Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Late July '08 Soundbites

Just swoon at how cute Beatrice (a/k/a TRIXIE of AA) and Mama AKS are in the above recent photo! Looks like Ann Arbor, MI just became even more than ever a travel destination for Cafe Drake, who can't wait to run our fingers through Trix's punkie locks.


Ever wish you could have grown up on a sprawling British country estate, living life on the set of a Merchant-Ivory film? For those Anglophile fantasists amongst you, gulp a sobering dose of reality via
Miranda Seymour's new biography, Thrumpton Hall, a tale of her regal girlhood home that held more than a few domestic horrors, including a sexually repressed and time-warped father . . . the grim product of English eccentricity stretched to its logical conclusion. The book fascinated Cafe Drake and even amongst the wickedness we found lots to love and inspire, sort of the same way we hope people feel about us.



Lots of evenings in July are spent in the cool confines of Cafe Drake's salon, where we munch on casual summer meals for one (cheese, pickles, olives, bread, wine, fruit, hummos and other dips, wine, ice cream, wine) and relax with a DVD. What We're Watching Now: Control (2007); Stop Loss (2008); Night of Dark Shadows (1971); Duffy (1968); Gods of the Plague (1971); Gypsy (1962).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Still Here!

The posting title above is also the name of Sailor Page's latest journal entry. Skinny, sunken and slower, Sailor is still very much with us as Cafe Drake's Mascot and, as recent house guests can testify, as loving as ever. Appetite and digestive issues at the forefront now, Sailor would like to report that his current fave Cafe Drake scraps include broiled mackerel and spaghetti and meatballs.

YHB in NYC








In town from San Diego for a press junket, old school Cafe Drake cohort Yolanda Hunt-Boes stopped by to spend a nostalgic weekend with us recently. We filled the hours with great conversation as always, plenty of catching up, plenty of bottles of wine and several tasty meals. Somehow we found time to squeeze in Woodshed Theatre's Urban Appalachian adaptation of Hamlet, cunningly titled 12 Ophelias. Photos above include the lovely YHB, the play and Yolie's charming step-daughter (also in town, from Berlin) Lotte.

Dinner 1 was prepared in the Cafe Drake kitchens, a simple affair of pan fried calamari (with tomatoes and chiles), braised mustard and collard greens, Catalan-style garlic toast, red and yellow cherries for dessert and lots and lots of wine.

Brunch 1 occurred at Greenpoint's Polish standby Christina's Restaurant (853 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222), where a Polish Platter ($9) was unusually varied (pirogis of all sorts, stuffed cabbage with an atypical cream and paprika sauce, kielbasa with spicy mustard and bigos - slow simmered sauerkraut studded with smoked meats and onions. A respite from the ordinary Hungarian Pancake ($8.50) switched out beef goulash for a stuffing of chicken and pepper stew, tucked inside a crisp (but not greasy) potato pancake and served with a side of marinated beet salad.

Brunch 2 was at Williamsburg's ever-popular (a 45-minute table wait even before noon!!) Egg (135 North 5th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211), where Yolanda and Cafe Drake slurped strong coffee ($2 for individual French Press portion), nibbled on complimentary tiny cinnamon donuts and plowed through plates of organic grits, nicely cooked eggs, Kentucky country ham and candied bacon (all for $8 a plate). Our only complaint would be the deliberately minimalist decor, with its pock-marked walls left hospital white and bare bones ambiance.

Best of all was dinner at Miranda (80 Berry St, Brooklyn, NY 11211), where the wildly friendly and helpful staffed ushered us to table before an open sliding glass wall, graced with nighttime breezes and delicate candlelight. Decent bread but superb sun-dried tomato pesto arrived soon after, and no sooner had we clicked in cheers our glasses of dry Spanish rose (Vina Ruffina '06), ($8 per glass) than an appetizer of fried risotto balls - Arrancina ($9) hit the table: crisp and salty on the outside, the crust yielding to a molten creamy center dotted with perfectly al dente grains. Cafe Drake adored the pappardalle (thick, homemade noodles, substantial but fluffy with eggs) tossed in a mole poblano ragu ($20) threaded with chunks of stewed beef short ribs, but found the Orata a la plancha ($24) a tad overwhelming in sea brininess. Not to fret, as a final course of Leonora goat cheese ($6) sided with preserves and sliced apple was transcendent - aged to a pale flakiness, salty and full of citrus overtones. So in love with Yolanda was Miranda's staff, they graced us with complimentary dishes of shaved ice drizzled with guava syrup, the ultimate end to a summer repast.
Cocktails were courtesy of catty-cornered Hotel Delmano (82 Berry Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211), Cafe Drake's "Cheers".

