Friday, February 29, 2008
Oak Cafe (361 Graham Ave (between Conselyea St & Metropolitan Ave), Brooklyn, NY 11211 (718) 387-1245
Cafe Lyon (351 E 12th St (between 1st Ave & 2nd Ave), New York, NY 10003 (212) 375-8483)
Williamsburg's Graham Ave has been a stretch of old school real estate slow to adapt to the neighborhood's shift from Italian working class community to upwardly mobile yuppie stomping grounds; most of the shops within, say a 15-block stretch, have existed for 25+ years: pizza parlors, cafes brewing real old world espresso at half the Starbucks' price, funeral homes, Italian butchers and delis. A few early adopters settled this area a few years back, but with disappointing results (an atrocious new American restaurant Fanny's, a tasteless vegan slop kitchen, Mighty Diamond, two dive bars of non-interest, Daddy's and R Bar) or at best mediocre success (Loco Burrito does decent Tex-Mex if you order selectively and keep a salt shaker handy). Cue the long overdue wine bar with small bites and few bigger plates, Oak Cafe.
Warmth exudes from behind curtained doors and windows when approaching the cafe, glowing from dozens of tiny votives or dimly suffused with sunlight in the afternoon. Coziness is a key feature in this sort of woody and dark decor and when done stylishly = brownie points. Luckily the food if not spectacular is not disappointing either, committed to tried and true standards, executed well and without a pretense of pointless experimentation. An exception would be the Olive Oil Ice Cream with Salted Caramel ($6): Thordis A pronounced it absolutely rich - if not sweet - enough to qualify as a decadent dessert. Otherwise, you order a Turkey Club ($8), you get a Turkey Club, but a really really nice one with fresh-baked turkey, ripe tomatoes, smoky thick-cut bacon and creamy avocado. Same for the Grilled Four-Cheese Sandwich ($8), sided by a mound of lightly-dressed mixed greens. Everything tastes clean and fresh and seems to have sprung from a spotless kitchen. Recently a Main Course salad of Greens, Goat Cheese and Chili-Roasted Pecans ($9) also got a thumbs-up of approval. Only three or so wines are served by the glass, odd for a restaurant extolling its voluminous cellar, but all are decent and the red and white variety are priced nicely at $5.
Why oh why must it have been the coldest night of the year when Cafe Drake and Jen Lazzaro braved the frigid streets for Unconditional, Brett Leonard's new play at The Public Theatre. Ostensibly concerned with the burden of race in NYC but hampered by abundant cliches, the play - with a blasting soundtrack and convulsive lighting - nonetheless whetted our appetites for classic bistro fare at nearby Cafe Leon. Cafe L was an old haunt back in the proverbial day for us, that quaint brick-lined (vaulted ceilings as well!) neighborhood oasis reliable for well-priced simple French cooking. Today, the prices have escalated and some of the charm faded, but soothing candles and a nice bottle of Cotes du Rhone ($29) warmed us up and smoothed the edges. Soon the edge would slightly return via a personable yet saucy server, too familiar as a waiter but a nice guy we're sure! All was quite good: Pan-Grilled Calamari doused with butter and lemon and charred to perfection ($8), creamy Tuna Tartare ($11) that could have used toast points to scoop up the rich mash and somewhat dry but flavorful and tender Moules Frites ($15). As it should always be at any decent bistro, the fries (extra order for $5) were outstanding and addictive.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Need a light and rustic dish for that next Tuscan-inspired dinner party? How about a warming, simple dinner after work? When ladled in an elegant thin sheet upon a wide bowl, this recipe can prove an exciting starter to any home-prepared feast; if paired with toasted slices of ciabatta or an olive-studded sourdough round bread, the soup can take center stage on a harried weeknight. As a quick main course, Cafe Drake followed soup and bread with fresh pears and walnuts and a syrupy, thick Port.
Naturally, feel free to substitute vegetable stock for the chicken as below. Vegans could give it a whirl, but the final result minus thickening and robust Gruyere is almost unimaginable. Bling Queens jonesing for a dinner party luxe touch might consider a drizzle of truffle oil over each of the steaming bowls.
[Ed. Note: we added numbers to the steps below and ingredients listed above instructions per many recent requests for a return to the old form.]
SPINACH AND MUSHROOM SOUP
1/2 lb. plain white mushrooms, chopped fine / Salt / 1 clove of garlic, minced / 1 T. fresh thyme (if using dried, 1/2 a T perhaps? More if you like) / 1 T. butter / Black Pepper / 1 large bag of rinsed spinach / 3 cups or so chicken broth / about 3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese
- Wipe mushrooms clean with a wet paper towel or cloth before chopping. In a dry skillet, saute mushrooms with a big pinch of salt until they release their liquid. Turn heat to very high and cook until liquid is completely evaporated. Stir in - off heat - butter, thyme and garlic.
