Sunday, June 28, 2009

Summer Vacation (from Cafe Drake)

As much as we love all of our guests here, you can't stay forever. Utilize the warm weather months to travel to a few of our newest favorite sites. But be sure to check back in often, as the Summer is always a season of heavy activity (and frequent updates) here at Cafe D. Happy Trails!

Animals with Casts: The rather rude official page title (and URL) aside, this mini-website addresses the universal cuteness of animals in casts. Get Well Soon wishes from Cafe Drake!

Jugalbandi - Gorgeous photography and amazing and unusual Indian recipes are among the several highlights at this very special food blog. The pervasive sense of wry humor is also much appreciated.

Infused Spirits: If you're not already home-infusing your liquors, well, you should be. And this is the place to begin (or continue . . . so many creative ideas here). A how-to website that is truly inspiring. Don't neglect the many helpful links as well.

Celestial Timeplace: 50 years ago Joyce Carol Oates published her first short story, and this month we were thrilled as always with the release of a new collection, Dear Husband. C.T. is the premier and most comprehensive J. C. Oates site on the web, so head over and prepare to spend awhile. Bonus: lots of free and printable essays/stories/excerpts.

Liz Taylor Tweets: Yes it's true. And you can keep up with Dame Taylor's Twitter activity via the link.

Sultry Weather Dining with Jen Lazzaro


Creme de Cassis de Dijon Spritzers

Wild Arugula Salad with Red Onions and Hearts of Palm

Moorish Broiled Chicken Skewers
Whole Wheat Couscous and Cranberry Pilaf
Sauteed Watermelon Rinds

Watermelon Granita


Akin to what you'd find in a Southern Spanish tapas bar, these would traditionally be prepared with cubes of pork tenderloin. We've swapped out chicken but retained the flavor profile. Recommended Wine: White Bordeaux

Marinate overnight chopped boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the following: olive oil, lemon juice (add a little zest), garlic, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper and a very generous amount of sweet paprika.

Thread onto soaked bamboo skewers and broil for about 4 minutes per side. Obviously these would also be delicious grilled.


In Rajasthan, the princely Western state of India, this dish makes a surprising savory use of an ingredient generally discarded without eating.

After removing all red flesh from 1/4 of a large seedless watermelon, peel away all green skin. Slice the remaining white rind into thin pieces.

Fry a tablespoon or more of brown mustard seeds in hot oil just until the pop. Now add an equal amount of cumin seeds and fry for 15 seconds, careful not to burn. Add watermelon rind and sprinkle all with garam masala powder and salt to taste.

Cook for about 12 minutes or until tender-firm.


You don't need an ice cream maker for this recipe; simply freeze in a plastic bowl and serve just before granita is too hard and icy.

Place about 8 cups of seeded and chopped watermelon in a blender and process until liquid. Add the juice of a lime, a couple of tablespoons of sugar and any fruit-flavored liquor you desire (only 2 T. or so).

Freeze and serve.

Authentic Mexican with Octavio in Bushwick

The Bad News first about El Paisa (324 Suydam Street, Brooklyn, NY 11237): revoked liquor license means you can skip the cocktails and cerveza section of the menu because the restaurant is dry as the Sonoran desert. Good News includes: a leafy location across from Maria Hernandez Park, a staggeringly large selection of authentic homestyle Pueblo classics, friendly service and generally satisfying food. Octavio and Cafe Drake split an order of Nachos Regulares ($7), which isn't what you get in most Tex-Mex or Americanized joints, but rather a platter of just-fried tortilla chips scattered with sliced avocado, crumbled queso fresco, diced tomatoes and jalapenos and two sauces to moisten everything - a creamy avocado-based salsa verde and a thick, brown salsa of pureed dried chiles. Octavio liked - but was underwhelmed slightly - with his entree of Shrimp in Garlic Sauce ($13), though the portions are generous and the plate of shellfish arrives with sides of pinto beans and warm tortillas for scooping up the rich sauce. Cafe Drake was much happier with spicy beef enchiladas ($9), drenched with potent mole poblano and nestled alongside a green salad, chopped radishes and fluffy tomato-flecked rice. Overall, you could do a lot worse than El Paisa. And probably will.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Healthy Latin in a Hurry

Even at the end of the workday, you can throw together a meal this tasty and nutritious.

To begin, pour a glass of wine.

Now put a cup of rice on to cook with some turmeric thrown in for that authentic shade of arroz amarillo.

While the rice cooks empty a can of black beans and add to it (in a skillet) some water, cumin powder and 1 chopped tomato. Simmer on very low.

