, slivered / 3 T. butter / 2 T. vegetable oil / 1/4 cup sour cream / 2 large eggs / 1/4 cup chopped dill / Salt & Pepper / 1 to 1 1/2 cups crumbled feta / 1/2 cup bread crumbs / 2 t. paprika / 5 T. butter, melted


  1. Blanch the cabbage in boiling water for 2 minutes then drain well.
  2. Heat the 3 T. butter in a large skillet and saute the cabbage for 15 minutes over medium heat.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  4. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and sour cream. Pour into the cooled cabbage. Add dill and salt and pepper. Mix well and transfer to a casserole dish.
  5. Sprinkle the feta and bread crumbs over the cabbage, then pour melted butter over all. Top with paprika and bake about 15 minutes.

SPINACH IN YOGURT SAUCE

A popular vegetable preparation throughout the Caucasus is called borani; basically almost any type of produce is cooked in butter with onions, garlic and paprika. Yogurt is stirred into the vegetables at the very end and heated carefully so as not to curdle. You could substitute the spinach here with green beans, cauliflower or Swiss chard.

5 T. butter / 1 onion, chopped / 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped / 2 bunches spinach, rinsed well and chopped / 1/2 cup plain yogurt / Salt & Pepper

  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the spinach, stirring and tossing it until wilted (about 5 minutes).
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the yogurt and salt and pepper.
  4. Return skillet to a very low flame and warm through, mixing well, for 1 minute.
  5. Serve hot.

COD, MOSCOW STYLE

A simple recipe from the home kitchens of Russia's great metropolis. Fast to prepare and using only basic ingredients, the fish is kept succulent and rich beneath the layers of good quality mayonnaise and grated cheese.

2 lbs. cod, cut into 6-8 pieces / 3 T. fresh lemon juice / 5 T. butter / flour /2 large onions, cut into rings / 1/2 cup mayonnaise / 3/4 cup grated Gruyere (or aged white cheddar) / chopped parsley or dill for garnish

  1. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. Place fish in a large casserole and rub with a little salt and pepper as desired. Pour lemon juice over all and let sit for about 15 minutes.
  3. Melt 3 T. butter in a large skillet. Remove fish from casserole, rinse out and dry casserole and set aside.
  4. Dust cod with flour and fry in skillet, turning only once, for about 8 minutes total. Remove.
  5. Add onions to skillet and fry for 10 minutes.
  6. Return fried fish to casserole and spread with the mayonnaise. Place onions on top and sprinkle with cheese.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is quite browned.
  8. Serve very hot with chopped herbs on top.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

From the Lens of Miki Shimada

Thanksgiving Huddle


Thordis makes her way through the Thanksgiving dessert buffet.


Digestifs after Thanksgiving Dinner are enjoyed by Christine & Kelly.


Thordis & David rejoice after hearing another bottle of vodka was located inside Cafe Drake.


The difficult business of carving the turkey.


Ready, Mr. DeMille!


Dainty and demure, Miki contemplates Jorge's appetizer spread.


Jorge surveys his annual antipasto platter.


Consulting the Japanese cookbook (a gift from Miki) for tips on perfect tempura.


Summer table setting at Cafe Drake.


At Monkeytown, Brooklyn.


Miki photographs David photographing the Birthday Boy.


Miki & Susan savor the sparkling red dessert wine.


Italian film stars, si?


Octavio & Christine celebrate Cafe Drake's 17th annual 21st birthday.


About to dive in to NYC's best tiramisu.


Clearly excited at birthday dinner at d.o.c. wine bar.


Flanked by lovely ladies.


The Two Jens.


Everyone seems in a good mood, perhaps knowing Miki's soft-focus technique can only flatter?


Having a ball at another of Jen Ruske's fabulous Summer Soirees.


Pre-Sloane Susan & Henry.


Oliver seems fixated by a handsome face. Intelligent puppy with good taste.


Natalie prepares to sample hubby David's tandoori chicken.


David and his son Julian dance before dining.


Always a good time at Cafe Miki.


Miki's student proves he's no stranger to pork.


Miki Shimada, lover of all creatures great and small.


We give your party Two Thumbs Up as well, Miki!


Quality time with Berry Shimada.