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sculpting Rice


Admitedly we're fairly lame at molding and crafting Japanese-style rice "balls", but are trying hard to branch out from the overly familiar and tired "golf balls" and "triangles". Above you'll see our latest experiment in hasty grain geometry, um, rectangles. The recipes below are for making flavored rice at home in a flash. Cafe Drake always uses short-grain brown rice, but better luck is to be had with the standard white variety so we hear.


TWO SEASONED RICES

Cook about two cups of rice until done. Cooking times and liquid amounts will vary according to whether you use brown or white. Allow rice to cool almost fully then:


a) mix with about a teaspoon of soy sauce and a splash of sesame oil, some salt and pepper and 1 can of very good tuna. Form into shapes and top with scallions, pickles or sesame seeds


OR


b) mix with 1 small can of well drained clams, a splash of sake and a plenty of salt and cayenne pepper. Form into desired shape and garnish with thin strips of nori seaweed or minced red onion.

Summer of '08 Cocktails

THE HUMMINGBIRD


Perfect for any occasion. Except the night before a busy morning or an early AM flight.

Wet the rim of a champagne glass and then roll in brown sugar. Place all glasses in freezer for 20-30 minutes. Fill glasses half-full with your favorite premium spiced rum, then top off with sparkling wine. Garnish old school style - with a cherry.




THE DRAGON

Work past the strange ingredients, and the two-week waiting process required to prep the liquor, and give this exciting cocktail a chance. We're pretty sure you'll luck out and be the only host this summer to pour out such an exotic libation.


2 oz. mango infused vodka (measure with a jigger, if needed) / about 1/2 oz. jalapeno infused vodka / 3 oz. mango nectar

Add everything to a cocktail shaker filled with ice and, well, SHAKE.
Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish as desired.



MANGO INFUSED VODKA

Take 1 bottle of decent vodka and add about 1/4 lb. of dried mango to the bottle; just stuff it in. Shake from time to time and let sit in fridge for 2 weeks before using. Worth the wait!


JALAPENO INFUSED VODKA

Do the same as above, but substitute for the mango at least 8 sliced fresh jalapenos.

Lunch with Joyce Carol Oates

Bryant Park's summer series of outdoor readings and discussions by celebrated authors continued this week with an idol of ours, an icon at Cafe Drake . . . Ms. Joyce Carol Oates. Again she regaled the audience with witty banter and serious explorations of her often unsettling literary themes, and again, we're glad we braved the lunchtime heat and humidity for this best of NYC's free outdoor activities.

Lunch was take-out from nearby Sukhadia's (17 West 45th St, NYC, 10018, 212/395-7300) buffet table ($5/lb) and Cafe Drake snacked on South Indian goodness while enjoying Ms. Oates "performance". Among Sukhadia's (ever-changing) offering of delicacies this day were patra (steamed taro leaves filled with chickpea flour and spices), batata vada (deep fried potato croquettes drizzled with sweet and sour chutneys and yogurt) and a spellbinding puree of mustard and turnip greens, thickened with cornmeal and dotted with fiery slices of green and red chiles.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

More Audrey, Julian & David





Not to content to see Audrey Sellers just once during her recent visit to Williamsburg, Cafe Drake spent a sizzling, dripping hot Sunday with Auds and little brother Jules at McCarren Pool, leaving the concert to cool off in the kiddie water park across the street from time to time.

Later in the evening Papa David joined us all at Cafe Drake for a Bangladeshi dinner, including chicken roasted with sweet spices, cilantro chutney, basmati rice with dried fruits, pan-fried okra in a cumin sauce and a novel cashew and coconut curry (recipe below).


CASHEW & COCONUT CURRY

In Bangladeshi and Keralan cooking, cashews are treated as a vegetable, hence this odd but deliciously rich curry.


3/4 lb. cashew nuts, unsalted and RAW / 2 T. oil / 2 red onions, sliced / 1 green chilli, shredded / 2 fat garlic cloves, chopped /piece of fresh ginger (about 1 inch, peeled and chopped), 2 tsp coriander powder /1/4 tsp Turmeric 1/4 tsp Chilli powder 2 large Tomatoes, chopped / dash of water / 1 cup shredded and unsweetened coconut / 2 Tbsp natural low-fat yogurt



  1. Soak the cashew nuts in enough water to cover for about 15 minutes.

  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and drop in the onion, green chilli, garlic and ginger. Stir and fry until the onions turn golden.

