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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One NYC-Focused Menu for Eleven Madison Park

Of all the tasting menus in the city, Eleven Madison Park appears to be the best deal. For $195 you get an epic meal created by award winning chef Daniel Humm, at a restaurant that took home their sixth James Beard Award, made the top 10 of the accredited San Pellegrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, garnered four stars from the New York Times, and received three stars in the Michelin Guide. This isn’t just hype: EMP deserves these accolades.

But, where once you had the option of getting a four-course meal or the tasting menu, starting Labor Day only the $195, four-hour-long meal will be available. The New York Times had the scoop on the story and writer Jeff Gordinier reported that EMP also plans to make the menu New York-focused. “Their vision, too, is all about New York. They want EMP to evolve into a restaurant not just in the city, but about it. Scores of elements of the menu and presentation—like the ceramic bowls and the raw oysters; the sea salt and the leather used in the coasters; and the apple brandy that servers will pour toward the end of the meal—will come from New York-area artisans and artists, distillers and farmers.” The last time I was at EMP, I saw a glimpse of this theme as they served a dessert menu that riffed on New York food. For example, they served a deconstructed cheesecake, sweet and savory black and white cookies, and a miniature egg cream that tasted just like a chocolate orange candy.Gordinier continues in his piece, “It’s all part of a $195-a-head menu—and a risky move to convert the Eleven Madison Park experience into an extravagant, participatory, close-to-four-hour ode to the romance and history of New York.”

Though chancy, for Humm and Will Guidara, his business partner and EMP’s general manage, the  move isn’t completely surprising; Humm has a reputation for going above and beyond. As to whether it will be successful, well, EMP does about 200 covers a night and reservations aren’t easy to come by. So, given that and the fact that it’s still a deal when you compare it to other tasting menus like the $295 one at Per Se, I think the people will still flock to their gilded doors.