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

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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

Drink Up Brooklyn: Spirits of the Borough

While Brooklyn is known for the hipster side of do-it-yourself artisanal foodstuffs, the small-batch sprits coming out of the borough go beyond cool—and are actually pretty awesome. “Brooklyn spirits are all made in small batches as opposed to most liquor which is produced in mass quantities,” said Brooklyn Shaken and Stirred organizer Sharon Beason. “This lets Brooklyn producers be creative and experiment more while honoring the traditions of making handcrafted spirits.”

Go celebrate local drinking tonight at the event Brooklyn Shaken and Stirred in the Green Building in Carroll Gardens. From 6 to 9pm, $45 gets you drinks made with Brooklyn Gin, Greenhook Ginsmiths, Brooklyn Republic Vodka, White Pike Whiskey, and El Buho Mezcal, which is actually made in Mexico, but imported through Henry Steele Imports in Brooklyn. The drink masters include bartenders from Fort Defiance, Maison Premiere, Pok Pok, and Sycamore. They will also offer up wine from Brooklyn Oenology and Brooklyn Winery, plus beer by Sixpoint Brewery.

But you can’t drink on an empty stomach. While you sip cocktails you can nibble on food by Brooklyn-based restaurants including Allswell, Dressler, and Van Horn Sandwich Shop, to name a few.

“I believe Brooklyn as a whole has taken off, from the arts and culture scene, to restaurants and bars that have placed us on the international culinary map, to the artisanal goods that line the corners of Smorgasburg every week,” said Beason. “Brooklyn is so community-focused and its residents so proud of all things Brooklyn that many only buy and use these products and they tell everyone they know about them.”

So do it, go get your Brooklyn on.

Consider More Than Oysters: Now at Maison Premiere, You Can

The original concept of Maison Premiere was to create a classy space that channeled old school New Orleans and Paris by serving an array of oysters, wine, and absinthe cocktails. The Williamsburg restaurant succeeded in all these things, yet something was missing. Enter, chef Jared Stafford-Hill, formerly of Adour Alain Ducasse, Bobo, Hearth, Craft, and Gramercy Tavern.

“I was approached about this place as a place that has been successful in all-oyster format,” said Stafford-Hill. “We started talking about doing more small plates and the idea that I got immediately was to make a seafood list, since there are already extensive oyster, wine, and absinthe lists.”

Now, when you pull up to a quaint iron table in their lush backyard, you cannot only fill your gullet with Golden Mantle and Moonshoal oysters but also with king salmon crudo topped in beets and caviar, sea scallops coated in foie gras, and lobster swimming a sweet corn custard. Stafford-Hillhas also added a non-fish dish to the menu: pig, done three ways and coated with a summery apricot sauce and laced with slivers of truffles.

“The pork was our concession; I thought, if we are going to have a meat dish, let’s have a great meat dish,” said Stafford-Hill. As for the seafood part, the chef added that he got a hold of as much ocean life as he could and decided to showcase their natural flavors. “I put it more in a traditional context, nothing cutting edge, but things that work well and that I wanted to present it in a contemporary, pretty way.”

Maison Premiere still offers the 4 to 7pm $1 oyster happy hour that helped make them famous, but now they have even more on the plate. 

Tour de Brooklyn: A Borough Grub Crawl

Last weekend Bon Appetit magazine teamed up with Belvedere Vodka and Chase Sapphire to take a tour of the ever-expanding Brooklyn Food scene. Focusing on three key neighborhoods, Cobble Hill, Williamsburg, and Red Hook, the tours worked to really highlight some of the areas’ best food options, while making it walker-friendly.

I was lucky enough to join Friday’s Cobble Hill grub crawl and started out at Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli’s Italian inspired restaurant Frankies 457 Spuntino. The joint was packed inside, but luckily we ducked out into the garden to sip a berry-ripe lambrusco and nibble on seasonal crostini. The way the tour worked was that they had four groups of people intermittently going to one of the four spots where we stayed for about 45 minutes. Frankies proved a good place to start, but our next stop felt a little awkward.

Dessert before dinner, anyone? Not that I am actually complaining. Given our tour took us to Kim Ima’s brick-and-mortar location of Treats Truck and to a pile of luscious peanut butter and chocolate sandwich cookies, it was a win-win situation. We followed that up with Clover Club and had a lovely punch by cocktail goddess Julie Reiner, who was actually there explaining her drink, giving us a recipe, and then pouring up their house drink comprised of raspberries and Dorothy Parker gin. We ended the night at Seersucker and sampled chef Robert Newton’s sinful fried chicken, fluffy biscuits, pimento cheese, and the Thirsty Owl Riesling that they have on tap. All together, the tour did highlight some of the hottest spots in the neighborhood right now.

