Friday, March 27, 2009

GHEIMEH (Persian Beef and Split Pea Stew)

Cafe Drake's favorite Persian restaurant is nestled inside a shopping center on Roswell Road in Atlanta, and this stew is a fairly accurate recreation of a dish we sampled there. The dried lemons (black, husky, daunting looking things, reminding us of produce from Mars) can be found in most Middle Eastern and North African food markets; if you can't locate the Omani lemons however, just add a bit more lime juice and the zest of a full lime.

GHEIMEH (Persian Beef and Split Pea Stew)

4 medium onions, thinly sliced / 3 T. olive oil / 1 lb. beef stew chunks / 1/2 t. crumbled saffron threads / 1/4 t. turmeric / 4 cups water / 1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes / 1/2 cup yellow split peas / 1/4 cup tomato paste / 2 dried Omani lemons (pierced all over with a sharp knife) / 1 t. cinnamon / 1/4 t. ground allspice
  1. Cook onions in oil for 15 minutes or until nicely browned.

  2. Toss cubes of beef with about a teaspoon of salt and add to onions. Add meat, saffron and turmeric and cook for 5 minutes on high heat.

  3. Stir in water and tomatoes and simmer for 1 hour.

  4. Stir in split peas, Omani lemons, cinnamon, allspice and about 1/2 t. of black pepper.

  5. Cook on very low for another 1 1/2 or so.

  6. Remove lemons and stir in the juice of 1 lime.

  7. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.
  8. Best served with basmati rice.

Cafe Drake's Whitefish Salad with Tofu Mayo

Oy Vey, traditional whitefish salad, as lip-smacking good as it can be, kicks off the day with a double dose of saturated fat and sodium, turning that oat bran bagel into something far less heart-friendly. Cafe Drake has no plans to abandon completely the richest of breakfast spreads anytime soon (we're not meshuga after all!) but our house version provides a subtle change of pace and far less calories to boot. And don't limit yourself to bagels with this slightly Asian variation - try it tossed with pasta for a cool spring salad or stuffed in cherry tomatoes on a cocktail buffet table.

Here's how:

Flake all the flesh from one medium-sized smoked whitefish and place in a mixing bowl. Take care to avoid the many bones present, but don't stress overly re: the tiniest of spinal bones - they can be safely eaten and are thin enough to provide no unpleasant textural distractions.

Now add about 1/3 cup of Cafe Drake's Tofu Mayo (recipe below) and mix well. Stir in 1/4 cup of chopped Chinese chives (or the regular kind or even green onions) and mix again. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. That's it!


1 cup Tofu, preferably organic silken / 2 tsp Cider vinegar / 2 tsp Dijon mustard / 1 tbsp Olive oil / 2 tsp Honey

Combine everything in a blender and puree until a desired consistency.

Sausage and Art

Doesn't a healthy dose of culture always go down easier with a fatty link of spiced sausage? The New York Times crowned Little Morocco's (24-39 Steinway Street, Astoria, NY 11103) merguez sausage sandwich the best in five boroughs in April 2008, and who are we to disagree with America's most respected news rag? Jen Lazzaro and Cafe Drake had appetites beyond a mere sandwich however, and opted for the Merguez Platter ($9) - a heaping portion of salad (greens, olives, red onions, cukes and unfortunately, mushy tomatoes), hot fries, 4 links of said sausage and an array of condiments, ranging from the typical (herbed mayo and ketchup) to the sublime (a chunky homemade hot sauce, blended from peppers and veggies and subtly tweaked with caraway - akin to harissa). All was quite good and the meal made even more colorful once the mosque across the street opened its doors and our patio dining area became flooded with hungry and devout Moroccan ex-pats.

After lunch Cafe D and Jenny L booked over to PS1, our fave local museum of contemporary art, where we grooved on a see-through, 2-story swimming pool installation (hard to explain further) and a major retrospective of Kenneth Anger's six-decade career in experimental film; the vast exhibition space has been transformed through wall coverings and tents of silver and red vinyl draping, conjuring an "immersive" viewing experience.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's a Dog's Life

And a few cheers (or woofs) to a few of the dogs in our lives. As we've always said, our animal friends make every day a better one. Note: this particular canine-themed post is not endorsed by Cafe Drake's mascot Sailor Page.

See above: Lucy Lazzaro; Mia Lazzaro; Venus Sowers

Catching Up with Miki (Finally!)

