Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Radio Cafe Drake - FIRZ FM Strikes Again

. . . with another mix of (slightly) old and new, inspired by Fassbinder's best melodramas. Check out Very Late April for your latest music fix at work, at dinner, at cocktail time or as an early morning pick-me-up. And if this Spring mix isn't quite to your taste, always hit up FIRZ-FM's Main Page for many, many more options.

Vienna Goulash

So different from Spanish beef stews solidified via tomatoes, or Italian stews crowned with roasted peppers, or German goulashes stocked with potato starch and root veggies, this specifically Austrian goulash uses pork or beef cubes and nothing more than beer and selected seasonings.

Roughly: and you can't go wrong, brown 2 large onions in 2 T. butter till well browned but not charred. Add 2-3 T. paprika, 1 FULL T. dried marjoram and 1 T. caraway seeds and stir for 1 minute.
Deglaze large, deep pan with 1 full bottle of dark beer, then add 2 Lbs. pork or beef cubes, 1-2 t. salt and 1 full T. sugar to mixture. Bring to a boil, add a few whole black peppercorns, a few soaked dried mushrooms (or fresh white ones if all available) and cover, then simmer on low for 2 hours.
If needed, add 1 cup or so stock or water to cover meat.

Serve as we did over oven-roasted Fingerling potatoes or egg noodles or even buttered rice.

Throw Your Hands Up and Sprout

Who knew sprouting lentils and other legumes could be so easy? And rewarding. Use plain brown lentils, yellow split peas, Indian dhal lentils, or do as Cafe Drake and bring new life to tiny French Black Lentils.


Soak ½ cup of lentils in warm water overnight. Change the water every 8 hours or so if you can remember. Drain well in a colander. Line a baking sheet with two layers of dampened paper towels. Place lentils on top, spreading out evenly. Place another layer of dampened paper towels over all and place baking sheet in the oven. Um, off, naturally. For the next 36 hours, EVERY 8 hours (or approximately – no need to set an alarm) dampen the paper towels with a sprinkling of water. Within a day and a half you'll have moist and tender lentils with ½-inch sprouts emerging from the legumes.

Now that you have a platter full of the freshest sprouts imaginable, throw them on top of salads, stuff in pita sandwiches with avocado and grated cheese or, at your next dinner party, try the terribly exotic recipe below as a conversation-sparking side dish. Cafe Drake LOVES these with plain steamed rice and baked fish.


2 T. canola or peanut oil / 1 t. brown mustard seeds / 1 scallion, sliced thinly / 1 fresh hot green chile / about 2 cups lentil sprouts (you'll have enough starting from ½ cup dried lentils and proceeding as above) / ½ t. salt (or more) / splash of fresh lemon juice / black pepper

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet until quite hot. Add mustard seeds and cook just until they begin to pop (about 1 minute). Add scallion.

  2. Stir for about 30 seconds then add chile, sprouts and salt.

  3. Stir-fry for three minutes.

  4. Add lemon and pepper to taste and more salt if needed.

  5. Can be served hot or at room temperature.

Vietnamese Carrot Salad

The only time consuming portion of making this light and refreshing salad is the grating of 5 or 6 carrots. Cafe Drake used a vegetable peeler for a ribbon effect, but you could cut the time in less than half with a food processor and simply shred the veggies. This salad keeps for a week in its marinade, and is wonderfully tasty and decorative atop almost any dish imaginable – above, we piled over toasted Sloppy Joes for a piquant punch and to add color to a (very brown) Austrian goulash (recipe in posting above).

2 cups of water / 4 T. white vinegar / 2 T. sugar / 1 crushed clove of garlic / 1 t. salt / 1 t. cayenne pepper or dried red chiles / 5-6 carrots
  1. In a bowl combine the water, vinegar, sugar, garlic salt and chile pepper. Stir well until sugar dissolves.