On Saturday they covered Williamsburg and smartly chose Rye for cocktails, Maison Premiere for oysters, and Brooklyn Winery for a tour and wine tasting. The other two places I was less impressed with and would have skipped, one of which was Allswell because, frankly, it’s not anything special. Same for the jaunt to the Meatball Shop; while it’s delicious, there’s nothing Brooklyn about it given its two other locations in Manhattan. Sunday’s food crawl took place in Red Hook and did the neighborhood well by hitting up Stumptown Coffee Roasters, trying St. John Frizell’s southern-style Fort Defiance, eating Korean breakfast at The Good Fork, filling up on smoked meat at Mile End, and dancing at the historical bar Sunny’s.

Overall, the folks behind the tour did well to give a broad sampling of the neighborhoods that you can easily walk around in. The only other location I would have included is Prospect Heights where you can easily indulge in seasonal nibbles from The Vanderbilt, cocktails at Weather Up, ramen at Chuko, and oysters at Cornelius—but I guess that’s a good excuse to do that one on my own. 

4 Out of 5: Jenna Wortham on New York

Jenna Wortham is a technology reporter for the New York Times living in Brooklyn. When she isn’t hunting for new GIFs on the internet or sending messages in emoji, she’s working on her side project, Girl Crush Zine. This is her take on four places she likes, and one place she doesn’t.

RECOMMENDED

Pies-n-Thighs – "If the name isn’t enough to sell you on this cute and homey spot in South Williamsburg, then the food DEFINITELY will. Their crispy fried chicken is a beloved standby, but the fried chicken sandwich, with bacon, avocado and cheese, takes it to the next level — and if you really want to get serious, the fried catfish box brings to mind hot summers growing up in Virginia. Can never go wrong with a slice of their pies either, which rival The Blue Stove’s for the best in the ‘burg."

Littlefield – "I came here recently on a Monday night for ‘Hot Tub,’ a weekly comedy showcase and variety show hosted by Kurt Braunohler and Kristen Schaal, and it was one of the most fun things I’ve been to in a long time. Plenty of space, always a good crowd, good drinks, and they often throw parties and have live music the rest of the week."

Desert Island – "Spend many a Sunday browsing through the DIY zines, indie publications, limited-run comics, and books in this shop. On a recent trip I walked away with Lindzine, a photo zine dedicated to Lindsay Lohan; the Bushwick Review, a weekly guide the the neighborhood and Diary, a hand-drawn comic about a woman’s adventures around the US. The cozy shop is beautifully curated and the owner, Gabe (as well as anyone else that works there), is usually more than willing to help you sift through the well-stocked shelves to find something unique and interesting to read."

Bembe – "Best way to warm up on a cold winter’s night. This tiny Brazilian dance club under the Williamburg bridge reminds me of the best kind of thumping house parties — cheap, overflowing drinks, music you can’t help but switch your hips to, and pretty faces all around. Don’t bother wearing too much makeup, high heels, or fancy clothes — just come to dance and sweat and leave feeling like you own this city."

NOT SO MUCH

"Most of the mainstream joints on Bedford Avenue. Stretch your legs and get beyond the the well-trafficked parts of this neighborhood, and you’re guaranteed to find more than a few gems — including Maison Premiere for amazing oysters and whisky drinks, Book Thug Nation for fresh reads, Greenhouse Holisitic for yoga and inexpensive massages, Cafe Colette for a perfectly executed brunch, and Midway for a drink in a friendly, Christmas-light lit-dive."

4 Out of 5: Greg Bresnitz on Brooklyn

Greg Bresnitz is cohost of weekly food & music radio show Snacky Tunes. He and his twin brother are the co-creators of Dinner with the Band and one of the djs in the disco house group PUNCHES.This is his take on four places he likes, and one place he doesn’t.

RECOMMENDED

Blue Bottle Coffee – "My first introduction to the personalized cup of coffee, and I never looked back. Their Kyoto drip is straight rocket fuel, so I stick with the regular cup of coffee — one of the best I have ever had."

Maison Premiere – "Fell in love with this place this summer. The happy hour (Monday to Friday, 4-7pm) is dollar oysters on the entire menu. For people who want to expand their horizons, a really great way to start learning about oysters. Also some of the best-looking staff around."

Nitehawk Cinema – "The new digital movie theater/restaurant/bar. if you are the awkward type, you can get a good date out of this place with minimal talking. Get to the theater early for the well-curated 30 minutes of shorts before each movie."

Cameo – "One of my favorite Brooklyn venues. Perfect size and great vibes with one of the coolest art installations ever. Good spot to dance, especially after 2am."

NOT SO MUCH

Blue Bottle Coffee – "Do not go here on the weekends — the lines are so long, best to be enjoyed during the week."

[Photo: Sam Horine]

New York Openings: Maison Premiere, Van Horn Sandwich Shop, Doughnut Plant

Maison Premiere (Williamsburg) – Bedford Ave. gets ever closer to Bourbon Street with this oyster-shucking homage to the Old Absinthe House. ● Van Horn Sandwich Shop (Cobble Hill) – Tar Heel duo raids family recipes to bring BK banging catfish, pulled pork, and buttermilk fried chicken. ● Doughnut Plant (Chelsea) – Legendary shop ready to deliver 5,000 artisanal doughnuts to the Chelsea hordes daily.