  3. Stir in the coriander powder, chilli powder and turmeric. Fry for a further minute or so to cook the spices. Add the tomatoes followed by a dash of water.

  4. Simmer over a moderate heat for about 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened slightly.

  5. Mix the coconut with the yogurt and stir into the sauce.

  6. Bring to a simmer and add in the cashew nuts.

  7. Cook for 1 minute on VERY low heat so as not to curdle the yogurt.

Late July '08 Soundbites

Miki S earned her angel's wings recently via the fostering of a homeless mother cat and her five furry offspring. For eight weeks the lucky Mom and brood received care and human socialization at Cafe Berry. We're happy to report Miki has announced all six furballs have found loving homes, and you're lucky enough to see a few of the hijinks at Miki's YOUTUBE page. Just try not to say "Awwwwwww".

Since Rihanna hasn't released a single recently we're without a Summer of '08 Song, but - for now - the CDs of the season are definitely Alice Smith's stunning debut For Lovers, Dreamers and Me, each song a soul explosion and emotional dance revelation; AND, Sweating it out this year, Cafe Drake's other musical fascination au courant would be the endless string of remixed singles from Junkie XL. Their groundbreaking 4-to-the-floor stomper "Today" channeled 80s-era The Cure and Talk Talk with its melodious bass lines and drunken anthem chorus, but now they've actually covered Siouxise and the Banshees' "Cities in Dust" and we couldn't be more ecstatic without the real thing in pill form.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Surf n' Turf at Casa Sellers












Cafe Drake just knew we were in for a real treat when invited to a dinner party prepared by master home chef David Sellers, and graced with the exciting guest list of daughter Audrey (soon to depart for Smith College in August and currently working a Fosse-era Liza M bob) and young son Julian. Jules entertained before his bedtime, Audrey kept us intellectually fed with discussions on comparative religion and metaphysics, and David - per usual - worked alchemy in the kitchen with a Peruvian-inspired menu of ceviche (fluke, scallops and shrimp) with roasted sweet potatoes and corn and platanos, followed by perfectly seared flank steak and aji sauce. Iced coffee (the night's temperature hovered at 96 Fahrenheit!) and artisan, small batch rums and local North Fork port capped a most superb meal. A (nearly) full moon symbolized the rare and long-ago time Cafe Drake enjoyed such homespun splendor.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In the Local (Queens, NY) News


A kind fan of Cafe Drake (oddly enough, a West Coast transplant) alerted us to our recent presence on a Jackson Heights (Queens, New York City neighborhood) message board dedicated to the area's legendary Indian restaurant row (actually, many widespread blocks of the finest and most authentic Indian gribble within the city's five boroughs). Peruse the chat room and bulletin board and show Cafe Drake some further love if so inclined . . . though we're already smiling from the kind words of the site's moderator:

Cafe Drake, hailing from Brooklyn, is determined to try all of the Indian buffets in Jackson Heights. "Feeling as fresh and dashing as a Bollywood heartthrob" after a shave at Punjab Barber Shop, he reviews Delhi Palace. I'll watch for further installments in the series.

and amongst the responses:

Haha, Cafe Drake is funny. What a culinary undertaking!

and:

I wonder if Cafe Drake was sipping Bombay Sapphire gin as he strolled through Jackson Heights??!! Anyone who has visited the site knows he is always fueled by Anglo-Indian liquor. How does Cafe Drake cook so many amazing meals after so many gin gimlets and martinis? Check out, through BlogSpot search, several other Indian restaurant reviews and many Indian recipes simplified for the beginning cook at his website.

The Unused Excess


Suffering from a recent last-minute dinner cancellation, Cafe Drake was thrown into a tizzy but soon realized the intrepid and tough Host will always proceed forward . . . saving a dismal situation with a "glass half-full" attitude and the promise of copious leftovers. Should you find your table all dressed up with no place to go, we say CARRY ON . . . cook that meal, freeze the (highly) perishable elements and enjoy a dinner aimed at guests in front of a well-stocked TiVo or DVD library.

Possessing a strong stomach (film-wise), Cafe Drake cued up (via Netflix) the 1969 rare Japanese cult classic Horrors of Malformed Men and Episode 1 of Fassbinder's marathon macabre miniseries Berlin Alexanderplatz (requiring even further intestinal fortitude than the preceding J-Horror gorefest), all whilst noshing on an indulgent feast originally aimed at pleasing guests.

