Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Brunch | Maison Premiere

Lisa and I had tried going to Maison Premiere, a humble little restaurant tucked away on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, for brunch back in August, but the restaurant had an unexpected delayed opening due to a staff meeting that morning, which we couldn't make due to a previously scheduled engagement. We were really bummed out that we couldn't dine here that day (we had some serious oyster cravings on the noggin), but it turned out that Maison Premiere had just welcomed Chef Jason Stafford-Hill, a new chef (resulting in a hefty menu rehaul from just raw bar to something more comprehensive including small dinner plates) and was preparing the restaurant and staff for the new change. So a few Sundays ago, after nearly six months of Sundays gone by, we finally got our crap together and made it to {1,7} brunch at Maison Premiere.
  01 - interior

Essentially, Maison Premiere prides itself as being an oyster house and cocktail den "reflective of the staple establishments in New York, Paris, and New Orleans." And in no way does this spot deliver anything less than that. {5,6} The walls painted in sort of a period acid-wash is calming and relaxing  for its patrons, and the dark woods of the furniture and banquettes provide a comfortable contrast to the time warping interior design that makes you almost think for a second that you're in a French brasserie, existentially in New York, Paris, and New Orleans all at once. It is a nice escape from the bustling noise and crowds with which the city crawls. {2} There's a covered courtyard located in the rear with lots of gorgeous natural light pouring in, and {4} a bar at the center of the restaurant which houses the raw bar of oysters and crudo as well as all of the restaurant's spirits (including a generous catalog of absinthes).

Chef Stafford-Hill had worked in the well-renowned kitchens of AdourAlain Ducasse, Bobo, Craft, and Gramercy Tavern before taking reign at Maison Premiere, where he has continued the restaurant's focus maritime fare by adding his own "array of warm and cold small plates" to the existing raw bar offerings.

To start brunch off right, I enjoyed a glass of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice.

Just to preface what is about to come, I would just like to say that Lisa and I are crazy. Like really crazy, when it comes to our seafood (more specifically, sushi, sea urchin, and oysters) -- with absolutely no restraint or sugar coating, I can only be like this with her and no one else. Given the list of twenty-four completely different oysters on the menu, there was more variety than we've ever come across with these little slurp-worthy bivalves. Luckily, there was a kind of "oyster omakase" available -- the oyster selection comprised of chef's choice of twelve, i.e., six different varieties with two of each. With one look exchanged between the two of us, we wanted to take this to the next level. Why not order two oyster selections and specify that we wanted twelve varieties with two of each so we could both sample and enjoy simultaneously? We proposed our plan to our waiter, and he was game -- a dozen oysters in variety, twenty-four in total, shared between each of us. Our order came out a grand plateau -- a tiered tower of gleaming shells on generous beds of ice. It was very stunning. Stunning, indeed.

Our waiter explained to us how to match what was on the tower with what had been chosen for us on the list -- ultimately an upward spiral, going clockwise. He also let us have a copy of the list with the ones we had properly marked (so helpful!). I've numbered them in the photograph above for visual guidance. Here's a run-through our little bivalvic adventure at Maison Premiere (* = like; ** = love):

02 - oysters
(one) **Cape May Salt from Cape Shore, NJ: We were off to a great start -- absolutely loved this one! A nice size (a little petite) with a perfect sweet finish.
(two) *Cedar Island from Point Judith Pond, RI: Also another hit with us! A little bit of hogwash and a spritz of fresh lemon juice goes a long way -- this wasn't very briny and slurped down easily.
(three) Ninigret Cup from Ninigret Pond, RI: A lot brinier, but still decent.
(four) Moonstone from Point Judith Pond, RI: Very chunky.
(five) *Standish from Barnstable, MA: Thumbs up from Lisa for its subtle peppery taste.
(six) **Malpeque from Malpeque Bay, PEI: LOVED!
(seven) Gooseberry from Malpeque Bay, PEI: A no-go for us -- a lot of fishiness and very briny.
(eight) Kachemak from Kachemak Bay, AK: Nope. Too fishy, and considering how meaty it was, it didn't have much flavor.
(nine) *Fanny Bay from Baynes Sound, BC: Great balance of flavor -- very delicate yet palatable finish.
(ten) Kusshi from Deep Bay, BC: Didn't like this one because it was a little too peppery for our liking.

Once we hit ten, we started counting how many oysters we had left, and confusion struck: there appeared to be six left (i.e., three varieties remaining) when we were supposed to only have four (as we had only ordered two dozen, i.e., twelve varieties with two each). I was concerned that my notes on each oyster were mismatched against the list now that we had thirteen varieties. Thankfully our waiter cleared it up for us (we had in fact been going in the right order), and the raw bar had given us an extra bonus one to enjoy (thanks again, Maison Premiere!). Phew -- that was a close one!

