WTF?! This Fall’s Nightlife Gossip

I remember my first date with Jeannie LoVullo like it was yesterday. She chewed a lot of gum and said "what the fuck" a lot. This weekend was like a date with Jeannie LoVullo; my movers, who were indeed shakers, were chewing gum and saying "what the fuck” a lot. They got me saying it. I didn’t have time to go out but did answer the phone and heard bits and pieces of what seems like a great game of musical chairs. I’ll get to the bottom of all this faster than you can say "wtf," but for now you will have to accept these moist and fuzzy tidbits. I hear that Nur may be leaving The Electric Room on his way to the newly remodeled TriBeCa Grand. My source who is usually unreliable swears it’s true, citing contract endings and stuff like that. I also hear that Travis Bass will also bring his special brand of whoopee yippee yay nightlife to TriBeCa. This may be a temporary thing, as he is slated to be a honcho over at the 199 Bowery space that EMM Group is developing for November. OK, OK,. I’m pausing for a WTF…

I heard that Jamie Mulholland was all set for that bank space on the corner of Houston and Essex which has, for years, been so many things to so many people. Now, this other group is there doing something irrelevant, and I’m not sure what’s going on with Jamie. He would be the perfect fit for what is an imperfect space. I’ll find out WTF is going on and tell you when the time is right.

 Also, I am told that Vala Durvett has taken over the job of putting asses in seats over at the almost new Bishops & Barons. They kicked Danny Kane and his crew out for lack of performance, according to another fairly unreliable source. Translation: they opened at a bad time, withered during the summer, and kicked their team out as the season began. Vala is a good fit for this joint as its 14th Street East location is a tough destination. Bishops is located right between the IHOP, and they just opened Bait & Hook, my pal Div Patel’s (formally of Nest) seafood joint. WTF, Vala has her work cutout for her, trying to hook people over to a hood where no man has gone before. Good thing she knows a lot of women. It can be done; Beauty Bar has been there since WTF – the last century. I’m sure I’ll get some calls to clarify, and so I will.

Moving has been one big WTF and I’m a bit frayed. I’ll be at BINGO as usual tonight to get my mojo back, and if I win I’m just gonna yel…you got it.. WTF!

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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What We’ve Wanted All Along: Long Island City’s S Prime

S Prime, the steakhouse that opened this fall in Long Island City, certainly has some competition from the other side of the bridge.

In 1985, Paul Castellano, boss of the Gambino crime family, was gunned down in front of Sparks at the behest of John Gotti, and it’s for this reason I’ve always had an affinity for steakhouses. I’m not partial to violence; I’m terrified of guns. But growing up as a native New Yorker plucked from my home city, visits back were always validated by a visit to Sparks (or Keens or Peter Luger), where the grounds of something as cartoonishly New Yorkey as a famous mob hit helps to beat on against the current of The Lion King on Broadway.

Which is to say, a good steakhouse ought not to dazzle with anything too inventive. Rather, it should give us those reminders—oysters on the half shell, thick-ass filets, buttered-up vegetables—of what we’ve always loved enough to shell out hundreds of dollars for. And it’s in this regard that S Prime knows what it’s doing.

The executive chef Joel Reiss – who’s made the rounds of The Post House, Maloney & Porcelli, Orsay, and Artisanal – strikes a blend of sincerity and not-taking-things-too-seriously that seems to get rarer in this city, between the purveyors of hipster ramen and any of those farm-to-table gastropub people the New Yorker has profiled. The only addendum to the meat itself is an optional Cajun spice rub. Every time Reiss mentioned it, he’d hold up his palms and go, “I make it myself,” all in one syllable.   

The signature cuts vary a bit from my admittedly infantile adherence to filet mignon (if I couldn’t gnaw through a rib eye at 5, why try now?). A 28-ounce, 60-day dry aged rib eye is Reiss’ trophy steak, again with the self-made Cajun spice that is, indeed, spicy.

The trio of tartares is a must: smoked salmon with bagel chips, spicy tuna with wanton chips, and a steak tartare you could eat a whole sandwich of. The sides list, divided between “Good Sides” (vegetables) and “Bad Sides” (fatty stuff), features a Lap Cheong fried rice and baby brussel sprouts rolled in butter and parmesan, which are much less bitter (maybe it was the butter?) than their larger siblings and are also, as I’ve discovered, incredibly hard to find in the grocery store. And then there’s the crab cake, which is pleasantly made of crab, as opposed to celery and bread crumbs. 

All this stuff is served in ample portions, and the food itself is appetizing enough that no frivolous design affects are necessary. The dining room, with tall ceilings and tufted leather booths, is night-clubby in a Queens sort of way. But the best part is that despite all the dark accents, the place is lit up enough so you can see what you’re eating.

Reiss, a Queens native, now lives in Oceanside, where he keeps a fishing boat that he takes out most mornings. “Catch a striped bass—that’s dinner for three days.” After a long whimsy about steaks, he conceded that most nights these days, it’s chicken or fish. “Twice a month I’ll have a piece of meat.” You know, as a reminder.

New York Opening: Bait & Hook

Just as the name suggests, once you’re baited to this groovy new East Village seafood spot, you’ll be hooked. Div Patel’s cleverly-named Bait & Hook goes for  shellfish-heavy culinary comfort, with lobster mac & cheese, crab chorizo corn pizza, and their signature jalapeno-spiked scallop roll.