- Separately, throw rinsed spinach in a pan with a tiny splash of water and cook until fully wilted, about 2 minutes on high heat. Puree spinach in blender using a drop or two of water if needed to process to a paste.
- Heat stock in a saucepan, add pureed spinach and mushroom mixture and cook at a simmer for 10 minutes or until thickened slightly.
- ON VERY LOW HEAT, stir in cheese and mix till dissolved. Do not allow soup to boil and serve very warm with croutons or bread slices.
Monday, February 25, 2008
It's been awhile since we dropped an homage dinner and
still they've remained one of the most popular features with kind visitors emailing their approval. A confession: back in 2005 - the literal infancy of Cafe Drake the Website - our first idea for such an homage dinner was to honor Tilda Swinton, an actress whose career we've diligently followed since 1986's art house masterpiece Caravaggio. Subsequently we raced to every other film Swinton made with her personal auteur, the late great Derek Jarman.
After Sunday nights' wildly unexpected Academy Award win and the surreal experience of seeing Tilda on that stage, the time has come for a Cafe Drake tribute in earnest.
After Derek Jarman's untimely passing, Swinton began production on a documentary detailing his illustrious talent over 25+ years, not yet content to drop her status as Jarman's ultimate muse. Even years later when she served the same inspirational function for designers Viktor & Rolf, and finally broke into the Hollywood studio system, Tilda remained fiercely independent, largely sequestered in her native Scotland, more interested in films that challenged viewers rather than pandered to them with convenient, conventional storylines. It is this intellectual pride, combined with the fiercest features seen on a large screen in over 30 years, that keep Cafe Drake enthralled with Ms. Swinton, savoring every magazine spread and cinematic endeavor she graces with her royal beauty.
We'll stop now because we may never quit gushing once started on the subject of Tilda, but provide a selective filmography below and a menu we'd prepare if ever so honored by her presence at Cafe Drake.
Required Viewing: Carravagio (1986); The Last of England (1988); Edward II (1991); Orlando (1992); Love is the Devil (1998); The Deep End (2001)
[Most available on Netflix!!]
DINNER EN HOMAGE TILDA SWINTON
Rob Roys (you know, basically, Manhattans made with Scotch whiskey)
Scottish Smoked Salmon with Buckwheat Silver Dollar Pancakes and Creme Fraiche
Parsnips with Butter and Chervil
Salad of Wild Greens
Scottish Sheep's Milk Cheddar
Baked Quinces in Cream and Honey
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Though not technically a curry, this cauliflower side dish draws heavily from Indian flavors. Exploit its versatility by combining with almost any entree, such as the mustard-crusted baked chicken seen above.
Heat 3 T. oil in a large skillet and when hot, add 1 T. brown mustard seeds. When seeds begin to pop, add 1 T. cayenne pepper and 1 T. cumin and 1 t. turmeric powder.
Stir for a minute or so then add 1 head of cauliflower, chopped into small florets. Stir again until all of the vegetable is well coated with spices and oil.
Add 1/4 cup of water, some kosher salt and black pepper to taste, then cover and cook on medium until tender. This should take no more than 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and let cool slightly. When warm but not hot, stir in about 1/4 cup of yogurt and serve at once.
Reheat very gently so as to not curdle the yogurt.
It's been too long since Cafe Drake sprang some cocktail recipes on ya'll, so here goes a few based on that nostalgic classic - Southern Comfort. If nostalgia for this particular liquor conjures up memories of high school party sickness on darkened lawns, substitute bourbon for now, but be aware you're gonna have to face and conquer those demons eventually.
Scarlett O' Hara
A favorite of Cafe Drake's Mother, we mixed many before we actually could drink them.
Place 2 jiggers of Southern Comfort and 1 of cranberry juice into a cocktail shaker. Add plenty of ice and the juice of half a lime. Shake well and strain into chilled martini or cocktail glass.
Rather dry considering the use of Southern Comfort, and best alongside a simple snack such as salted peanuts or cocktail sausages.
Pack a tall thin glass with chipped ice and pour in 2 jiggers of Southern Comfort. Fill to top with grapefruit juice.
The Comfort of Bourbon
Our 1 jigger each of bourbon and Southern Comfort over crushed ice in a small highball glass. Add a spritz of lemon juice and serve with a twist of the peel.
Here's how you actually do in 15 minutes: first bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Throw in a box of whole wheat corkscrew pasta (or ziti, penne, fusilli etc). Now heat 3-4 T. olive oil in a large skillet and gently brown 2 cloves of chopped garlic and a few dried chiles. Throw in a bag of pre-washed spinach and stir till wilted. Salt generously and cook for a few minutes.