  2. Peel the carrots and shred or grate.

  3. Add carrots to vinegar mixture, stir well and refrigerate overnight. If time is short, leave the carrots in marinade for at least 4 hours at room temperature.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Urban Spring (more from the mind of Cafe Drake)

Yet another tour-de-force of stylistic invention and deep, lush morbidity, Joyce Carol Oates's Wild Nights, her 30th collection of short stories is so intelligent, so psychologically astute, it would seem to take nearly a lifetime, not 3 months, to create. Five stories, all based on the final days of famous authors such as Poe, Hemingway and Dickinson, are written in a manner unique to the various figures: a radical conceptual experiment gone very RIGHT in Oates's preternaturally capable hands. Cafe Drake raced through the collection, only to then pour over the also recently released The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982. How the woman has time to daily record eloquent musings on her work, the works of many others and the vagaries of Life seen through a philosopher's eyes is beyond our conception, but the valuable volume offers surgical insight into Oates's mystifying creative process.

Cafe Drake will certainly be at Scandinavia House's current exhibition of contemporary Icelandic artists, for many reasons but not the least of which include pieces by your very own Thordis Adalsteinsdottir. We'll also be certain to stop by the divine cafeteria for a bargain-priced piece of Seafood Lasagna. Grab a bite and brain refresher at the same time and suck up some Nordic grub before perusing the sure-to-be scintillating Scandinavian art.

Things We're Still Not Tired Of: Dennis Quaid, redeemed a few years ago by his thespian star-turn in Todd Haynes' brill Sirkian melodrama Far From Heaven, and now even more genius as a tatty old professor in Smart People. Jog, don't walk, to the nearest theatre to catch an academic debacle painted in celluloid fantasy, directed by Noam Murro . . .peeps saying “mmm-kay” and “for realsy”. That would be Cafe Drake, for realsy. Mmm-kay, what else, oh yes, those pricey ($30) B-12 patches, so much more soul satisfying than the Nicorette variety. . .Gossip Girl, especially now the series has returned after a 4-month hiatus with amphetamine-amped episodes, moving the TV drama into the realm of surreal parody a la Melrose Place and nip/tuck. . .

Julian Turns Two

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dining Down Under (the Williamsburg Bridge)

The Wombat Bar (613 Grand St., Brooklyn, NY 11222)

Australian cuisine has never attained a popular status worldwide, and even in the trend-obsessed world of New York dining, our town has only managed to cough up three or four restaurants given over to down-under dinners. Much of this has to do with a certain vague and undefined nature of the nation's grub; still based around British traditions (roasts, chops) learned in the continent's colonial days, modern adaptations to the diet tend towards the heavy influence of an enormous Asian immigrant population (Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese in particular) or the "BBQ culture" of outdoor cooking so suited to the climate. Other than the dreaded Vegemite sandwich or farmed kangaroo meat, little on Australian plates is of indigenous inspiration. Modern Aussie chefs have sparked a movement to incorporate local ingredients (bush herbs, exotic seeds, alien-looking berries and a few odd fruits) in Sydney and Melbourne, but a recent visit to The Wombat Bar in Southeast Williamsburg yielded few surprises on the menu.

As expected, Asian tropical touches abound, from a Ginger Martini ($7 and not nearly spicy or strong enough; a Blackberry Fizzy Gin Tea, also $7, fared no better) to a slice of Banana Caramel pie for dessert (included in the $20 prix fixe menu available Mon-Fri before 8PM). A competent but curt waitress didn't make our welcome warm, but soon appeared with cocktails, water and an eagerness to grab our order; efficiency is appreciated in a field of work growing more amateurish by the day.