Pour second glass of wine and chop finely: cilantro, green chiles, onions and a clove of garlic. Mix well with some olive oil, a dash of vinegar and salt and black pepper. Set aside for flavors to meld.

When rice is done turn off and let sit covered while you quickly pan fry a sliced VERY ripe plantain (platanos maduros).

Assemble all on plate and polish off bottle of wine.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Curried Pear Soup w/ Ruske

On a recent gloomy and rainy Sunday, Jen Ruske and Cafe Drake passed the afternoon whipping up a (late) lunch of Curried Pear Soup and an Herb Salad with Rice Wine Vinaigrette, finishing the meal with two superb cheeses ( an Italian creamy bleu and a raw sheep's milk). All was washed down with a very light rose wine Coeur Esterelle Cotes De Provence 2008 (pale salmon in color, dry but deceptively fruity) and followed with one of those maddening mind-boggling 60s B/W art films packed with stars (Vanessa Redgrave, Jeanne Moreau), The Sailor from Gibraltar. If it all sounds a wee pretentious . . . at least basic instructions for soup follow below.


  1. Brown 5 large peeled and chopped pears, 1 chopped onion and 2 cloves of garlic in 1 T. butter and 1 T. olive oil for 10 minutes. Stir in 3 T. or so of flour and cook for 2 more minutes.

  2. Add 4-5 cups of chicken stock (or veggie if you prefer), some salt and cayenne pepper and 2 T. or more of good curry powder.

  3. Simmer uncovered, stirring from time to time, for 20 minutes.

  4. Puree all in batches in a blender and return to pot.

  5. Over very low heat, add 1/4 cup half-and-half and readjust seasonings as needed.

  6. Serve warm garnished with a large mound of chopped chives.

"It" Herb of the Moment

Just as goat is the new bacon, chives seem to be the new lemon verbena. And the return of this stalwart herb to popularity offers more than the thrill of a food trend. According to Maoshing Ni, a doctor of Chinese medicine and author of Second Spring, "these pungent, tender green shoots are packed with vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron, and folic acid".

So don't save for just baked potatoes and salad garnish, try chives in the two recipes below, both so fast and simple they're perfect for the lazy nights of Summer.
[The chives photo above comes from My Tiny Plot, a lovely blog detailing one gardener's adventures in small-scale vegetable gardening. Highly recommended.]


Before you cry afoul, accusing Cafe Drake of being too scary close to "Semi-Homemade", trust us that this recipe is genuinely tasty and requires minimal effort when you're most exhausted.

4 (14.5 ounce) cans roasted garlic chicken broth, divided / 2 large lemons / 3 cups cooked rice, divided / 1 cup heavy cream / 2 (6 ounce) packages precooked, grilled chicken strips, cut into 1/2-inch pieces / 1 bunch chopped chives / Salt and ground black pepper, to taste / Chives / Lemon peel, for garnish

  1. Heat broth, reserving 1/4 cup, in 3- to 4-quart saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a simmer. Meanwhile, zest lemon peel; set aside. Juice lemons; set aside.

  2. In a food processor or blender, combine 1 1/2 cups cooked rice, heavy cream and remaining 1/4 cup broth; process until smooth. Add rice mixture, remaining cooked rice, lemon juice and chicken strips to broth.

  3. Simmer 5 to 8 minutes, or until heated through. Add 1 entire bunch of chopped chives; cook 1 minute.

  4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with lemon peel and chives, if desired.


Cafe Drake loves this in Summer with sides of fried apples and endive salad.

2 boneless pork loin chops, butterflied / 4 ounces crumbled blue cheese /2 slices bacon - cooked and crumbled / 2 - 4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives /ground black pepper to taste / chopped fresh parsley for garnish

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a shallow baking dish.

  2. In a small bowl, mix together the blue cheese, bacon and chives. Divide into halves, and pack each half into a loose ball. Place each one into a pocket of a butterflied pork chop, close, and secure with toothpicks. Season each chop with garlic salt and pepper. Keep in mind that the blue cheese will be salty.

  3. Place in the prepared baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or it may take longer if your chops are thicker. Cook until the stuffing is hot, and chops are to your desired degree of doneness.

  4. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve.