Hefty burgers sate those not inclined toward treasures of the sea. Reasonably priced craft beers wash it all down. The real genius is that this Cape Cod and seafaring-inspired restaurant site right on the frenetic corner of 14th Street and Second Avenue, making it a beachy retreat amid this concrete jungle.

Eleven Excuses to Celebrate at Terranea Resort

There are some key moments in life when you feel inspired to do something really great; like when you graduate college, take that first 8am sip of an iced coffee, or get a really uplifting quote on the inside of your Dove chocolate wrapper. For me, a moment came just last week, when I was observing a wedding and a 50th birthday party, all from a patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a pool, a spa, a set of mountains, and a sunset. The location: Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, just 40 minutes south of Los Angeles. And when you’re at a sprawling oceanfront resort surrounded by celebrations, you just feel inspired to make your own.

At Terranea, celebrations are everywhere, and every cranny of the seven dining spots, three pools, 225 fire pits, and 582 rooms (starting at $425/night) is abuzz with a "life-is-good" hominess that makes you not want to leave. Which is why many of the guests—mostly unassuming millionaires—don’t, and decide to buy one of the jacuzzi-and-fireplace-stocked casitas or villas for sale on the property. Beyond the scenery and accommodations is a menu list of adventures known as "Pointe Discovery" activities, where guests can hitch a ride on a horse, explore sea life in the tidal pools, meet some falcons, hike, kayak, and more.

Need an excuse to visit Terranea? Maybe a tailored itinerary, too? Try one of these, and begin The Terranea Experience.

You’re Days Away From Getting Married: Your single days are numbered, so grab your girlfriends, and share one of the 1,100-square-foot Spa Club Bungalows right by the ocean. Included in that $1,215 ticket are free meals at the Spa Café, free use of the spa pool and amenities, 10 percent off spa/salon services, and 10 percent off cabana rentals. You’ll also get a personal concierge, so you can start getting used to bossing someone around all the time.

You Can’t Remember When You Last Vacationed: Leave work behind and live it up in one of Terranea’s oceanside 900-square-foot suites with a private patio, living room, and stone master bathroom. If you can make it out of your suite, head over to Nelson’s; a stone and wood-beam sports bar restaurant that sits right by the ocean – for a beer, shrimp taco, and an outdoor table by the sunset, all while getting reacquainted with your social life. 

Winter Isn’t Fun Anymore: With its three heated pools (family, adult, and spa), hot tubs, saunas, and fire pits, you can catch a lot of warmth at Terranea, no matter the weather. Then, when you’re complaining about how hot summer is, you’ll be glad the ocean and cold plunge pool at the spa is nearby.

Your First Weekend Without The Kids: Just take any room that’s available and get out ASAP for heaven’s sake. Have a couple of beers and a sunset dinner at Nelson’s, race each other in kayaks, swim in the adults-only pool, dress up for some seafood at Mar’sel, and end each night with s’mores by a fire pit.

Wait, You Had To Bring The Kids: Go for Pointe Discovery’s horseback riding adventure at Wagon Wheel Ranch and get a view of all of LA—from Malibu to Long Beach—right on your thoroughbred. Refuel at the kid-safe, all-day dining spot Catalina Kitchen, just steps from the family pool. Then, drop them off at The Tidal Pool Kids Club for a day and evening of nonstop themed activities and projects, while you get multiple reflexology and shiatsu massages.

You’re Bored of Malibu: Whether you’re sick of living or vacationing there, sometimes it’s just really nice to get out of LA and go somewhere not too far away that still feels uncharted. Recapture the charm with a guestroom that overlooks the ocean, and begin your day at the quaint and warm café Sea Beans—where a cappuccino keeps you buzzed for hours, and a lemon blueberry scone is the size of a pizza slice—but better.

You Just Wanna See Some Ocean, Dammit: Okay, this is really easy. Reserve any of the oceanside or oceanview rooms, and eat at Mar’sel and Nelson’s for every meal. Sit by the spa pool facing the water, and in the afternoon, book a tidal pooling Pointe Discovery trek with Sean, where you’ll discuss Taoism and Hawaii, in the midst of jumping into the cove and sticking your fingers in Hoover-sucking sea anemone.

You’re Going to Propose: If she won’t say yes here, then you’re out of luck. Make it special with a couples’ Signature Treatment Suite at the spa, and an oceanside king room, a platter of fresh oysters from Catalina Kitchen’s Friday night seafood buffet, and rose petals, and sprawl on the bed in just a robe and… KIDDING, JUST KIDDING. But really though, that’s a very good deal.

You’re On a Seafood Binge: When you’re surrounded by ocean on three sides, you can’t go wrong with ordering seafood, which is why every dining spot at Terranea offers some edible form of sea creature. To make the most of it, arrive on Friday and head to Catalina Kitchen’s weekly seafood buffet. Then make your way to the spa on Saturday, and pick up a lunchbox full of coriander-crusted tuna rolls and Thai-style shrimp salad. For dinner, check out Terranea’s fine-dining spot Mar’sel for their wild Alaskan halibut, or the crispy walnut shrimp at Asian fusion spot Bashi. Then wake up on Sunday for Catalina Kitchen’s buffet seafood-filled brunch. Vacationing is fun!

You’re Having a Quarter-Life Crisis: Give yourself some time to think and overanalyze the meaning of your life with Pointe Discovery’s painting by the sea and a hike to the Point Vicente Lighthouse. Who cares how long the trek is? It’s not the destination, but the journey that counts. HAHA.

You’re Sick of Everyone: Four words—falconry and horseback riding. Just stick with the animals.

Terranea Resort

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.