Secret Summer 2016 Preview

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In less than two weeks’ time, Secret Summer NYC will be hosting its second annual farm-to-bar cocktail festival on August 14th from 4-10 pm at the Foundry in LIC, Queens. I covered last year’s event and was pleasantly charmed by how the industrial space had been transformed into a whimsical Shakespearean playground overflowing with the most delicious food and drink. I can honestly say it was the best summer party I’ve ever been to in NYC and would highly encourage you to buy tickets at this link before they sell out. Judging from the preview event I attended, I’m confident they can pull it off again. Artisanal cocktails crafted by Bespoke Solutions and featuring the stunning herbs of Farm.One, a hydroponic farm in Manhattan (my mouth nearly burned from trying their “toothache” herb!), will be like no drinks you’ve ever had. Plus this year will feature a good lineup of live entertainment–Coyote + Crow, Lucky Chops, Ida Blue, DJ Ryan Vandal, aerialists Roxie Valdez and Ellie Steingraeber, and the one I’m most looking forward to, the Secret Summer Street Ballet troupe! Van Leeuwen will be back with their ice cream truck, because nothing says summer like eating an ice cream cone outside. Take a sneak peek with the pictures below, get your boho chic on and buy a ticket today!Read More

A Day in LIC: PS1 and Casa Enrique

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One of the best parts about summer is being outside, and my favorite seasonal activity is attending Moma PS1’s Warm Up dance party. Warm Up is held every Saturday in the summer and features experimental music and DJs. Guests can drink and mingle in the outdoor courtyard, and the price of admission also includes access to the modern art exhibit inside. The party gets better towards the end of the day, where people start getting a little more buzzed and a little more into the music, and the courtyard turns into a huge dance floor.Read More

SriPraPhai Thai

I recently read somewhere that Lonely Planet designated Queens, NY as the top U.S. destination for 2015. I’m thinking the Queens Tourism Board aggressively pushed Lonely Planet for that title, because, let’s be honest, Queens is up-and-coming, but it’s not quite there yet. The borough does have a lot of good ethnic eats, though.

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sripraphai

One of the star attractions in Queens is the restaurant SriPraPhai, an authentic Thai restaurant located in Woodside, an ethnically diverse part of Queens that was home to Irish, German and Italian immigrants in the early 20th century, and now includes Central and South Americans and Asians among them. Back in the day, like in 2005, SriPraPhai was the place to go for Thai food. People would complain about how the Thai food in the city sucks, and then someone would tell them to take the train to SriPraPhai in Queens.

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outdoor patio

Now we have more options in the city–Zabb Elee, Lan Larb, and Uncle Boon’s, to name a few–and so I haven’t made it out to SriPraPhai in awhile. However, I found myself in Queens after an afternoon at MoMA PS1, one of my favorite summer activities, and I decided that there would never be a more convenient time to stop by.

I found that the restaurant had undergone a renovation of sorts since we last went maybe 4 or 5 years ago. It feels bigger and spiffier, and they opened up a large outdoor area to accommodate even more diners. This being a nice summer day, we of course opted for the outdoor tables, although the mosquito situation was a little annoying.

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green curry chicken
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chicken rice and coconut rice. get both.
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crispy chinese watercress salad with shrimp, squid, chicken and cashews

We always get the green curry here, and it was just as good as ever. The creamy curry sauce is rich and comforting, good enough to sip on its own, until the heat and lime kick in to bring you to your senses. We hadn’t ever tried the famous fried watercress salad before so we ordered that, although I wasn’t quite sure how to consume it. On the right you had crunchy deep-fried watercress covered in batter, and on the left you had large bits of shrimp, chicken and squid in a sweet marinade. Were you supposed to somehow get a little bit of everything in your spoon? But how would you even attempt that? Did you have to manually break down the watercress pieces and the shrimp to make that happen? Were you supposed to pour the marinade on the watercress to soften it up? Clearly I was overthinking it and eventually just ate both sides separately. I felt like i was just filling up on fried batter, but I did like the marinaded meats a lot.

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tom zap beef offal soup

Ruoxi was feeling adventurous and ordered the tom-zap soup, which translates to beef’s offal soup. I’m not a big beef guts offal person, so I took a few sips and left it at that. There were some regular beef pieces in there, which were tender and inoffensive, but there was no escaping the intense flavors of tripe. If you’ve ever had menudo, the flavors are similar to that. Never liked menudo the band or the dish.

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seasoned shrimp with garlic and pepper

We also ordered something a little off-menu, which was exciting. In the a la carte section, they list a seasoned pork with garlic and pepper, but we requested that they make this with shrimp instead. The shrimp, which were big and plump, were covered in a ton of salty garlic. I loved this dish, especially with a bowl of coconut rice, whose sweetness I found to be a perfect complement to the salted shrimp, but the garlic is very intense. If you’re one of those close-talkers, I would advise that you steer clear from this plate.

