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.