(eleven) **Golden Mantle from Cortes Island, BC: A huge hit!
(twelve) Evening Cove from Vancouver Island, BC: Not bad -- just okay, nothing special.
(thirteen) *Spring Creek from Barnstable, MA: Another delicious one -- always great to end an oyster flight with one that was enjoyable as this!

Included on our tower of oysters were the other raw items we requested for -- the razor clam and the sea urchin. The razor clams were from Long Island and were served with celery root and apple. They were the balancing complements to the raw cubes of razor clam without taking away from its taste and texture but rather highlighting with subtle yet beautiful flavors. Even Chef Stafford-Hill has said that he does "more with garnishes than some chefs would" but also notes that "it's restrained as it's still all about the amazing seafood" that they're getting weekly.

A photograph of the damage incurred after our flight of twelve oysters each. Eek!

 For sea urchin fanatics such as ourselves, it's almost an unspoken rule that we have to order sea urchien or uni if we see it on a menu. It would be blasphemous otherwise. So that's what we did here. Marinated with pineapple, the crudo of sea urchin was from California. While I found the golden lobes of sea urchin to be very buttery and plump (just as it should be!) with a bit of sweet tartness from the pineapple, Lisa found the pineapple marinade to be overwhelming, taking away from the natural flavors and velvety texture from it. Perhaps it's because Lisa is more of a purist when it comes to uni, while I don't mind a little twist every now and then. Guess you win some, and you lose some.

You'd think after having all those oysters and the additional crudo that we'd be full, but not at all for us. Full speed ahead for brunch grub!

I had the smoked salmon rillette with soft-poached eggs, celery root, and capers. Rillettes have a similar preparation of meat as a pâté. The protein (can be meat or fish) is cubed or chopped, salted heavily and cured, and cooked slowly in fat until it is tender enough to be easily shredded and the cooled with just enough fat to form a paste (though for fish, it's not actually cooked in fat but rather blended with fat to form the characteristic paste consistency). It can be used as a spread or served at room temperature, all of which can be stored in crocks for several months.While usually enjoyed with toasted bread, I actually enjoyed this small block of smoked salmon rillette with my two perfectly poached eggs and the fresh and tender rounds of celery root. It was very interesting to experience that I'd normally have as a brunch dish (smoked salmon, eggs, and capers, etc.) in a completely different form. Although the smoked salmon was a little saltier than I would've liked, the eggs helped tone it way down. Plus, look at how pretty it was!

Lisa, of course, had the eggs and black truffle baked in cocotte with Parmesan mousse and mâche. Considering the stark whiteness of the baked eggs, I was expecting the entire thing to be really heavy so much so that it'd be drowning in Parmesan and cream. Although it was quite rich (the winning combination of Parmesan, black truffles, and eggs will do that to you), it was the right amount of creaminess with just a hint of Parmesan, letting the thinly shaved truffles reign over in flavor. The cocotte was also the perfect portion for brunch -- Lisa didn't leave totally stuffed, especially with all of the oysters we swigged down so quickly earlier.

Compliments of the kitchen, we also were served a curried cauliflower salad which was very delightful and fresh.

Findings: Maison Premiere was everything I thought it'd be and more. I love it here, and if it were feasible, I would want to come back every single weekend. The trek to Williamsburg (though it's really not that far, haha) is moot, especially for exploring the two dozen or so varieties of oysters, which is exactly what Lisa and I dubbed as our mission that late morning. The half-shelled bivalves were not only iridescent, but for the most part, distinctly flavorful and unbelievably fresh. Quality is by no means compromised at Maison Premiere -- after all, the restaurant does pride itself with this caliber of seafood. I hear the menu changes frequently, week-to-week, which is just testament to this commitment to sourcing the best ingredients and seafood available. Chef Jared Stafford-Hill has worked in his magic into the heart of Maison Premiere's menu, and you can taste it in the well-crafted brunch dishes and the other crudo offerings -- we were nearly blown away with the razor clam and me with the sea urchin.

Cannot wait to come back to sample a bunch of new varieties of oysters and crudo in the spring. I know it'll be more crowded when the weather warms up, but either way, I'm definitely willing to show up as soon as it opens at 11 on the weekends so I can happily slurp down all the oysters without having to wait too long. But then again, the wait would be well worth it.

Price point: $30 for each oyster selection (chef's choice of twelve), $13-14 for each crudo, $4 for each glass of fresh-squeezed juice, $14-18 for each egg dish.

--January 13, 2013

Maison Premiere
298 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211

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