As mentioned, 20 bucks buys three courses, and we began with large salads of shelled pistachios, purple grapes, tender baby lettuces and hunks of creamy goat cheese, lightly tossed in a raspberry vinaigrette. Sure you could make it at home. But would you? An entree of tea-marinated flank steak with sauteed spinach and a pile of homemade onion rings was quite good, with a slightly bitter but salty reduction from the tea, butter-smooth and fork-tender meat and wickedly addictive beer-battered fried onions. Banana pie is no favorite at Cafe Drake, so we were surprised to enjoy a generous slice; as befitting fruit desserts, layers of deep richness and sweet were obtained through the indulgent use of an inch of caramel and blankets of sweetened whipped cream.

Decor is minimal; the long skinny dining room is dominated by a mural of Ayers Rock, lending a strange air of desolation to the already forebodding black concrete walls. We couldn't make this up, kids. A front bar is far more inviting, lit with tiny brass votives and the sounds of Brooklynites swigging beer like perpetually parched Aussies. Wombat Bar won't be winning any Drakies in 2008 (Cafe Drake's First Annual Food & Dining Awards) but a solid, if predictable, neighborhood staple always has a place in our hearts.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Anna Louise Arrives ! !

Cafe Drake's New Jersey cousin Heather and hubby Mark have just welcomed their newest addition to the family, Anna Louise Bochner!! Congrats to the parents and refer above to a photo of the BEAUTIFUL baby girl. Genes don't lie, people!!

Per usual on this site, click (or double-click) picture to make larger and hit your browser's Back button to return to this adorable post.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ice Castles

Recently Cafe Drake swooned, along with an appreciative audience, at Miki S's solo skating performance at the Rockefeller Center ice rink. Beneath a glittering golden Poseidon statue and midtown Manhattan's fog-drenched towering skyscrapers, Miki-san floated across a frozen landscape with the grace and charm we've come to so adore. A few photos above are for the enjoyment of all who could not be in attendance.

The Springy Windmills of Our Mind

Mid-Spring always brings with its sunny days and milder evenings a sort of craziness to Cafe Drake, at once rejuvenating and cleansing, and yet portentous of the dreaded heat and humidity of an inner city Summer. For now let's concentrate positively on the former.

Though it hasn't done much for our appetite, a gloriously macabre influence has held sway recently at Cafe D : we just finished the last pages of Dandy in the Underworld and commend Sebastian Horsley on his commitment to debauched theatrics in everyday Life. Bryan Ferry dubbed the memoir a "masterpiece of filth" and Cafe Drake cheerfully concurs, gobbling up episode after tragi-comic episode along a road better less chosen.

Cafe Drake is now fully set on hosting a dinner party in reverse (i.e. coffee and chocolates, followed by cheese, entree, appetizer etc) after a second viewing of Gaspar Noe's Irreversible (top photo). Once we get the film's nastier bits out of our head anyway. If we had a vid projector, how fierce would it be to screen the final 60 seconds on an endless loop throughout the meal, in all its dizzying candy color?

New Trend at Cafe Drake: Until our proverbial ship comes in, we may have to content ourselves with drinks and bar menus at some of NYC's pricier - but drop dead chic - eateries. Instead on a Benny, you can drop $40 or so for about two drinks and a couple of small shared plates at Smiths (79 MacDougal Street, New York, NY 10012, 212/260.0100) (2nd photo from bottom ) and Allen and Delancey (115 Allen Street, New York, NY 10002, 212/253.5400 - bottom photo). The former is a pistachio green and mirrored confection of a neighborhood tavern; mirrored tabletops and ceiling reflect everything so make sure you're done up before heading out, although after two Gold Rushes ($12 each) we could no longer even see that worrisome forehead blemish. Lobster Deviled Eggs ($10) were rich and extraordinary, but at 5 bucks each a rare treat and exercise in extravagance. Charred Baby Squid ($10) was a better value; tender and drenched in dense olive oil, sided with lemon confit and marinated olives, the tentacles melted in our mouth. Or maybe that was the high octane Gold Rush. We lied - we had three, not two!
A & D offered us a decent priced bottle of bubbles for $37 (cheapest on the limited wine menu) and only slightly less glamorous surroundings (think rustic trattoria tarted up with luxe drapery) but the late-night bar menu was superb: primal goodness oozed from the Rabbit Croquettes with Anchovies and stewed spicy apples ($12) and a plate of Salt Cod Fritters, zippy and fresh from a Meyer Lemon mayo ($11).