Above you will find a photo of our plate runneth over, including Indian-style garlic bread, paneer with shallots and fresh green peas, tiny yellow and red new potatoes stewed in mustard oil and curry leaves and a piquant herb salad of arugula, mint leaves, basil petals and sprigs of cilantro.

You're always worth the best! Don't forget that! Dive into a platter fit for a queen even if you're an unexpectedly solitary one!

Out of the Frying Pan . . .




Sometimes - like this week in NYC - it's too hot for even Cafe Drake to stay in the kitchen. So we wander to shaded parks and air-conditioned galleries to cool off and recharge our damp, culinary batteries. Very recently we crawled through a muggy stretch of 14 blocks at lunchtime to see Michael Ian Black read from his new collection of essays (My Custom Van: and 41 Other Essays Guaranteed to Blow Your Mind All Over Your Face) and field questions from a most cheeky audience of fans.
Along the way Science Diet deposited minimum-waged cat lovers on the broiling corners to offer free samples of their latest kitty gribble, and even our ailing house mascot (Sailor Page) gobbled the entire (LARGE) pack down in one sitting.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Nouvelle Friends From France







A European outpost of Cafe Drake - actually, our sister Anne, resident of 23 years+ in France - alerted us to friends traveling to NYC and we were only too happy to meet for cocktails and Korean grub on these lovely ladies' last night in our fair city.

Stalwart Cafe Drake gal pal Jen Lazzaro joined us all for libations at Me Bar (17 West 32nd Street), atop the 14th floor of Koreatown's La Quinta hotel, and once past the tres budget lobby and stifling hot elevators, we emerged into high altitude splendor, with an unrivaled worm's eye view of the towering Empire State Building . . . optical inches away from grabbing and squeezing, so skewed and vertiginous the perspective.

Full but not cramped, this al fresco balcony fills with smokers relishing the freedom of outdoor air and its inherent liberties, and dishing up drinks only slightly scandalously priced (and WELL BELOW 90% of all other hotel watering spots). The crowd is cool without being shallow or sceney, and after 2 potent Sapphire Gimlets ($9 each) Cafe Drake suggested we pop downstairs for next door Korean BBQ.

Although Korean restaurants on the block number into the dozens, we settled on an old favorite, distinguished by (in former, wilder club days) a 24-hour kitchen and wood chip fueled tabletop grills - NY Kom Tang Soot Bul Kal Bi (32 West 32nd St, NYC, 10001, 212/947-8482). The smoky natural aromas greet one upon entry and so differ from the usual gas or electric variety with their unappetizing petrol odors. Pre-dishes, or banchan, are numerous here: over 8 by our count and including standouts like potato and apple salad, tiny dried anchovies, raw crab in a dense chile sauce, 2 types of kimchee, sweetened and grated daikon radish, bean sprout salad and an unusual ensemble of chives and scallions in sesame oil.

Spicy pork belly ($20) and marinated sirloin strips ($16) were poured onto the coals by an expert staff, all too willing to stir as needed and then add green chiles for heat and raw garlic for pungency before serving atop steamed rice with smiling aplomb. A liter of cucumber soju (Korean infused vodka - $14) was refreshing as a chilly breeze on this severely humid evening, as were endlessly replenished platters of crisp green and red leaf lettuce and fresh herbs for wrapping up the charred, tender meats.

Desperate to walk off our highly replete tummies, Cafe Drake and Anne Clavarie and Caroline strolled up 6th Ave (in all its seedy nighttime splendor) to the cool confines of Bryant Park to enjoy the weekly film series - glorious, luminous B&W Hollywood classics screened for 1000s amidst the towering lights of Midtown skyscrapers. Cafe Drake eventually bid au revoir to our new French friends to run home and feed le chat. And you all know who that fine fellow is.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Japanese Marinated Steak

Don't ask us why Cafe Drake is so mad on a cow (pun intended) kick these days, but below is yet another method of quickly preparing steak in the sweltering kitchens of July. We served a mere sirloin cut in the photo above with an arugula and Lola Rossa lettuce salad and wedges of whole wheat garlic bread.


JAPANESE MARINATED STEAK


  1. Mix 2 T. yellow miso paste with 1 T. soy sauce and 1 T. honey. Blend till smooth.

  2. Smear on both sides of a large steak or smaller pieces (already cut, as desired).

  3. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3-4 hours.

