Monday, May 28, 2007

Sailor in Summer


Sailor Page, a true "indoor cat", seen above cooling off under the shade of a console table.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Night at Cafe Thordis












We're very lucky that Cafe Thordis is only a hop and a skip away, especially on sweltering summer nights when the span of five city blocks seems like a crawl through an infernal sauna. Greeted at the door with a blast of a/c and a cheerful David H., Cafe Drake proceeded to spend a cool evening filled with good food, wine and fellowship. Thordis and David prepared fresh pasta topped with assorted summer veggies and a salad comprised of baby greens, sweet pea tendrils and fresh mint dressed in a soy vinaigrette. Dessert was a platter of Dutch cheeses and Icelandic wild moss schnapps. Good coffee, lots more wine and a quick lesson in ballroom dancing rounded out a lovely dinner party.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

David Sellers: Birthday Boy



















Recently Cafe Drake gathered with friends to celebrate the ???th birthday of David Sellers, dining in the moody lighting of Chimu's sequestered courtyard. Peruvian cuisine reigns supreme at Williamsburg's Chimu, with an especial emphasis on seafood and steak. Surf and turf aptly describes the festive meal, and see above photos of David, Natalie, Octavio (curiously, captured throughout the night reacting to the tartness of the acidic seasonings - or perhaps Cafe Drake's equally bracing repartee), Christine and yours truly. Our feast began with gianormous pitchers of spiced Sangria and fried calamari (topped with citrusy sliced onions and partnered with a fiery chimichurra sauce), followed by a mixed seafood ceviche. Entrees included tender, marinated strip steak flash-fried with tomatoes and peppers, then tossed improbably enough with perfect fries! Also: a paella of tomato rice studded with more seafood and a filet of fried red snapper blanketed in a rich cream sauce and buried beneath clams, mussells, crab legs, shrimp and tender calamari. Happy Birthday was sung to the tune of large wedges of tiramisu and more Sangria. Join us in wishing David another happy and healthy year ahead.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Viva Domingoes Mexicanos









Cafe Drake cooked for a day and a half for our visiting California guest of honor, longtime galpal extraordinaire Yolanda Hunt, only to find dear Yolie had to return last minute to Southern Cali for family business. Not to worry as we've rescheduled for early June and look forward to posting pics of our beloved friend of a well over a decade. Hating to waste good food we invited neighbor and cheery mate Miki-san over to help us with the volominous prepared portions, and photos above and menu below (weird spacing as usual - we apologize as we can't seem to exterminate this particular software bug) illustrate the fabulous time we always have when Ms. Shimada drops by. Did it hurt that Cafe Drake had already scarfed two Rob Roys before our guest's arrival? We think not. And Sailor Page as always joined in on the merriment.




SUNDAY NIGHT MEXICAN FIESTA


Venetian Sidecars
Spiced and Toasted Fava Beans


Watercress Salad with Apricot Dressing and Cotija Cheese


Beef Stew with Nopales (cactus) and Tomatilloes
Guajillo Chile Brown Rice
Espresso
Frangelico
Lemon Wafers

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Salad Days





Put away the stews and say hello to summery salads! With Memorial Day and the official beginning of the season a mere week away, it's time to lighten our menus and cool off the kitchen (not to mention fitting into last year's swimsuit). A beautifully tossed green salad is at the top of everyone's Well-Dressed list, but try a few other variations beyond the lettuce and tomato standards.







GASCONY SALAD


A perfect choice of salad for tableside preparation, being fun to assemble and long on panache. A "chapon" of French bread is the heel, the crusty end part that often gets wasted after the loaf has been sliced.




1 large head of curly endive (or chicory), well washed and torn into bite-size pieces / 1 chapon of French bread, rubbed deeply with a clove of garlic / 2 T. olive oil / 1 T. red wine vinegar / tarragon, fresh or dried to taste / Salt and pepper / 3 anchovies, minced very fine




  1. Place the curly endive in a large bowl along with the chapon.



  2. Thoroughly blend the remaining ingredients and add to the large salad bowl.



  3. Toss well until the garlic scent from the bread permeates throughout the salad.



  4. Discard the chapon and serve salad on chilled plates.





REMOLACHA


A salad still popular today in Madrid and throughout Spain, this is a nice side to spicy seafood or poultry in any tomato-based sauce. At Cafe Drake we only make it about once a year, but always preceeding fried calamari.