Dinner with Miki (and cameo appearance by Octavio)


Cassis Martinis

Soft Tofu Salad with Sesame Dressing and Chive Buds

Salt Broiled Whole Mackerel with Daikon and Sweet Soy Dipping Sauce
Braised Radish and Carrots
Enoki Mushrooms

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cafe Drake Bids Goodbye to The Sellers

At a recent birthday/going away party for David Sellers, on the patio of Williamsburg's Union Pool, Cafe Drake celebrated with D, his brother Justin and many other well wishers. Above a trio of commemorative photos. Brooklyn sends off David and his family with good cheers and great wishes for a happy new life on the Left Coast! (And we're glad one Sellers - Audrey - at least is left close to Cafe D).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Night in the Life

After a very late brunch at Greenpoint's premier authentic Mexican dive Acapulco () we were tired and napped. No surprise as Cafe Drake and Jen Lazzaro woofed down egg sandwiches, fries, a chorizo omelet and, in light of our chewing difficulties at present, a plate of lusciously lard-enriched refried beans and rice in substitute for an unwieldy salad and too firm home fries. With a tab totaling an amazing $11 (!!!! - is this our hometown of NY??), Jen and Cafe D splurged on a tip while the Cutest Brussels Griffon in Brooklyn - Miss Lucy Lazzaro - got a trim and spa treatment at G'point's homey District Dog.

Post-nap - and groggy from still-prescribed painkillers and muscle relaxants - Cafe Drake whipped up dinner for long, long time pal Susan McKeever-Duys. Daddy Henry babysat while S and CD slurped cocktails (a confection learned from our brother-in-law in France: good gin, lime and lemon juices, Creme de Cassis de Dijon and soda water) and caught up. BTW: when we say longtime friend we mean back in da day! We're talking Sasha and Digweed at 7AM at Twilo, ya'll. Younger folks consult Wikipedia for reference to NYC's best ever nightclub.

Soon following drinks, we sat down to a most bizarre but strangely successful invention of Cream of Turnip Soup, inspired by Cafe Drake's early Saturday morning greenmarket score of young and tender white turnips with profuse greenery atop and intact. Our entree was tilapia, not a favorite in these parts but ocean fresh according to the local fishmonger, and roasted with butter and caraway seeds and crowned with a dollop of homemade spicy mango mayonnaise. Sides included (multi-tasked) turnips greens simmered with red chiles and garlic and ginger and Yukon Gold mash.

As the night grew later, Cafe D had to swing by departing Davey Sellers' pad for a final chill-out prior to his West Coast exodus next week. Mexican, German and Boston-brewed beers with brandy chasers were toasted over and over, ciggies smoked and goodbyes prepped (we'll finally say Bon Voyage on Tue night in a more sober state) as the streets raged with Puerto Rican Pride Day pre-celebrants.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Early Summer Playlist

Warm weather means lighter dinners and gatherings more geared to tall, cool drinks than multi-course meals. Whip up a ginormous pitcher of Sloe Gin Fizzes and cue some tracks from our current list of heavy rotation platters (or mp3s - for those who prefer iTunes to turntables).

Beirut - My Wife, Lost in the Wild

Andre Lamberz and Hills' Angels - The Bluest Eyes in Texas

Bertrand Burgulat - I've Been a Bad Bad Boy

Death in June - Summer is Gone

Felix Kubin - Hotel Supernova

Carla Bruni - You Belong to Me

Cryptacize -Blue Tears

Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye

Cut Copy - So Haunted

The Postmarks - Goodbye (James Iha mix)

Math and Physics Club - Baby, I'm Yours

Junkie XL - Cities in Dust

The Jonzon Crew - Space Cowboy

Hot Chip - Shake a Fist

The B-52s - Funplex (CSS remix)

Grizzly Bear - Two Weeks (Fred Falke instrumental)

Heloise and the Savoir Faire - Members Only

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ice Princess

Above see Cafe Drake gal pal Miki S, placing second!! in her recent NYC skating competition.

Pasta and Fish

The recipe below screams "Summer" in every way, from its fresh herbal goodness to its lighter-than-air texture. The acidity of the lemon juice expertly cuts through any excessive richness, and citrus overtones make it a natural partner to any fish entree. Above we served it to Jen Lazzaro with flash-roasted flounder fillets, drizzled simply with lime-infused olive oil, sea salt, garlic chips and fragrant lavender. (Bluebery cocktails and artichoke-spinach hummus to start)

The rare pasta dish that, in order to preserve its delicate flavors, should be made exclusively with white flour pasta.

Saute 4 chopped zucchini and 1 clove of garlic in 3 T. butter and 1 T. olive oil.

Meanwhile, boil till tender 1/2 lb. of linguine.