Bathing Beauty

Thursday, April 10, 2008

West African (again) Dinner with Miki

Miki is always a gracious guinea pig, and never more so than when sampling Cafe Drake's now frequent forays into the cuisine of the African Highlands. The recipe below is typical of the region but bears a striking resemblance naturally to East Indian curries; the flavors remain different however and chopped peanuts or wedges of boiled egg would authenticate further the African influence. We served the chicken alongside simply sauteed spinach with fresh lemons and boiled millet, a grain common to not only Africa but also many parts of rural Asia. Millet is a tricky fellow, so always dry roast in a pan preceding its use in any recipe and perhaps enhance the mild flavor, as we did, with chopped scallions and dried fruit of any sort, or crushed garlic, onions and other aromatic vegetables. The chicken should be garnished at the table with a dollop of thick, creamy yogurt (go for the Greek variety) and mango chutney.


2 lbs. skinned chicken thighs / 1 T. fresh ground black pepper / kosher salt / 5 large cloves of garlic, peeled / 1 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped roughly / 2 jalapenos, chopped / 2 onions, one sliced thinly, the other chopped / 1 t. each ground cinnamon and coriander and cumin / water / vegetable oil / 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
  1. In a bowl salt and pepper the chicken and set aside.

  2. In a blender, combine the garlic, ginger, jalapenos, chopped onion and spices. Add enough water to blend to a thickish paste.

  3. In a deep skillet, saute the sliced onion in a good amount of oil till well browned. On medium heat add the spice paste and cook for two minutes at least.
  4. Add the chicken and toss fully with the spices and onions. Add tomatoes and about 1/3 cup of water. Bring to a gentle boil, cover and cook on very low heat for 40 minutes or so.

  5. Serve over millet or grain of choice (or with boiled potatoes) and yogurt.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Octavio's 38th/39th?? Birthday Dinner Party

Who can truly know anyone's stats anymore in the age of Youthful Wish Fulfillment? So we'll go along with Octavio Fenech's claim of 38 years as of last week's birthday for the sake of social decorum and polite acquiescence. As always Cafe Drake feted the Birthday Boy with a meal and party, beginning with exotic snacks of patra, South Indian rolled cassava leaves stuffed with chickpea flour, onions, apples, pears and various spices, rolled into a tight cylinder then fried in mustard oil spiked with dried chiles and icey Cava. Whew! The heavy noshes went down easily with bubbly as a starter, soon followed with Red Lentil Soup with Cumin Seeds and Lemon, crowned by homemade sourdough curried croutons.

David Sellers and Christine Hart kept palettes moist with more bubbly and crisp white wine as we tucked into a main course of Wild Flounder Fillets (carved from the fresh fish in the very PM of the dinner at our local fishmonger) broiled in an Apricot Curry Sauce, and draped atop obscenely rich coconut rice, all pals with a fresh, uncooked pineapple relish of fruit, green chiles, cilantro and red onions. Dessert was a simple butterscotch pudding emboldened with garam masala and chocolate shortbread cookies.

As befitting a birthday celebration, libations continued to flow unchecked with Greek muscat wine, more crisp white, Framboise cordials and even further bottles of bubbly. As we told Octavio and Christine upon a late departure, leaving Cafe Drake sober on a birthday is forbidden, so cheers to the celebrant and a communal lust for the Good Life of Excess. Oh, and so you don't judge us too harshly in our ritualistic inebriation (and not that we care), Marcona almonds (Thanks, Nat!) and shaved Easter chocolate rounded out a most luxurious feast.