4 beets, boiled, peeled and sliced into thin rounds / 2 cold potatoes, prepared the same / 4 scallions, green and white chopped / very small handful of parsley, chopped / 3 T. olive oil / 1 T. wine vinegar / salt and pepper





  1. Place beets, potatoes, scallions and parsley in a large bowl.



  2. Combine remaining ingredients into a dressing.



  3. Pour dressing over vegetables and toss quickly.



  4. Check for seasoning and add salt if needed.



  5. Serve at once, well chilled.






WELSH LEEK SALAD

If you've never tried leeks in their raw state, you've been missing a mild delicate flavor altogether different from the cooked version. Cafe Drake makes this salad only from the freshest of leeks purchased at our local greenmarket, the thinner the better. Clean very very well as this vegetable holds loads of hidden sand and grit within its fiberous stems.

1 head Romaine lettuce, washed and torn into small pieces / 3 leeks, washed, white parts and tender green portion only, sliced razor thin / 1 large tomato, roughly chopped / 1 T. chervil, chopped / 1 T. basil, chopped / 1 T. olive oil / 2 T. cider vinegar / salt and pepper

  1. Place lettuce, leeks, tomato and herbs in a large salad bowl.
  2. Combine remaining ingredients to form a dressing.
  3. Toss veggies with dressing until all lettuce leaves are well coated.






(Mini) Restaurant Reviews: May 2007



Momofuku Ssam Bar (207 Second Avenue, New York City, 212/254-3500)

Johnny's Cafe (632 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 718/389-6664)

Quantum Leap (203 First Avenue, New York City, 212/673-9848)



Momofuku Ssam Bar is that extraordinary oddity unique to New York, a restaurant of casual dining, featuring long communal benches, paper menus and wooden chopsticks, and perversely tagging appetizers of four steamed asparagus spears topped with a soft fried egg with a price of $17. Only three wines available by the glass, starting at $11 a pop, an aged sirloin for two costing $150 and I think you're starting to get the idea of the perverse dichotomy that rules at Momofuku. The presentation of the bill may cause you to rename the restaurant, with a string of vowels and consonants conveniently adaptable to profanity, no? Now that the bitching is over, let us say Cafe Drake and visiting dear friend Amee Simmons-Spondike spent a lovely evening here sampling abundantly from the Spring menu. Not to be missed are the Pork Buns ($9), quickly gaining legendary local status and deservedly so; two tiny wedges of snow-white baby soft breading enclose thick slices of slow-braised pork shoulder, dense with alarming amounts of fat; more disturbing is the buttery texture rendered from careful cooking that makes these artery cloggers slide down like, well, um, butter. Braised Rice Cakes ($14) arrive coated with housemade sausage and crispy shallots and exotic herbage, delicious and filling and uncharacteristically large in portion. The bizarre creations known as "ssam" ($12) are essentially moo shu pancakes wrapped burrito-style around perfect rice, more roast pork and spicy peppers. An entree of Skirt Steak ($23) was sizable enough as well – tender, moist and bolstered with two of the best condiments imaginable: sweet onion jam and creamy ginger and scallion sauce. Loads of seafood and a few salads round out a supremely quirky menu (radish and butter-stuffed breads, plates of cured hams from Appalachia, tripe with fried cilantro, tongue with fruit confit) that boldly states in print: “The kitchen is not vegetarian friendly”.


Cafe Drake long ago stopped trying new Polish restaurants in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, having discovered a favorite and finding offerings almost identical and similar in quality. Johnny's Cafe is the semi-rarity with a complex, striving to be slightly more upscale in design, plating and the unsuccessful addition of a few Continental standards (Veal Scallopine, Tilapia with Cilantro Sauce etc). You can't however take the Iron Curtain completely out of the cuisine, as bread is delivered to the table (warm sourdough, quite good) accompanied by a bowl of lard. Yikes! Perogoies ($6 for 5) were average but starting cocktails surreal; $8 buys burgeoning alcoholics a Manhattan comprised of roughly a pint of top-shelf bourbon. We fought the desire for a second, valiant in our efforts only as the wall sconces grew softer and fuzzier. Hungarian pancakes ($8) were delicious, being fried latkes wrapped around a beef goulash bursting with sweet peppers and onions. The ubiquitous pork cutlet ($9) was tender and acceptable. All entrees come with sauerkraut and salad.


