Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Our Love Affair with Green (and Silver)

We're combining two of our favorite things this month at Cafe Drake for our dining pleasure - the vibrancy of the seasonal color green and the foods of India. With the tropical weather our part of the world has been experiencing, the cuisine of the Subcontinent is a perfect foil for sweltering, muggy nights, drawing as it does from that Eastern nation's love of fresh fruit and vegetables. Dressed up through polished silver service and soothing verdant hues in the place settings, Indian cuisine is tasty and stylish enough to please the most discerning Raja.


The pineapple was brought to India in the sixteenth century by the Portuguese, and is dearly loved in the southwest corner of the country. This same region is famous for their fruit and yogurt salads; this variation called Annanaas Raita in the Hindi dialect is probably the most popular dish currently at Cafe Drake with all of our guests. We love it so much we've substituted papaya and nectarines for the pineapple with marvelous results. Try it alongside any baked chicken dish or with a strong-tasting fish entree.

1 small pineapple, peeled, cored and diced / 1 cup plain yougurt / 1/2 t. dry ginger powder / 1 T. chopped cilantro / 2 T. vegetable oil / 1 1/2 t. black mustard seeds / 1/2 t. good curry powder / kosher salt to taste

  1. Blend the yogurt, ginger and cilantro in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a skillet and fry mustard seeds until they "pop" and turn gray. This should take about 1 minute over high heat. Add curry powder, give it a stir and then add to yogurt mixture.
  3. Fold in pineapple, let sit covered in refigerator for an hour or so. Salt to taste and serve well-chilled.


OK, this condiment enlivens almost any dish, but is uncommonly good on boiled new potatoes or with Indian flatbreads. Born and bred in the South, we love it with cornbread and pinto beans.

1 cup thinly sliced onion / 1 cup plain yogurt / 1/2 cup sour cream / 1/4 cup minced mint leaves / 2 hot green chilies / kosher salt

  1. Bring a quart or so of water to a boil and add onions. Take off heat and let side for 15 seconds.
  2. Drain immediately and rinse in cold water.
  3. Place onions in a large bowl, add remaining ingredients and mix well. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Selected Photos

Visual stimuli seems to be what the patrons of Cafe Drake's website hunger for the most at present, so we present a lazy post of pictures new and old. Captions below.

(from Top to Bottom)

Drake with bouillabaisse

Drake at summer dinner table

With Ms. Amee and Thanksgiving turkey

Happy Diners

Cocktails with Asdis & Raggi

A Chinese New Year's Dinner

Decorating cupcakes with Thordis

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Recent Tablesetting at Cafe Drake

See above our avian-themed tablescape, in early summer shades of salmon, cool white and silver.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Washington, DC Dining - Mini-Reviews

Teasim ( 800 Conn. Ave., 202-835-2233 and other locations - www.teaism.com)
Etete (1942 9th St. N.W., 202-232-7600)
Indique (3512-14 Connecticut Ave. N.W., 202-244-6600)

Our nation's capital can be a budget traveler's best friend, with most of the primary sights (including the voluminous, multi-building complex of The Smithsonian Institute) completely free of charge. It's fortunate that visitors can spend several days engrossed in gratis entertainment, considering the relatively high cost of dining in a city stuffed with government employees on bloated salaries. Simply put, because your tax dollars are probably paying for your Congressman's cocktails and tapas platter at Seasons, you may not be able to indulge in some of the District's plethora of fine dining establishments; luckily there are a few moderately-priced options and below you will find descriptions of three.

Rachel Ray has gone along way in putting Teaism on the culinary map; at last count the perky TV personality has brought her camera crew into the casual teahouse/fast food eatery at least two times! Much ado about something we say, for the Teaism chain is not without its good qualities. Conveniently located (Dupont Circle, another just off The Mall) and moderately priced, the bento lunch boxes, sandwiches and wide variety of teas, coffees and tisanes on offer will appeal to those on a tight schedule and budget. A fried chicken bento lunch ($8.95) was quite tasty and attractively presented, if small in portion. Four pieces of poultry are nestled in the lunchbox alongside steamed veggies, seaweed salad and a piquant and unusually savoury tofu dressing. An herbal infusion of mint and rosehips ($2.95) was refreshing though not extraordinary. The less mentioned about the decor the better - Generic Hospital Cafeteria meets Starbucks. (And for the record, we quaffed our morning coffee from the erstwhile Seattle mega-chain located in, yup, a Georgetown hospital!)

Visiting D.C. without eating Ethiopian food is truly a wasted opportunity, as the city boasts more restaurants specializing in the spicy and unique cuisine than any other in the United States (dare we guess more than anywhere in the world outside northern Africa?) Our choice among many was the much-lauded Etete, situated on a schizophrenic stretch of urban sprawl, nestled between high-end design stores and fried chicken joints (and across from a most seedy looking nightclub without windows. Between you and me, on our To-Do list for next visit). We were lucky enough to arrive during Ramadan and the traditional fasting season, lucky because additional vegetarian and fish dishes are prepared strictly for the religious holiday. Of course meat and non-meat platters were sampled, all served on the country's staple - injera (a spongy wheat bread made from the grain tiff, and used in place of cutlery for consuming the meal). My favorite was the special fasting season combo platter ($14.95), consisting of 14 perfectly delightful dishes. Especially intoxicating were the spicy leafy greens; the cold puree of chickpeas and lemon; the molasses-colored lentils, thick with berbere (a combination of sweet spices); expertly braised potatoes and carrots, slicked with butter and studded with chiles and a homemade cheese (a cross between farmer's and ricotta salata). Almost anything on the menu could be shared, so massive are the portions and so rib-sticking the cuisine.

Combining a festive and tasteful atmosphere with elegant and scrumptious food is Cleveland Park's Indique (a mere 15 minute Metro train ride from DuPont Circle). Shockingly priced Manhattans will start the meal off right ($6 for top shelf bourbon), as will a table on the restaurant's second floor (more sedate than the packed and rather noisy ground level seating). A sampling of four appetizers revealed four completely winning small plates: mussels steamed in coconut milk with curry leaves ($7.95), tandoori quail ($7.95), mini oothapams (thin rice flour pancakes) with a variety of chutneys and garnishes ($6.95), pan-seared calamari, glistening with a piquant glaze and brown mustard seeds ($6.95).

Entrees are large and innovative, served on platters with various accompaniments; my favorite side was a cornmeal porridge, a sort of Eastern polenta, buttery and salty and spicy simultaneously. The slow-roasted lamb shank ($19) arrives under a blanket of thick brown sauce, the result of God knows how many exotic spices, with meat literally falling from the bone at a tap. A Goan-style shrimp and scallop curry ($16) is prepared with a lighter touch, accented by citrus and sour flavors characteristic of that coastal state. A special of baby lamb chops ($21) arrived perfectly cooked - bright pink flesh underneath an amber crust of ground sweet spices. Even the Chicken Tikka Makhani ($14) stands out here as superlative, with its characteristic tomato gravy sparked by the tang of yougurt and grated raw onion.

Chances are there will be no room left for dessert, although the choices sounded promising. As it was, we left with happily engorged stomachs and the bonus of substantial doggy bags, laden with leftovers guaranteed to reheat well!