Brooklyn, Brooklyn. The farm-to-table gift that keeps giving. The list of charming, neighborhood restaurants serving solid seasonal classics in a nice outdoor courtyard keeps growing. The newest addition is Faun in Prospect Park, run by the former executive chef of Vinegar Hill House. The menu is very edited and skews mostly Italian, but it’s a little more cerebral than your typical tagliatelle and wood-fire oven pizza. There are exotic pastas like quadrucci and mezze maniche that I have never heard of making their debuts here. And meats are a little more wild and adventurous, things like squab and boar are roasting and braising in the nearby kitchen. Maybe that’s how the name Faun plays in. The restaurant is in a familiar neck of the woods, but the food that pops out is a little more interesting and unusual like the mythical creature itself.
Battersby is one of those esteemed Brooklyn institutions like Franny’s and Al Di La that everyone should go to at some point. It’s now overshadowed by newer and trendier Brooklyn restaurants like Lilia, Maison Premiere or Roberta’s, but this classic has staying power. Over the summer, some of our friends moved to Cobble Hill, which gave us an excuse to finally try Battersby. We called ahead, expecting some sort of egregious wait, but it was only about half an hour for a table outside. I suppose the crowds were a little thin due to the summer holidays and the fact that this restaurant’s moment had passed, but in my opinion, all those chasing the next big thing were missing out.
Everyone loves a good party, but it’s even better when it’s full of surprises. It’s this spontaneity that made Secret Summer so charming and memorable. The whimsical garden cocktail party was held at The Foundry on Sunday, August 2nd, where guests wearing their summer best were mingling amidst mischievous performers breaking out into song and dance. At first glance, it seemed like any other summer soiree, but not everything was what it seemed, and while curiosity killed the cat, here it paid to open Pandora’s box.
There seemed to be surprises at every corner, including the entrance to the party itself. The Foundry in Long Island City, Queens looks like a nondescript, industrial warehouse from the outside, but if you push back the green ivy, you’ll discover a beautiful, modern space with an inviting courtyard patio hidden inside. As guests strolled down the back entrance into the secret garden, they were met by a merry band of revelers called The Mechanicals, a reference to the six-man troupe that performs in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The band’s playlist certainly kept guests on their toes–a Beatles song could very well be followed by an 80s hit from The Cars.
In the courtyard, fairies were playfully running about, encouraging guests to join in on the fun. We stumbled upon the notorious Puck and his friend Cobweb, and I was a little worried that he might be up to his schemes. Would he put an ass’ head on me? Luckily the two of them were nothing but gracious and posed for some pictures. One of the dancers beckoned towards Ruoxi to join her in some impromptu moves, but he was feeling shy and declined the offer.
Maybe he needed to loosen up with some drinks, of which there were many! Six bars were set up inside, featuring picture perfect farm-to-table cocktails mixed by Andrew Maturana and his team from Rapt Affairs. The cocktails here were distinctive in that they didn’t rely on sugary mixers or bitters for flavor. Maturana’s Farm-to-Bar program utilizes all-natural and seasonal herbs, fruits, leaves and roots to extract the most from their drinks. There’s definitely a lot of skill and technique that went into mixing the cocktails. The “Filth & Villainy,” for instance, featured a fresh tomato water dashi clarified through a cheesecloth for several hours, and another drink used a fresh corn milk that the team made from scratch.
There was a good variety of liquors represented to please any palate–Queens Courage Gin, Cachaça 51, Herradura Tequila, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Whiskey and Stoli Vodka. The “Beast of Burden” cocktail with Queens Courage gin and ginger beer was especially refreshing, as was the “Morango”, which featured the cachaça mixed with tasty market strawberries. While the “Goin’ To the Country” drink wasn’t quite my cup of tea, the use of sesame oil was very unique. Even if things didn’t quite work, the taste was never boring.
There were even more drink stations set up outside. I absolutely loved the adorable, old-school Volkswagen that served as the bar for Rekorderlig Cider, a cider made from the pure spring waters of Vimmerby, Sweden. The fruity cider was vibrant, crisp and clear, particularly the Strawberry-Lime and the Pear. Drinking a glass really did feel like Sweden on a summer day. Those with a VIP pass received exclusive access to the Oyster & Champagne room, where you could enjoy fresh Montauk oysters with a glass of Perrier-Jouet. The room is definitely worth the splurge, as nothing beats eating sweet oysters and drinking endless champagne in a shaded area during the summer time.
One of the best surprises was discovering a face painting station in the main room. I decided to get into the country maiden fairy pixie spirit and had some pink flowers painted on the side of my face. This is something I normally wouldn’t do, especially outside of Halloween, but I just couldn’t help myself with all these wood nymphs and steampunk musicians running around. A not so pleasant surprise? A close call with one of the big, bouncy balls from the ginormous beer pong station. I was a little frazzled at first, but this was quickly remedied with another cocktail.
Naturally, with all this drinking and interactive experiences, you’re bound to get hungry, and there was plenty of food from Chef Varon Carillo‘s grill. The produce was sourced from local purveyors such as Eckerton Hill, Caradonna, Paffenroth Gardens and Bodhi Tree, and the quality and freshness of the grilled vegetables showed, as they were especially delicious.