Cafe Drake has no desire to show our age really, but we were regular diners at Quantum Leap in the late 1980s. The Greenwich Village health food standby has opened an outpost further east, but retaining the same menu and standard of quality. Pointless perhaps unless one eschews meat or follows a strict dietary regimen of organic produce prepared with minimal fat and sodium, a visit to QL is a lot less painless than the punishing austerity of nearby vegan legend Caravan of Dreams. Meatless Blue Corn Nachos ($7.95) with soy cheese are surprisingly tasty, while the Lemongrass Chicken ($11.95) made from vegetarian wheat gluten is almost delicious. Brunch is the best meal of the day, however; don't skip the veggie sausage links, yam fries or whole wheat waffles.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Beverage of the Month (May 2007)


Assolutamente amiamo the Venetian digestif Elisir Gambrinus, a drink of alternately subtle and virile flavor depth - contradictory, challenging and delicious. Composed of grappa, a single obscure Northern Italian grape varietal and a mysterious and secret blend of wild herbs so common to European cordials, apertifs and liqueurs ( i.e. Chartreuse, Benedictine, Campari, even Dubonnet). Two flavoring agents which have been divulged over the years (first distilled in the 17th century) are wild blackberry leaves and violets. Do you already love it? Search for a bottle and wow guests at the end of a meal with small glasses of the chilled ambrosia - and tell them Cafe Drake sent you.

Dinner with Octavio & David





It's always a lovely evening when two old friends stop by Cafe Drake for a school night meal, especially when said friends - Octavio Fenech and David Sellers, who you know well from this website - go back with us well over a decade and continue to grow dearer and nearer as Life progresses. Another added bonus of this guest list is the delight of two palettes always open to adventure and bold flavors, thus the strongly spiced South Indian meal as documented below, drawing from classic street fare of Mumbai to the Goan peninsula area. Beverages were supplied by the visiting gentlemen, both of which paired well with the spicy fare: a jammy Australian Syrah/Cabernet mix and a Springy dry rose.




TUESDAY NIGHT SOUTH INDIAN STAPLES DINNER




Spiced Fried Chickpeas
Clove and Cinnamon Scented Red Wine with Tropical Fruits


Utthapam (Rice Flour and Buttermilk Savoury Pancakes)
Zucchini Yogurt Salad with Curry Leaves
Masala Potato Salad
Empress Dhal
Onion Relish
Cranberry-Mango Chutney
Garlic Pickles


Recycled Fudge Pie
Espresso

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sunday BBQ Brunch







Jennifer Lazzaro popped over on a recent sunny Sunday to Cafe Drake, whereupon we wasted no time toasting Spring with a chilled glass of dry sherry. Southern staples comprised a menu of pulled pork - Carolina BBQ style - braised brocolli rabe and potato salad, washed down with a 2005 Macon-Villages Chardonnay courtesy of Jen. Coffee and fudge pie rounded out lunch and left us satisfied and ready for a nap or afternoon with the papers.


NORTH CAROLINA PULLED PORK BBQ

Since the oven is the last thing we want heating up Cafe Drake during warm weather, this ingenius recipe utilizes a slow-cooker to do most of the work overnight. Season to your personal taste with more or less hot pepper and brown sugar.

1 3-4 lb. pork shoulder / cayenne pepper / 1/2 can tomato paste / 1 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar / 1/2 onion, chopped / 1/2 cup brown sugar / 2-4 hot chile peppers, chopped
  1. Rinse pork shoulder, pat dry and sprinkle liberally with cayenne pepper.

  2. Place in dry crock pot on Low for 10-12 hours.

  3. Remove pork shoulder from crock pot, shred meat and discard fat (there will be ALOT).

  4. Combine all remaining ingredients in a saucepan on stove and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Add sauce to pork, heat through, season with salt and serve.




FUDGE PIE

A recipe handed down through three generations, Cafe Drake dished up this family favorite drizzled with raspberry syrup. Although the pie cooks at 350 degrees, preheat the oven at 400 and turn down for baking.
1 stick of butter / 2 squares unsweetened baker's chocolate / 1 cup sugar / 1/4 cup flour / 1 pinch salt / 2 eggs, beaten / 1 t. vanilla
  1. Melt chocolate and butter together.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
  3. Pour into a well-greased pie pan.
  4. Place in a 400 degree oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 350.
  5. Bake 20-25 minutes.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

It's All About Apricots



A seasonal favorite just hitting the markets now, apricots can lend their unique blend of sweet and tart flavoring to many different applications. Preserves on muffins and toast supply our fix during the long winters at Cafe Drake, but as soon as the warm weather delivers this sunny fruit, we stock up on the fresh variety and throw them in dishes sweet and savoury. Take advantage of Nature's current largesse with the favorite recipes below.