When pasta is ready, drain and set aside while you stir 2 cups of ricotta cheese into the spinach. Throw pasta in skillet, toss very well and serve topped with grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese. A light sprinkling of grated nutmeg is also nice.
Friday, February 22, 2008
A few more bites - or "small plates" for you to wrap your heads around from the ever-fragmented mind of Cafe Drake.
After owning a copy for 15+ years, Cafe Drake finally cracked open the 20th-century classic The Immoralist by Andre Gide. Sometimes you know more about an author than their actual work (Wilde, Genet anybody??) and are pre-disposed to their prose prior to actual consumption. Now we know our Gent and Wilde but has Gide has arrived as a revelation, a writer concerned more with living and practical philosophy than literature perhaps, but deeply compelling all the same. Get thyself one of the million copies of this stalwart text and learn the reason why it remains so relevant today. An essay in the power of the Now, The Immoralist pushed our existing beliefs to the next level, and confirmed any notion we harbored that sensual pleasure via food, drink and tactile excess is to be savored guiltlessly and with reverence.
A heady, wonky treatise is just the thing for a winter's read, when we eschew the potboiling (Q: How many snarky food references can we insinuate in a website devoted to food you may wonder? A: Thousands!) purple prose of summer's trashy page-turner novels. Nassim Nicholas Taleb has turned out a tome for the permanent home library, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Listen kids, Life turns on a dime as we all know, and this book explains Why and How and the best method of dealing with daily unpredictability. Now who doesn't need that? Easy to read but demanding of further thought, Taleb's theory espoused teaches and encourages us to imagine the impossible. So now we're imagining a perfect cheese souflee at Cafe Drake.
Just when we're ready to sink into a difficult novel, oops Steven Millhauser did it again. No surprise from the low-key author of so many eerie yet oddly moving books, and Millhauser has returned to his most successful form - the short story - with another collection of creepily beautiful tales sure to haunt every sensitive psyche out there. Dangerous Laughter resounds with the gorgeous prose we've loved for 15 years, and tosses out like candy from a pinata - i.e. random, projectile missiles - tales more akin to modern fable than today's spare, self-congratulating short fiction.
To those addicted to party favors, pick up a copy of The Family That Couldn't Sleep (by D. T. Max) and be grateful your insomnia is chemically induced. A real-life mysterious illness with antecedents over four centuries old, this study of prion disease is fascinating and heartbreaking and illuminating and a quick read at the same time.
Grab yourself some stunning free tunes and then go buy the CDs from Sam Amidon at his website. Intriguing video clips and homemade short films abound as well.
Of course Radio Cafe Drake - FIRZ FM remains your preeminent source for live streaming music, but damn if Samuri FM is not hot on our heels (though on a different sound wave altogether). Before it's taken down treat thyself to a live mix from the jaw-dropping DJ duo of Caspa and Rusko, Leeds' lads who did the unthinkable and converted us to a loathed musical genre; Cafe Drake has spent a short lifetime defending our right to not have to listen to dub tone, dub house or spacey dub reggae - even when being graciously hosted in the homes of potheads - but C & R re-invent the sound by utilizing only the funnest (is that a word? is it spelled correctly if so? do we care?) aspects of dancehall distortion technology, wrapping listeners in a world of eclectic crate-digging bliss. While at Samurai also play Daniel Meteo's anniversary mix for consistently genius Shitkapult Records. Celebrating a decade of releases on the same label is Hakan Libdo, who we haven't heard from in a long time, but prove still hawter than hawt after all these years.
FAVORITE INGREDIENT OF THE MONTH
Dahi Chiles are a local speciality of India's Gujarat region, but happily for us available at all better Indian groceries and supermarkets. Dried and slightly intimidating with their wizened, pale appearance, these are not dried chiles common to many of the recipes here at Cafe Drake. Rather than adding to stews or soups, or in the Mexican versions, soaking then pureeing for sauces and seasoning pastes, dahi chiles are fried quickly in a decent amount of oil till re-crisped fully then thrown atop dhal, lentil soup or simply snacked on alongside any food needing a kick. The chiles attain their rather unique flavor - mild in heat but salty and deliciously tangy - through a process of being air-dried after soaking in yogurt and salt for several days. A $2 bag is huge and will last forever.
From the mind of Cafe Drake pal Meridith Pingree comes another new show. Details from the press release are below. Why not show up at the opening and say Hi to the artist (and Cafe D as well)?
unDrawn : Lucas Monaco and Meridith Pingree
This exhibit seeks to engage critical interest in drawing and asks the viewer to entertain the question of what a drawing can be. Drawing, in this exhibition, is seen as a verb and not a noun. Drawing, as a verb, can be observing, mark-making, delineating, setting boundaries, gesturing, abstracting, and pulling out, in a variety of media.