Recently Miki Shimada dropped by Cafe Drake for a casual weeknight dinner (noodles with dried chile sauce, salmon croquettes and sauteed brocolli) and downloaded pics from her memory disc into Cafe Drake's laptop. We're immensely grateful, so much so we devoted this large post to the craft of Miki's photography. More than just a superb trained eye, Ms. Shimada manages to capture all the right moments in the most casual of ways - in documenting a social life, she hones in on some of the things we treasure most: fellowship over fabulous food, the inherent merriment of cocktails, our many animal friends and diffused lighting. Many, many thanks to Miki for these time capsule treasures.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM SAILOR PAGE

Delhi Dinner with David



CAFE DRAKE DINNER WITH DAVID - NOVEMBER 2006
Lemon-Ginger Martinis
Cheese
Ground Veal in Spinach Sauce with Whole Spices
Wild & Basmati Rice Pilaf
Pecan Sweet Chutney
Mango Relish
Fenugreek Pickles

Monday, November 27, 2006

Another Good Use for Turkey Leftovers

Soundbites II (more from the mind of Cafe Drake)



VIEWER'S REQUEST: ENCORE FOR PASTA RECIPES

Though tempted to yell Basta! at the constant visitors' requests for pasta recipes, we aim to please, and are thus happy to introduce you to one of the simplest spaghettis we know. Cafe Drake has been dishing this up for YEARS, so much so we can't even locate the original recipe we jotted down in a lost notebook long ago. It's brainless enough to describe from memory however, and its quickness of prep and minimum of ingredients, seems to offer all desired by those craving a fast carb fix. Because the flavors are lighter than usual, and particularly crisp from the inclusion of an entire lemon, try it as a first course when you have more time, paving the way for a rich entree such as braised short ribs or roasted lamb shanks.

SPAGHETTI WITH ZUCCHINI SAUCE

1 lb. spaghetti or linguine, boiled in salted water al dente and drained / 3-4 medium-small zucchini, diced / 3 T. butter / 1 T. olive oil / juice of 1 lemon / grated zest of 1/2 lemon / salt and pepper / Parmesan cheese

  1. Melt butter in large skillet along with olive oil.Add zucchini and cook until very tender. It is fine if a few brown quite a bit.
  2. Remove pan from heat, cool contents a bit then add to blender. Process for 1 minute or more. The resulting sauce should be silky smooth.
  3. Return sauce to skillet, and over very low heat, stir in lemon juice and lemon zest. Heat through, stirring well, for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Toss sauce thoroughly with pasta and add salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
  5. Serve warm, topped with grated or shaved Parmesan.

Note: The sauce can be given a sweet and elegant note by adding 2 T. of an anise-flavored apertif (Ricard, ouzo, Pastis, Pernod etc) in Step 3 above.



(Thinking about food at Cafe Drake)


CORKED

We recently wrote about getting corkscrewed on overpriced, inferior winelists at mediocre restaurants, and thought rather than just complain about a growing problem, we'd offer a few solutions (for the home anyway). A longstanding favorite red at Cafe Drake is Nuhar (approx. $10); luckily, this formerly obscure vineyard is now gaining a wider fan base and thus, distribution. Light in color and equally so on the palette, Nuhar makes a great partner to cheese, Italian pastas and even a mild red meat. The surprise comes at the end, with an aftertaste suggestive of a far more complex (and expensive) Cabernet. And don't turn your nose up at Robert Mondavi's 2004 Pinot Noir ($9), or you'll miss the delicate bouquet of young grapes, light to be sure, but also silky and smooth with a hint of earthiness.


BRITISH BOOZEHOUND

Nigella Lawson, with her winsome combination of insouciance and professionalism, is our current leading lady on the Food Network (with Ina Garten a close second). Saucy and unafraid to embellish a dish with copious amounts of fat, her very modern take on British comfort food somehow just feels right for the time (unlike fellow Londoner Jamie Oliver, whose lad-ish demeanor and repetitive Thai flavors have grown exhausting). Ms. Lawson has also created a new food category - the Back from the Bar Snack - which, unsurprisingly, we adore. With hats off to Nigella, below is Cafe Drake's latest favorite dish for late-night, post-drinking knoshing.

CHEESE TOASTS A LA RAJ

1 lb. mozzarella, grated (if budget is a concern, fresh mozzarella is not absolutely essential here) / 1/2 cup finely chopped onion / 2 fresh hot green chiles, diced / 1/2 cup chopped cilantro / 1/2 cup mayonnaise / 1 t. cayenne pepper / ground black pepper / about 10 slices whole wheat bread, lightly toasted

  1. Preheat the broiler. Stir together all the ingredients except the bread.
  2. Spread the mixture on the toast slices and place on a baking sheet.
  3. Broil until the cheese is melted and slightly brown, about 3 or 4 minutes.
  4. Serve hot. Delicious with mango chutney.



LEFT BEHIND

Everyone needs ways to use up all that leftover turkey from Thanksgiving and Christmas, methods to incorporate perfectly good remains into tantalizing dishes far removed from the traditional meal served a few days prior. This year Cafe Drake went outside of the box and south of the border with these post-celebration concoctions: we boiled the turkey carcass to create a rich stock, then filled it with a handful of brown rice, sliced poblano peppers, chopped carrots and fried tortilla strips. Season with some fresh lime juice, a dried chile or two and chopped cilantro and you've got a delicious bowl of Mexican penicillin. Finely diced white meat was tossed with mayo and chipotle peppers to create turkey salad, incomparably good atop toasted wheat bread and crowned with cooling cranberry sauce. The remaining dark flesh of the bird was minced and added to leftover mashed potatoes, then formed into patties, dipped in a beaten egg, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried until golden brown.