When veggies are very soft but not browned, puree in a blender with a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water (which should be boiling now and as always, generously salted). Season to taste with about 1/2 bunch of chopped fresh dill and salt and pepper.

Drain pasta, toss with sauce and serve.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Quick Restaurant Rants

Vickery's Bar and Grill (1106 Crescent Avenue NE, Atlanta, GA)

Tucked away on a semi-obscure sidestreet in Atlanta's hopping Midtown section, Vickery's Bar and Grill is a longtime favorite of Cafe Drake; we recall several fun and delicious meals spent in the converted 1920s house. Circa high school years. Yikes! Luckily all charms have been retained since those distant days, including original hardwood floors, fireplaces in every room and as mentioned previously on this site, the excellence of the Black Bean Burger ($9.95). These burgers really are swoon-worthy - crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside. it's difficult to imagine a better lunch than one composed of these, perfect fries and a complimentary cup of spicy gazpacho.

Earthen Oven (53 W. 72nd St, New York, NY 10023)

Can you post a retraction on Yelp dot com? We wonder, because Cafe Drake originally slagged off this quietly elegant and fiercely inventive Upper West Side Indian standby. The change of heart is all due to the now daily buffet ($13.95), pricey compared to East Village or Jackson Heights Indian restaurants, but worth every dime for the rotating parade of lesser-known subcontinental fare. We adore their corn fritters dipped in thick mint chutney, the tangy tomato rice, creamy spinach simmered with tender lamb chunks and cream of carrot soup.

Chao Thai (85-03 Whitney Avenue, Elmhurst, NY 11373)

While not earning yet a star with its modest set of 8 tables and handwritten signs taped to kelly green walls announcing the day's specials, Chao Thai is featured in the Michelin Guide, as proudly advertised in the front window. An area of Queens bursting with intense overpopulation, Elmhurst bustles by outside picture windows (as do the elevated LIRR trains) while the frenetic energy of the neighborhood mirrors the freneticism of the dining room. Loud Thai pop music blares from a kitchen that seems to be hosting a SouthEast Asian dance-off. But then again happy employees are generally a good portent of efficient service and cuisine. So is the case here, noted especially by a beaming waitress delivering to our solo mid-week lunch table a heaping platter of Catfish Larb ($9).

Larb is a signature dish of Northern Thailand and slowly working its way onto more predictable Siamese menus across the city. (Greenpoint and Williamsburg alone seem immune to anything Thai but sugary and sloppy curries and noodles). Basically you get an enormous salad filled with a variety of fresh herbs, red onions, chopped peanuts, bean sprouts, diced chiles and ground, potently spiced catfish. Cafe Drake Loves Larb and Chao Thai turns out a mean version. Several other sides intrigued and warrant at least two or three return visits this Summer; namely, soft shell crabs fried with mango pickles and the lovely sounding Kingfish in Chili-Cashew Sauce.

Some Further "Soft Food" Meals

"O brave new world, That has such people in't!"
- Miranda, The Tempest, William Shakespeare

Adding new foods daily to our limited diet, as jaw mobility returns slowly and the ache subsides a bit, is such a pleasure, almost a re-discovery of culinary joys after weeks of yogurt smoothies and tomato soup.

Above are two recent meals, delicious enough to serve even your jaws are flapping without complaint: a baked potato topped with herbed cottage cheese and pickled cilantro slaw and a bowl of Cream of Ramps soup, and a quick and easy version of sukiyaki (fried tofu, carrots, onions and green garlic shoots slow simmered in rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin and Japanese mixed peppers).

Monday, June 08, 2009

A Night in Wilmington, DE (and Maryland)

Cafe Drake, Jen L and Jen R piled into the Cafe Drake Mobile and headed south recently to Wilmington, DE. A glorious day was spent strolling the grounds and touring the mansion at Winterthur Estate, and dinner was a splendid four-course affair at Elkton, Maryland's Fair Hill Inn.

A house cocktail was unusual and inventive - essentially a Tanqeuray Stinger adorned with fresh cucumbers and thyme branches straight from the kitchen's garden.

The produce steps from the front door of the 1700s farmhouse also figured prominently in a starter salad of deer's tongue and other flavorful baby lettuces (with shaved radishes and hazelnuts). A chunk of King Salmon came braised and sided with (also garden fresh) peas, polebeans and fiddlehead ferns.

Our main was a tender, butter-poached game hen with cauliflower and pea risotto and sugar-sweet, just-plucked baby carrots. Desserts included a butterscotch brownie, rhubarb "pudding", almond cakes, homemade ice creams and Fair Hill's own, first-of-the-season honey.