  4. Remove from fridge and let sit at room temperature for 1/2 hour.

  5. Sprinkle both sides of the steak(s) with a little salt and lots of black pepper.

  6. Fry for 2-4 minutes per side (2 per side for rare, 4 minutes for medium) in a hot, oiled skillet.

  7. Cut, if needed, into individual portions and serve immediately.

Restaurant Review: Delhi Palace


Delhi Palace (37-33 74th St., Jackson Heights, NY 11372 718/507-0666)
Punjab Barber Shop ( 74-20 37th Road, Jackson Heights, NY 11372 718/533-0052)

Absolutely determined is Cafe Drake to try all Indian buffets within mini-Delhi/Mumbai/Calcutta/Goa, also known as Queens' Jackson Heights neighborhood, primarily underneath the elevated train along Roosevelt Avenue from 70th to 80th streets. Recently we double-dipped in the exotica of the region and

a) sampled an early Saturday morning shave at a second-story barber shop on 74th St and 37th Road, authentically Raj (with the exception of the price difference; the same royal treatment in India would have cost a mere 35 cents as opposed to a paltry $5 in Queens) followed by

b) a new buffet spot blocks away.

The shaving experience was deeply relaxing despite shoddy surroundings,as the afore-mentioned fiver bought Cafe Drake a half-hour respite from modern and harried life in a reclining chair. Firstly, scented (rosewater, natch) and warmed towels were applied to the face, followed by a sandalwood oil massage, hot lather and a squeaky clean straight razor shave. More oils followed, talcum powder was applied and finally, a 5-minute final massage to the jowls rounded out a heavenly sojourn. We're pretty sure we drifted off around 11AM, soothed by the confidence of the razor-wielder and the laconic sitar lullabies from loudspeakers.

Feeling as fresh and dashing as a Bollywood heartthrob, Cafe Drake strolled past our usual favorites (Jackson Diner and Raj Palace) to Delhi Palace, unassuming from the storefront but startling and grand upon entrance. 14-foot+ hand painted murals on both primary walls depict Indian villagers cavorting with Hindu gods (the 8-limbed Lakshmi and our beloved elephantine royalty stock figure, Genesha) The analogy can be extended to the $11 buffet: vegetarian offerings proved transcendent while routine meat dishes were peasant at best.

Skip the grey roasted chicken, pallid tandoori poultry, bony goat curry and stringy lamb vindaloo and head straight for the left wing of the buffet table. All of the South Indian dishes were superb: among many favorites were an okra curry, creamy yellow lentil dhal toasty with red chiles, remarkable idlis (fermented rice flour cakes) supplemented with all the trimmings (spicy sambar, coconut chutney, mint chutney, coriander chutney, onion relish, pickles and chocolaty tamarind gravy), an unexpected paneer and cashew curry (richer than anything a carnivore could guiltless consume) and Cafe Drake's tangy fave, deep-fried pakora dumplings stewed in a buttermilk and chickpea flour gravy.

While we'll never denigrate the legendary Jackson Diner, Delhi Palace is somewhat less-crowded (no 20 minute lines to reach the tables) and Yes, masala dosas (to order!) are not only included in the $11 price tag but brought to your table by kindly, efficient waiters. A Mango Lassi ($3.50) is the ideal accompaniment to this feast, but excellent spiced Indian tea ($1.50) is an alternative should one reach saturation too quickly.

Easy Pickled Onions


Great on salads and sandwiches, and superb when served with sharp cheddar or aged Gouda during the cocktail hour.

Slice 2-3 large red onions thickly and place in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add a few whole cloves, 1 or 2 bay leaves, a few black peppercorns or dried red chiles and a cinnamon stick to the onions. Cover with about 1 quart of apple cider vinegar. Stir in 1/2 cup or so of sugar till it begins to dissolve.

Cover tightly and place in a warm sunny spot for 2-3 hours. Place in the refrigerator and serve well chilled. The onions will keep in the fridge for about a week or possibly longer.

For a variation, try tossing in 1 seeded, peeled and sliced cucumber with the onions.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wet Hot Brooklyn Summer





Cafe Drake and the always fab Jen Lazzaro toasted over McCarren Pool's opening night of outdoor cinema - with bubbly Portuguese Vinho Verde, chicken enchiladas, rice and black beans and loads of fresh hot salsa and tortilla chips - to celebrate the TRULY official start of a Williamsburg/Greenpoint Summer. A dangerously high heat index was uniformly ignored by J-la and Cafe Drake and (approx.) 1000 other neighborhood denizens who dropped blankets and grub and liquors of all sorts to watch Wet Hot American Summer, introduced by the film's writer and stars including Brooklyn neighbor Paul Rudd!