IN THE KITCHEN DRAE is the rare upscale eatery that is very much a family affair. The tapas bar and restaurant is co-owned by Derek and Wendy Rae Moody, whose monikers were combined to name it. Wendy’s brother is a line cook. Derek’s mother sometimes seats customers on weekends; his daughter is an occasional server; and his two sons are known to wash dishes from time to time.
“I grew up cooking on the line at Vincenzo’s in Chelmsford when I was 14, but my career took another direction,” said Derek Moody.
He became an executive in high-tech industries, but always dreamed of opening his own restaurant.
The chance came last year when he was laid off. He cashed in his stock options and 401(k) and opened DRAE.
“I traveled across the country for my job and loved to taste the different foods,” Moody said. “We wanted to do something different, something that would allow people to be casual and create a sense of camaraderie among the diners, allow them to sample a lot of different foods and not get filled up with starches. Tapas seemed perfect.”
THE LOCALE DRAE is situated in a storefront space with windows facing downtown Derry, N.H. There’s a room with a large bar where diners are seated, as well as about a dozen tables in an adjacent area. It gives off a vaguely Spanish vibe, which is appropriate. There are portraits of small jazz combos on the wall. It’s too bad the music on the sound system didn’t match.
We were put off by the jangly, up-tempo pop music pumped in while we dined. Lighter pop or jazz would have been more apropos. The lighting also was a bit harsh; neither element matched the chill, tapas menu.
ON THE MENU DRAE is a little pricey, but the food is excellent, and just the succession of small dishes you’d want to dawdle over and share.
We loved, loved our Grey Goose fizz ($10) — a generous glass of Grey Goose vodka, Prosecco, and St. Germain liqueur, which complemented our gratis plate of cumin-scented housemade hummus and chips.
We nibbled and studied a menu that included market-price tuna ceviche, oysters on the half shell ($2 per), tapenade ($7), seafood crepe ($13), chicken nachos ($13), and several gluten-free dishes.
We started with the arrancini ($13), two risotto balls that were crispy outside and creamy inside, stuffed with cheddar cheese and smoked Gouda. They were served with a smoky tomato that was stellar. It would have helped with this dish — as with the others — to have been given a little bread to soak up every last drop of the sauce.
That is especially true for the filthy short ribs ($13), a signature dish and we can see why. The two, melt-in-your mouth ribs were slow cooked in a savory balsamic reduction and dusted with shaved shallots. They were the best ribs we’ve ever devoured.
We also loved the lemon gravy scallops ($13), four bivalves seared with white wine in a lemon cream reduction. We added another seafood dish: the stuffed shrimp ($13), which were sweet and tender on a bed of crab-meat stuffing that didn’t rely on bread crumbs for filler. It was like an afternoon at the beach even though it was a frosty night.
For dessert we couldn’t resist the whoopee pie sliders ($7), and we weren’t disappointed. The three tiny pies were dusted with sugar and drizzled with chocolate. The inside was creamy and the cake was full-out devil food.
DRAE, 14 East Broadway, Derry, N.H. 603-216-2713, www.draetapex.com.Tom Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.