Frog Legs, Pigeon, & $1 Oysters: Maison Premiere’s Chef Lisa Giffen Leads The Way

On the south end of Bedford Ave., a line is forming. Every weekday at 3:30pm, crowds are making their quiet shuffle to the Grand St. corner, where they await their aphrodisiac fix at a price that can’t be cheaper: $1 oysters from Maison Premiere.

"There’s a line outside right now," says Lisa Giffen, Maison’s executive chef. "We begin each week with towers of oysters, and it’s shocking how quickly it’s all eaten."

At Maison, seafood is the star of the show – and at the happy hour alone – from 4pm to 7pm every weekday – 20 kinds of oysters are for the slurping at a price that’s less than a box of paper clips. The oysters are so highly regarded (and respected), they require their own car ride when they’re picked up from the airport five times a week. 

But bivalves aren’t the only ones attracting attention at the old-world New Orleans and hotel lobby-inspired spot. Ever since Lisa joined the team a year ago, she’s transformed Maison – which has its own brass absinthe fountain –  from a seafood and absinthe den, to a full-on restaurant with a large-plate menu, packed with pigeon, frog legs, black cod, and rabbit.

"We found that people really wanted to eat here after they drank at the bar, so we made sure to meet that demand," Lisa says. "Our Tasting Menu is our biggest hit."

The Tasting Menu – a five-course, $95 meal – begins with a tower of raw oysters, and ends with a sprawling, dessert finale of spiced rhubarb shortcake bites, cheesecake, rum baba, and madelines.

"Fifty percent of the people who get the Tasting Menu come back for it a second time," Lisa says. "I swear, it’s the dessert array."

But of greater surprise is Lisa’s own path to leading the kitchen of Maison. Her first job after college was doing sales for Sharpie markers.

"I started moonlighting in kitchens on the side and did a program at ICE," she says. "Finally, I realized I spent more time cooking than I did doing the work I was paid to do, so I made the move. But learning to manage a team of people – from the porter who washes the dishes that the food goes on, to the guy who peels onions all day long – have followed me since."

And while Lisa wrangles the kitchen staff downstairs, the waiters and bartenders tend to the guests upstairs who, on occasion, get engaged, celebrate anniversaries, and break-up at the bar and in the outside garden.

But at a place serving mostly oysters, expect mostly romance.

"Oysters are an aphrodiasc," says Lisa. "But alcohol is, too."

Lisa Giffen

Get the inside-scoop on Maison Premiere, & follow Bonnie on Twitter here

This Week’s NY Happenings: Taste Of The LES, Maison Premiere, Greenpoint Brunchtacular

THURSDAY: Taste Of The Lower East Side
As benefits with bites go, it’s hard to beat the Taste of the Lower East Side for both breadth and depth. Fifty top neighborhood joints will come together at 82MERCER for an all-you-can-eat extravaganza. Newer hands like Pig and Khao, Jeepney, and The Leadbelly rub shoulders with established pros like Alias and wd-50. There’s craft beer and wine to wash it down, and a danceable soundtrack from DJ AndrewAndrew. A silent auction will tempt you too, with everything from SoulCycle classes to a Rao’s reservation, all to benefit the Grand St. Settlement.

Taste of the Lower East Side starts at 7pm on Thursday, April 25th, at 82MERCER (82 Mercer St., Soho). General admission tickets are $195 ($125 is tax-deductible). To learn more about the event space, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

NOW: One More Trafalgar Julep
Spring has sprung at Williamsburg’s Maison Premiere. A new chef (Lisa Giffen, late of Daniel and Blue Hill) plies the kitchen, and the spring cocktail menu has been unveiled. Enjoy a full lineup of refreshing juleps like the Trafalgar (gin, sherry, crème de menthe, and lemon).

Spring cocktail menu now available at Maison Premiere (298 Bedford Ave., Williamsburg). To learn more about the bar, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

SATURDAY: Honeyed Brunch
To raise money for Sandy recovery, Greenpoint’s t.b.d. is hosting an epic brunch in the yard this Saturday. Neighbors as diverse as Anella, Action Burger, and Selamat Pagi will lay out a spread, accompanied by that most indispensible of brunch items—bottomless mimosas.

Rally Downtown’s Greenpoint Brunchtacular starts at noon on Saturday, April 27th, at t.b.d. (224 Franklin St., Greenpoint). Tickets are $30, or $50 for two. To learn more about the bar, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

Know every inch of this city by visiting BlackBook’s NY City Guides