APRICOT SALAD DRESSING


We get alot of (much appreciated) kudos at Cafe Drake for our salad dressings, and this is a sure-fire hit everytime we serve it, over Boston lettuce with sliced avocadoes or also tossed with chilled pasta and vegetables for a summer salad destined for your next picnic.


2 apricots /2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar /1 Tbsp. sugar /1tbsp fresh basil (or 1 tsp. dry basil) /1 /4 cup vegetable oil


Peel, pit and chop the apricots and throw into a blender with the vinegar, sugar and basil. With the machine on low, SLOWLY pour in the oil until the mixture has thickened nicely.




APRICOT CRUMBLE


Talk about a recipe for lazy people! Now you can never say you're just not good with desserts. Obviously, top with ice cream when serving.


2 cups sliced fresh apricots /1 cup graham-cracker crumbs /1 Tbsp. lemon juice /1/2 cup brown sugar / 2 Tbsp. melted butter /light cream



  1. Combine brown sugar, graham-cracker crumbs, melted butter and lemon juice.

  2. Blend gently with sliced apricots.

  3. Spread in shallow buttered baking dish.

  4. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes.


APRICOT CURRY SHRIMP


Preserves are used here, but a few apricots, chopped and peeled, thrown into the pan during the final minutes of cooking make a lovely addition.


9 Tbsp apricot preserves /4 Tbsp butter, melted /2-1/2 tsp Dijon mustard /1-1/2 tsp rice vinegar / 2-1/2 tsp curry powder /1/2 tsp garlic powder /Pinch cayenne pepper /1-1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled, deveined and butterflied /Kosher salt /Fresh ground pepper



  1. Preheat the broiler.

  2. Combine the apricot preserves, butter, mustard and vinegar in a medium bowl. Add the curry powder, garlic powder and cayenne.

  3. Stir to mix well. Add the shrimp and toss to coat evenly.

  4. Arrange on a aluminum-foil lined baking sheet.

  5. Sprinkle generously with the salt and pepper.

  6. Broil until the prawns become opaque and the coating begins to bubble, about 4 minutes.

  7. Transfer to a serving dish, pour the sauce over the prawns and sprinkle with the cilantro.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Beverage to Brewed Upon


Not the mythical terrain of milk and honey, but rather the blue collar landscape of Polish laborers, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, intersecting with gentrified Williamsburg and growing to resemble our old neighborhood more and more each week, is home to Cafe Drake. And we couldn't be happier with the neighborhood. A certain benefit is the availability of scores of Polish, German, Czech (yes, the real Budweiser) and Russian brews in every corner deli, even if we remain resolute non-beer drinkers. Other than an occasional backyard BBQ in mid-July, we tend to avoid the substance not so much out of distaste but rather the overly filling qualities of even two or three bottles. Call us softies, but any day of the week we'd rather while away a hot afternoon with a well-chilled rose or Pinot Grigio. The exception here has always been the dark viscous liquid known as "stout", whether it's a more common Guinness with a pork roast or plate of nachos, or a microbrew from Boston or Western England. As the temperatures and humidity begin to climb to intolerable levels, Cafe Drake finds itself - oddly enough - cooling off from a Polish brewski shocking armed with a 9.5% alcohol content. The ultimate bang for the buck at $1.85 a pop, Zywiec Porter is the malt of choice these days - dark and creamy and exceptional with tapas of cold cuts and olives or just the company of friends dedicated to high-octane beer. Even better is a bottle opened and gone flat and added to a Belgian-style beef stew of sirloin, mushrooms and flour-dusted onions.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

From the Lens of Miki Shimada (Part II)
















Shutterbug Miki-san has provided Cafe Drake viewers with the photographs above, capturing her sweet (black!) cat Berry, Julian Sellers' first birthday party in nearby McGorlick Park (attended by many familiar faces including Susan and Henry and Baby Sloane and Jorge and Jen Lazzaro and Jen Ruske) and a recent wedding party in downtown Brooklyn. Thanks Miki for the wonderful images! And a Happy Birthday cheer again for Julian at One!