Cafe Drake was most happy to secure a seat at Cafe Miki's beautifully dressed dinner table recently, and catch up with the latest news and gossip from our warm and welcoming hostess. Refreshing cocktails- and two adorable kitties - soon had us remembering why we so adore dining at Miki's, and our stomachs quickly concurred as M dished out home-spiced mixed nuts and rolls of good ham and tangy Provolone cheese. Vegetable skewers followed: roasted mushrooms and scallions dressed in a yakitori-style sauce. An entree of gnocchi nestled in a rich ricotta sauce, tossed with spinach and a hint of tomato, was perfectly filling and warming on a very chilly Spring evening. And the hits keep coming! A finale of cheesecake with a peach-crumble topping had Cafe Drake skipping home happy and satiated.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dinner & Gossip Girl


Indian Snack Mix
Wine Apertifs

Caesar Salad with Red Chile Croutons

Sprouted Wheat Pappardale with Rabbit Ragu
Braised Broccoli Rabe

Domaine de la Pepiere Cuvee Granit 2007

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Salt & Sugar Quick Pickles

We often feature a Pickle Plate at Cafe Drake to accompany lunch or dinner.

The preparation here comes courtesy of chef David Chang of NYC's stellar Momofuku Ssam Bar, an East Village kitchen consistent in both novelty and excellence of taste. Japan has a centuries old tradition of "salt pickles", and Chang's variety is fresh, crisp and if desired, can be "pickled" and served within 30 minutes. At Cafe Drake we prefer to let the veggies sit for a couple of hours at room temperature before consuming; leftovers refrigerate well.

Mix 1/2 t. salt and 1/2 t. sugar together in a small bowl.

Slice 1 thin-ish daikon radish paper-thin. If you have trouble finding daikon, substitute a small bunch of red radishes.

Slice 2-3 small Kirby cukes in the same manner - very, very thin.

Place veggies in separate bowls and toss each with 1/2 t. of the salt/sugar mixture. Carefully rub the salt and sugar into all of the sliced veggies.

Let sit for 20-30 minutes or longer. Serve with virtually anything or add to sandwiches. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Small chunks of seedless watermelon also make fabulous pickles using this quick method.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

March 21, 2009

Sometimes even Cafe Drake has a full day - and ours, for the purposes of this posting - began on March 20 when we dared to try a new Mexican restaurant (for takeout) on Manhattan Avenue. With a plethora of highly authentic and exceptional south-of-the-border eateries just blocks away in nearby Bushwick and Ridgewood, a Greenpoint example must be top-notch to draw us away from North Brooklyn's best. Not so with Tacos and More Antijitos Mexicanos ( 668 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn 11222), where we waited 25 minutes (!!) for our to-go order of Enchiladas de Mole ($8). In that interminable time period, one customer double checked his take-away claiming they left out his guacamole on the last order, another returned his food saying he ordered roast goat and received chicken nachos and two kitchen workers set about repairing the CD jukebox as orders piled up in la cocina. The enchiladas were limpid, lukewarm and stingily dressed with only a modicum of mole sauce. Accompanying beans and rice were quite good, as were garnishes of pico de gallo and radish salad. We may yet give Tacos and More a second chance, but only in desperation to dine ultra-locally; as previously mentioned, Bushwick offers too many excellent and cheap Mexican restaurants in comparison.

Even Cafe Drake was sceptical about a 1pm tasting of 10 rare beers on tap at Greenpoint's new shrine to hops and suds, Brouwerij Lane (78 Greenpoint Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn 11222), but the opening day was an early afternoon blast, just what we needed on an empty stomach and bored, chilly day. A wood-burning stove and a host of attractive locals made us feel welcome upon entry, and soon the warm and fuzzy feeling washed upon us, largely in part to the copious amounts of free brewskies. Our faves included a Belgian micro-brew and a Southwestern English stout. Best of all: small plates of vegetarian lasagna and a stunning Austrian goulash, full of melting chunks of beef in a caraway and marjoram-laced gravy. Made with beer, natch.

The main meal of the day occurred after food shopping with Jen Ruske in Jackson Heights at two of their largest Chinese and Indian supermarkets (an entire fresh rabbit for $6!). Hungry and cold and slightly tired, Ruske and Cafe Drake hit the mecca of North Indian/Himalayan cuisine, Deshi Biryani (75-18 37th Avenue, Jackson Heights, Queens, NY 11372). A $7 appetizer bought us 8 puff pastry shells (Indian style, thin as paper and salty with chickpea flour), each to be broken and filled with a mix of potatoes, split peas, chopped egg and cucumbers. Each little treasure chest is then drizzled with three separate sauces - an herbed yogurt and buttermilk gravy, thick tamarind paste and a dried red chile chutney. Calcutta street food at its most heavenly! Impressive grub continued to appear on the table, from toasted whole wheat naan and tossed salads to a Chicken Biryani ($10) cooked with butter, rosewater and doused in sweet cashew sauce. Jen and I marveled over a large kebab of yogurt and green chile-marinated beef ($9), rich and luscious and emboldened with sliced red onions and tomatoes. This is unique and extraordinary Indian cuisine at its best and most original - not a cliche dish on the exotic menu.