The grilled meats and seafood were also fantastic, and of course, they were sourced locally and responsibly. It was love at first bite when I ate the chunky and tangy pork sausage, which was humanely raised and garden-fed by Joe the Grower in upstate New York. The chicken breast, a pleasantly tender and slightly sweet cut of meat, came from a private farm and coop called Goode Farm in Northeast Westchester. (I’m starting to sound like I’m on an episode of Portlandia, aren’t I? Being extra vigilant about where everything on my plate came from.) I’m not sure of the origins of the shrimp, but these spicy and sweet treats were easily the best items at the grill. The secret was out about the good food, however, and the line stayed ridiculously long all throughout the night.
After watching what fools these mortals be, performances courtesy of the Shrunken Shakespeare Company, and enjoying the delicious scoops of ice cream from the Van Leeuwen truck (that banana nut was to die for, and I loved how real and authentic the earl grey and ginger tasted), we awoke from our midsummer night’s dream and proceeded to head back to Manhattan. There was one more trick up Secret Summer’s sleeve, a free Lyft code to get you home safely! The show is over, say goodbye…
There’s an episode from the TV show Portlandia where Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are about to have lunch at a restaurant. An innocent question about whether the chicken on the menu is truly local and organic escalates into a full-blown interrogation where the couple demands to see the chicken’s “papers” and storms off to the actual farm that raised the chicken in order to verify its happy, free-range upbringing.
I reference this episode because, as much as I’m a big fan of the farm-to-table movement, I’m not one of those fanatical observers who only shop at farmers markets and eschew anything with a large carbon footprint. My involvement in farm-to-table mostly consists of the “table” part rather than the “farm” part. A lot of this is circumstance–it’s hard to farm for anything in New York City, and sometimes it’s cheaper and easier to buy Chilean blueberries from Whole Foods rather than fruit from a Hudson Valley farmer. So I was super excited when our friends Meredith and Jeff invited us to harvest some vegetables from their garden and make a dinner meal out of the produce. This was legit, locally sourced and organic dining in action–it would pass the hardcore Portlandia locavore test.
When I saw the garden, I was pretty impressed. These vegetables and herbs were more than just growing, they were flourishing. The zucchini and squash in particular were growing in a very robust manner, reaching gargantuan proportions and resembling obscene, phallic symbols. Pretty amazing.
The tomatoes weren’t quite ready to be picked, but I wish they were. It’s amazing how seasonal, locally grown tomatoes taste so much better than the perfect but bland red tomatoes sold in most grocery stores year round. There was a Times article that described how cross-breeding for perfect tomatoes results in a gene mutation that reduces the sugar levels in tomatoes, which gives them their flavor. Jeff picked one heirloom tomato that was ready to eat, which the four of us split. It was truly the best tomato I’ve ever had. I wanted to cut this up and eat it with some fresh mozzarella and basil everyday in what would be the world’s best caprese salad.
There were also a few snap peas and a ton of string beans ready to be picked. The string beans looked like something out of the pages of Jack and the Beanstalk. Again, like the squash, they were particularly gigantic. Apparently, you’re supposed to harvest vegetables when they are slightly young, because waiting too long to harvest may cause the plant to stop producing altogether. Which would be sad since it would cut your farm-to-table season a little short!
We picked all the squash, zucchini, string beans and snap peas we could find, as well as some lettuce, dill and basil. Now the fun part could begin–incorporating our harvest into a fabulous farm-to-table meal! Okay, so we cheated a little and bought some pasta and chicken, as well as a couple ingredients for the dessert, from the local grocery store, but 60% of our meal was legitimately farmed and sourced from the backyard.
Having total ownership over sourcing and cooking my food really made me appreciate dinner that much more. I paid close attention to how these garden vegetables tasted compared to the ones I usually buy from the store. I would say the zucchini, squash and beans weren’t radically different, but the tomatoes and lettuce definitely were. The latter had so much more flavor and character than their food retail counterparts. I suppose rampant cross-breeding and mass production really are to blame. Here’s a picture of our final product–vegetable pasta, oven-roasted chicken breast on bone, salad and the delicious zucchini bread with vanilla ice cream. Thank you thank you MSK for hosting us at your farm-to-table dinner party and opening our eyes to what natural and organic truly tastes like! You and Jeff did the hard work of building, growing and maintaining your garden. We appreciate your generosity in letting us enjoy the fun part of picking and cooking the fruits of your labor!
On July 10th, I had the opportunity to cover the 2nd Annual Spirits of New York Event hosted by Slow Food NYC as a guest blogger. Slow Food NYC is a regional chapter of Slow Food, a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a food system “based on the principles of high quality and taste, environmental sustainability and social justice.” You can learn more about the organization here.
Wednesday’s event featured local distilleries that produced a wide range of spirits–vodka, gin, bourbon, vermouth, whiskey, you name it! Getting buzzed while supporting local businesses is really the most responsible method of inebriation. You can read my guest blog here, which is now live on the Slow Food NYC website!