GASTRONOMIC CINEMA

For those who care, head over to MSN's feature on the Ten Best Films About Food: http://movies.msn.com/movies/dvd/food?GT1=7701&. [Note: Link posted strangely here - you may need to include the final, unhighlighted ampersand in the blue-toned link above to view properly. Cut and paste as required.] You will need to hurry as these quirky articles rarely stay posted past a few weeks, and given the predictable nature of most of the selected movies - combined with a snarky tone - this may not be a tragedy. Still, it's alot of fun if only to scream back at the egregious omissions and yawn-inducing, shopworn standards so highly praised. Examples of laziness include odes to the ultra-obvious classics like Big Night and Good Fellas; kudos for the inclusion of the BEST film ever about the pleasures of dining, Babette's Feast, and the witty cheekiness of numbers 3 and 4, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989) and Ravenous (1999) (we would have gone even further out on a limb of morbidity and added The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973), The Hills Have Eyes (1976), the raw liver and tannis root smoothies of Rosemary's Baby (1967) and the cringing taboo scenes of family consumption from Night of the Living Dead (1968)). Sadly neglected are Like Water for Chocolate (1992) and John Ford's masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath (1945), where we are reminded of a period in American history when the next meal was not promised.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Home(Cooked) (Cocktail Snacks) for the Holidays


Everyone needs a few nibbling food recipes on hand during the holiday season, as guests stop by for seasonal cheer. The two simple recipes below will make sure your friends and family graze happily while opening presents, admiring the Christmas tree or toasting to the New Year.

POMEGRANATE MARINATED OLIVES

The simple recipe for pomegranate syrup can be found below on this page or under the November 2006 archives located via links on the right. Double the recipe and keep these olives on hand to add interest to stews and stir-fries.

2 cups cracked green olives / 1 small onion, chopped / 1/3 cup pomegranate syrup / 2 T. oil / 1 T. tomato paste

  1. Combine onions and olives in a large bowl.
  2. In another bowl stir the remaining ingredients together, blending well. A whisk will help.
  3. Combine the two, stir and refrigerate AT LEAST for 24 hours.
  4. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

SIMMERED CHORIZO SAUSAGES

This is our attempt at recreating a beloved tapa at the late (and much mourned) Spanish restaurant Aiolli, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

1 lb. dry chorizo sausage, sliced in thin rounds / 5-7 cloves garlic, sliced / 1 small can tomato sauce / 5-6 dried whole red chiles / 1 t. whole black peppercorns / 1 bay leaf / 1 T. sugar / 1-3 T. water

  1. Place all ingredients in a saucepan, preferably a ceramic glazed pot.
  2. Bring to a boil, stir well and cover.
  3. Reduce to a very low simmer and cook 30 minutes. You may need to add water to keep the mixture from becoming too thick. The liquid should have the consistency of a very hearty broth.
  4. Serve piping hot with wedges of good crusty bread (baguette, Italian, rustic whole wheat all work well).

Chicken Malay


Cafe Drake's recent lunch at Sunset Park's Nyonya put us in the mood for Malaysian; we dug up the recipe below from an old index card in our recipe box. Notes jotted in the margins were: "Add 1-2 T. cayenne pepper" and "Remove skin from chicken prior to cooking." We trust these suggestions still apply.

Ayam Masak Merah (Red-Cooked Chicken)

3 lb whole chicken, cut into 8-10 parts / 2 tbsp turmeric powder /1 tbsp salt /1 cup red onions, chopped /2 tbsp ginger, grated /4 cloves garlic, minced /1 can tomato puree /½- cup chili paste /3 tbsp hot chili sauce /1 cup tomato ketchup /2 tbsp dark sweet soy sauce /1 large onion, cut into rings /½ tbsp sugar and salt to taste /2 cups water /3-4 kaffir lime leaves (optional) /vegetable oil for pan frying

  1. Smear chicken pieces with turmeric powder and salt and let it stand for about 40 minutes.
  2. Heat oil in a wok to fry the chicken till light golden brown. Drain and keep aside.
  3. Add red onions, ginger, garlic and chili paste and stir-fry. Add tomato puree, dark soy sauce, hot chili sauce and salt and sugar.
  4. Add lime leaves (we skipped these) and 2 cups of water and let the sauce boil.
  5. Reduce on low flame for about 10 minutes. Add fried chicken pieces and bring to a boil.
  6. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
  7. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve on a bed of hot steamed rice. (While not authentic, we used brown rice.)