Replete to an extreme, uncomfortably full actually, we drove over to David Sellers' crib to catch a rare and always happy moment with his visiting daughter Audrey. David instinctively knew what our over-fed stomachs needed and poured out digestifs of sweet and caramely cognac to sip while we caught up with Miss A.

Not quite content to call it an evening, we ended up back at Cafe Drake for charred oak barrel-aged small batch rye whisky from Bardstown, KY; a few sips and we all headed out for drinks and dancing near McCarren Park. I guess that's just how we roll.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Quick Salmon Tacos

Cafe Drake whipped these up in 15 minutes, drizzled with salsa and chopped cilantro and sided with a salad and cheese-topped baked re-fried black beans (straight from a Trader Joe's can).

Here's how: mash well 1 large can of salmon. Mix with a heaping spoon of mayonnaise and a good splash of yogurt. Add two chopped scallions and 1 minced habanero pepper (or chile of choice). Season well with salt and pepper and hot sauce.

Spread mixture inside warmed corn tortillas and top with cilantro.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Restaurant Review: River Barrel

River Barrel (160 Franklin Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY 11222)

Know when you think you've discovered something really exotic, rare and exciting? Say, Pink Himalayan salt in 2006, or a nearly dead language like Rorogwela from the Solomon Islands? The thrill extends until reality sets in, and such is the case with semi-obscurely located River Barrel on the latest "underground" Restaurant Row - Franklin Avenue in westernmost Greenpoint.

Nicely soothing salvaged wood-planked walls inside contrast starkly with a generic awning and stenciled window viewed from the outside. Unfortunately plebeian staff greet one at the door, all grim efficiency and no smiles, and everything moves downhill from here. A rare shining star is the free-trade, potent coffee ($2 a cup), but a confused and schizoid brunch menu turned us off quickly; forced to choose from a hot mess of cultural culinary signifiers, Cafe Drake and Jen Lazzaro selected the basic breakfast plate (Jen coughed up $8 for fried eggs, bacon, toast and very decent home fries) and a grass-fed beef burger (CD shelled out $11 for beef patty and fries).

Jen's generic platter was efficient if terribly unexciting, but no complaints on portions here. The burger was tolerable, made better by house-pickled cukes and yellow squash; the fries however were greasy and undercooked (a double negative).

Reasonable prices do little to elevate this latest North Brooklyn loser from the local multitude of similarly boring eateries.

Zucchini with Garlic, Ginger, Yogurt and Dill

How do you say "Blame it on the Dill" in Tamil? Cafe Drake doesn't really know, but we're certain we're officially obsessed with Gujarati Indian cuisine featuring copious amounts of the flowery herb. Not commonly associated with SubContinent fare, dill is popping up in all our Raj recipes of late, and this refreshing variation on stir-fried zucchini is our latest invention. Here's how to make a stunning veggie side to any of your standard entrees:

Saute 1 shallot and 2 cloves of garlic and 1 inch of chopped and peeled ginger in 1/4 cup oil. When all is brown add 4 dried red chiles and cook for 2 more minutes. Now throw in 4 thinly sliced zucchini and cook on high heat for 10 minutes. Season with salt and add 1 full bunch of chopped fresh dill. Stir in a few tablespoons of yogurt off heat and serve warm. Impeccable with any fish or poultry.

The Best Part of Recovering

After so many winters free from the usual round of colds and coughs, Cafe Drake finally succumbed to a humdinger of a virus; so ill and (nearly) bed-ridden were with high fever we abandoned our updates here for nearly two weeks. On the mend fully now, our recovery is in no small part due to care and comfort from our friends who helped us through the sickness. A shining example is Jen Lazzaro and the amazing healing powers of her "super food" soup - not only did Jen prepare this delightful meal, but ushered it to our home and heated it up in the Cafe Drake kitchen. The soup itself demands a recipe from Jen (to be shared here): creamy butternut squash broth studded with black beans, smoky bacon and shredded kale. Talk about a nutritional Juggernaut in a bowl! As you'll see above we enjoyed said soup with salad and toasted pumpkin seed rolls, all while cozy in front of the TV.

Ana Turns One!

Cafe Drake headed out to Madison, NJ to celebrate the first birthday of our cousin Heather and hubby Mark's adorable 1-year old daughter, Anna Louise. While there we brunched on Mimosas, eggs, pastries, bacon and grits (a nod to our collective Southern heritage) and visited with family, both local and visiting from afar. See a few photos above of the Birthday Girl's special day.