Pleasantly stuffed, we made our way to the 65th St stop and took the train back to Manhattan. The train ride felt a little long, but the good thing was by the time we came home, some of our dinner had been digested and we had room for dessert. We made our way to Morgenstern’s, which of course had a line out the door, and ordered two scoops of the raw milk and tonka bean. Our meal had plenty of salt, a lot of heat, and tasted a little sour, but the sweet was a little lacking, and now with this ice cream it was officially complete.


SriPraPhai
64-13 39th Ave (between 64th and 65th St)
Woodside, NY 11377
(718) 899-9599
Take the 7, R, F or E trains

Mu Ramen in LIC

On a hot summer day, the last thing I want to eat is a bowl of ramen, especially one with a thick tonkotsu broth. But it’s not everyday that I’m in Long Island City, Queens, and I figured I should take advantage of my trip out here and stop by the super popular Mu Ramen.

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mu ramen’s table settings
all of the lights
all of the lights

Luckily, it seemed like visiting during the ramen off-season was a good call, and we only waited 30 minutes on a Sunday at 6:30. (The restaurant doesn’t take any reservations other than those for the Chef’s Counter tasting dinner.) We were pretty efficient in our approach to ordering–going just for the restaurant’s signature dishes, the “okonomiyaki” and the house bowl of Mu ramen.

"okonomiyaki" - scallion pancakes with smoked trout, tobiko, shaved bonito and syrup
“okonomiyaki” – scallion pancakes with smoked trout, tobiko, shaved bonito and syrup

I now understand why the “okonomiyaki” was listed in quotes. It really has nothing in common with its Japanese roots. The Japanese version reminds me of a big, messy omelette, but Mu Ramen’s is like the Kendall Jenner of the Kardashians, beautiful and refined in a line of trashy vixens. These petite, silver dollar pancakes were more like sweet and fluffy corncake blinis, topped with some smoked fish and salty roe, and wearing a wreath of orange and yellow flowers. There was some depth to this Instagram beauty, luckily, and it was a perfect, dense bite that was filling and fulfilling because of the way it engaged all of the senses.

mu ramen - oxtail and bone marrow based soup, brisket, half sour pickle, menma, cabbage, scallions
mu ramen – oxtail and bone marrow based soup, brisket, half sour pickle, menma, cabbage, scallions

The Mu ramen also defied expectations, as the oxtail and bone marrow-based broth was actually of a lighter weight than the cloudy, heavy soups that seem to be all the rage. Rebellion is a recurring theme here, as the Mu ramen did a lot of things differently from a traditional ramen. Instead of a pork chashu, a brisket was used, a decision I didn’t totally agree with, as I felt this cut of meat was a little too lean and stringy for the purposes of ramen consumption. The pickled cucumbers were unexpected, adding a tang that brightened up the broth, and bringing some good texture to the dish. I thought the thin al dente noodles were perfect, and they could do no wrong wrapped around my chopsticks with a little bit of everything in between.

From the few things I’ve had so far, Mu Ramen isn’t trying to make a classic bowl of ramen noodles. It experiments with embellishments you wouldn’t have considered, and that seems to be paying off. This little preview was such a tease, I’ll have to come back for the proper 11-course tasting menu and stay for the whole show.


Mu Ramen
12-09 Jackson Ave (between 47th Rd and 48th Ave)
Long Island City, NY 11101
(917) 868-8903

Mu Ramen

Secret Summer 2015

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.

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entering secret summer
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the mechanicals

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.

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shall we dance?
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puck and cobweb

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.

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the cachaca 51 bar

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.

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the stoli bar
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the goin’ to the country cocktail, made with queens courage gin, watermelon, coriander, sesame and lemon
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queens courage gin bar
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the beast of burden cocktail, made with queens courage gin, fresh lime cordial and local ginger beer
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the pamplona and sundown cocktails, made with herradura tequila
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the templo mayor cocktails – herradura tequila, jalapeno, cacao, cornmilk, agave nectar, lime
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herradura tequila bar

There was a good variety of liquors represented to please any palate–Queens Courage GinCachaça 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.

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rekorderlig ciders
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the red swedish vw van!
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fresh montauk oysters
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vip room – perrier-jouet champagne

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.

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face paint
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live action beer pong shot

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.

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farm-to-table grilled meats and vegetables

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.

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the shrunken shakespeare cast
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van leeuwen’s banana nut ice cream
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the van leeuwen truck

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…