Marymount Manhattan College Hewitt Gallery of Art221 East 71st Street, NY, NY 10021February 25th - March 25th
opening reception: February 28th 6 - 8pm
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
A cold winter rain fell as Cafe Drake traversed the Sunday evening chaos of Manhattan's Chinatown (without even an umbrella-ella-ella . . . sorry we couldn't resist . . .will ANYONE ever pronounce the word the same again?? And judging from Rihanna's continued flawless public appearances and preternatural beauty, can we be from Barbados too? Seriously, we want to be Barbadian judging from the looks of Rihanna.) to end up happily tucked into the sofa of Chris Hart's apartment, better known to web guests here as 312 Sq Ft.
And what Christine can do with such a small amount of real estate! Cafe D and Octavio and Bubblyfish (seen above) all scarfed Roasted Cauliflower and Cashew starters (piqued by dried red chiles) whilst slurping Passionfruit and Vodka cocktails.
A main course of Roasted Duck with Tamarind Sauce, Red Snapper Tagine, couscous and Sauteed Honey and Mustard Spinach all tastily preceded an elegant dessert of creamy goat cheese drizzled with honey, sesame flatbread crackers and dried apricots (complimented by cordials of Frangelico).
Spicy German white varietals and bubbly cava were consumed alongside the home-cooked feast to great effect. Perhaps most enchanting of all of course was 312's amicable mascot - Ronnie, the 3-Legged FluffBall of an endearing cat.
See our sister site 312 Sq Ft for the recipe for succulent duck! Also, check out lovely dining companion Bubblyfish's website featuring her extensively played and celebrated 8-bit electronica. If you really want to dance or need a cooler-than-thou soundtrack for your next shindig, see Bubblyfish's MySpace page for additional floor-thumping tunes and say Hello - tell her Cafe Drake sent you!
Busy hubby, Dad to two great kids (Audrey and Julian Sellers) and posh store manager David Sellers - not to mention decades ++++ buddy of Cafe Drake - stopped by recently for the sort of casual weeknight dinner so easy with longtime good friends.
Manhattans were sipped at the kitchen table (stoked with brilliant Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, aged 13 years in single barrels from Frankfort, Kentucky, courtesy of David . . . and, courtesy of David, shockingly 100 proof!) and knoshed down with aged provolone chunks marinated in olive oil and fresh basil as we caught up on current Life Events and smoked ciggies with impunity.
Crisp Pinot Grigio (also from D. S.) complimented a meal of Lasagne with 3 Cheeses and Virginia Ham and a side of sauteed yellow squash, zucchini and tender baby stringbeans.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Cafe Drake got all Kwa in the kitchen last weekend with a West African meal drawn from classic Ghanaian cuisine, largely untranslated and authentic, cobbled together from a handful of African cooking resources. Spiced nuts kicked off the festivities, along with tart Grapefruit Martinis. Dinner itself was served in a large single course typical to Ghana dining traditions: a rice and vegetable "loaf" baked with eggs, cheese, peppers and cream; red snapper fillets stewed in an oil and vinegar sauce, tangy cabbage salad and broiled tomatoes dusted with cinnamon and drizzled with honey. Espresso and chocolate and licorice and iTunes singalongs and pose-striking capped off another fun-filled night with Miki.
FISH IN OIL AND VINEGAR SAUCE
Cafe Drake used red snapper here because we love its full flavors and delicate texture, but tilapia, flounder or even sea trout would work just as well. Avoid thick cuts such as tuna, salmon, mahi-mahi etc. The flavors of early Portuguese settlers are abundant in the classic recipe below.
2 lbs. fish fillets / 1 lemon / salt and pepper / flour / 1 cup olive oil / 1/2 green pepper cut in rings / 2 large onions cut in rings / 4 bay leaves / 2 cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole / 2 hot peppers of your choice, chopped / 1/2 cup white vinegar
- Rub the fillets with lemon juice.
- Season fillets with salt and pepper (generously) then dredge lightly in flour.
- Add to hot oil in deep skillet and fry on each side for 2 minutes or until brown.
- Remove fish and add all other ingredients to the skillet.
- Bring to a boil and cook for 1-2 minutes, return fish to pan and cover.
- Cook on low heat for 5-10 minutes.
- Serve very warm with rice.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Mega-talented Miwa is not only an extraordinary hostess and chef, but a First Place Winner in the national "champagne chair" model contest sponsored by Design Within Reach and Apartment Therapy. Her top design, a lounge chair crafted from champagne cork and label, will tour 5 cities in the U.S., but Cafe Drake was lucky enough to celebrate the event at DWR's flagship store in Brooklyn Heights. A heavy snowfall did not deter well wishers seen above including Miwa's hubby Kevin and friends Miki S, Jorge and Andrew and Cafe D ourselves. Please join us all in Congrats to Miwa and revel in the numerous toasts of bubbly directed M's way. Celebrations continued afterwards at a local curry house.