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Recipe: Taste New Orleans via a La Louisiane

Sick of your usual call drink? Try something new. In this series, we’re asking the city’s bartenders to name their current drinks of choice. Check out our Good Call archives for another round.

Today’s call comes by way of Will Elliott, head bartender at Maison Premiere (298 Bedford Avenue; 347-335-0446).

Opening a New Orleans-style bar in Brooklyn has certain requirements, one of which is to have thematically appropriate drinks. That means digging into the archives for drinks like the sazerac — or a La Louisiane. For Will Elliott, who helped open the popular Bedford Avenue absinthe and oyster den, a La Louisiane is the perfect representation for the spirit of the Crescent City. However, Elliott’s appreciation for the drink came after he’d fine-tuned his palate with high-proof spirits like mezcals and grappas.

“I got my start in being interested in liquor culture more through tasting,” says Elliott. “The bar that I was helping run prior to Maison Premiere was very much a spirits tasting bar. I was all about tasting high-proof spirits in small amounts and being comfortable with that.”

When he was asked to help open a bar in the vein of Old New Orleans, his experience with the La Louisiane came mostly from hearing others talk about it, but the bar decided to put it on the opening menu since it was contextually appropriate. The drink, a blend of Peychaud’s Bitters, Benedictine, vermouth, rye whiskey, and absinthe, has been a cornerstone ever since.

“It has all the representative things of New Orleans to me…it intrigued me,” says Elliott. “I train a lot of new bartenders, and if they’re not bartender choicing that, they’re not really representing us.”

If you don’t feel like making the trip to Brooklyn, Elliott recommends ordering the cocktail at Death and Co. and The Library Bar at the Nomad.

La Louisiane

4 dashes of Absinthe Verte
4 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
1/2 ounce Benedictine
3/4 ounce Carpano Antica vermouth
1 3/4 ounce Rittenhouse rye whiskey

Pour ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake several times. Stir well and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

When in a nostalgic mood for his home state, Elliott opts for another whiskey-and-absinthe combination, Remember the Maine. He’s been kind enough to pass that recipe on as well.

Remember the Maine

2 teaspoons of cherry heering
1 teaspoon of absinthe
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
2 ounces rye whiskey

Combine ingredients in a glass, fill with ice, and stir vigorously. Strain into a chilled glass.


 

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Best Oyster Happy Hour

Just south of the madness that is the Bedford L stop sits 1920s New Orleans–themed Maison Premiere, which boasts one of the greatest oyster selections in the entire city. The list runs about 20 deep, with shells from beds located everywhere from Maine to New Zealand and an emphasis on hard-to-find East Coast varietals. Normally, these mollusks are about $3 each, but from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and weekends from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m., Maison holds a $1 oyster happy hour featuring a few of its recent finds. It’s best to get there early; the line often forms before the doors even open. Grab a stool at the horseshoe-shaped bar or find a seat in the splendid backyard space, and pair an order of a dozen to a cocktail.

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These Are the Ten Best Restaurant Patios, Rooftops, and Outdoor Dining Experiences in NYC

Sometimes our hunger can’t be contained within mere brick and mortar, and so we set out in search of the city’s many courtyards, patios, gardens, terraces, and rooftops, looking for a place to put food into our mouths while enjoying the weather. A fine time can be had outdoors, whether gazing out at a beautiful vista or eating within the confines of ivy-covered walls. Outdoor dining in New York adds its own intangible spice, even if one of those spices is occasionally exhaust fumes. Here are our favorite places to bask in the airy glow of a gorgeous day.

10. The Bahche, 191 7th Street, Brooklyn; 718-422-0801 A former warehouse in Gowanus sounds like a great place to host a Molly-fueled EDM festival, but this Mediterranean cafe with a well-appointed courtyard is a perfectly respectful tenant, and one whose food needn’t be experienced while rolling. The abbreviated menu includes simple, fresh salads and panini, as well as shareable snacks like hummus, string bean, and eggplant meze.

9. The High Line, closest to the 14th Street and 18th Street entrances on Tenth Avenue Climb the High Line’s stairs and watch out for double entendres: The west side attraction is basically one big elevated food tour, both in its offerings and its construct. Let Paul Grieco drop some sherry knowledge at Terroir, tuck into brisket at Delaney Barbecue’s SmokeLine, and cool off with frozen treats from La Newyorkina, L’Arte del Gelato, Melt Bakery, and People’s Pops.

8. Cafe Allegria, 547 St. Mark’s Avenue, Brooklyn; 917-589-8418 If the outdoor seating area adjacent to this charming Crown Heights cafe feels like someone’s backyard, that’s because it is. The owners live upstairs, and inside, vintage design elements adorn a counter and kitchen area that still retain some residential charm. Bagels and croissants are made in-house, and coffee’s served strong. [

7. Vetro by Russo’s, 164-49 Cross Bay Boulevard, Queens; 718-843-8387 Frank Russo is the man behind the Russo’s on the Bay brand, which has proliferated throughout Queens to spread his particular brand of hospitality, which often features large portions of reliable Italian fare. Vetro goes for Howard Beach swank, with an exterior neon glow and expansive outdoor patio overlooking the northern tip of Jamaica Bay. The Vegas-light architecture complements plates of clams oreganata, king crab-stuffed shrimp smothered in béchamel, and pork osso buco.

6. Sea Witch Tavern, 703 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn; 347-227-7166 It’s far too easy to wile away an afternoon in the back garden at this Sunset Park watering hole, which features a manmade terraced babbling brook running through its middle. In addition to having one of our favorite fried clam rolls in town, pork schnitzel that dwarfs its bun, and a dressed up fast food-style burger, the bar serves a competent roster of craft cocktails and beers.

5. Gallow Green at the McKittrick Hotel, 530 West 27th Street, 212-904-1883 Eschew the theatrics at Sleep No More below and head straight to the McKittrick Hotel’s rooftop restaurant and bar, which provides plenty of entertaining atmosphere and whose industrial surroundings are offset by lush flora and a vintage train car that doubles as a dining room. Revelers will find an impressive list of cocktails, punches, and small, United Kingdom-inspired snacks from which to choose, like bite-sized pork pies to pair with a deep bowl of smoky, fruity, and sparkling mescal and raspberry punch called Touch of Evil.

4. The West 79th Street Boat Basin Café, West 79th Street at Henry Hudson Parkway, 212-496-5542 Come for the view, which proves itself most during sunsets that disappear into the Palisades across the Hudson river. Stay for the grilled La Frieda burgers and abbreviated list of snacks, salads, and sandwiches. Brunch plates are available on weekends, and the bar makes good use of their slushy machine.

3. Maison Premiere, 298 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn; 347-335-0446 You can enjoy this New Orleans-inspired restaurant’s back garden at midnight or mid-day, where ‘good’ comes in the form of seafood preparations both raw and cooked, and ‘evil’ entices via the 22 varieties of absinthe poured. Try the fabled intoxicant in cocktails such as the Mother Henriot’s Elixir, which pairs Duplais Verte absinthe with sloe gin, green Chartreuse, Angostura bitters, and sea salt.

2. Riverpark, 450 East 29th Street, 212-729-9790 At Tom Colicchio’s hidden restaurant, situated in the back of a recessed high-rise and overlooking Riverpark Farm, Sisha Ortuzar commands a menu of rustic dishes including cylinders of duck liver pâté topped with blood orange gelée and pork loin supported by apple, cipollini onions, and brussels sprouts. There’s also a more casual bar menu, should the desire for fried chicken strike. Outdoor diners have two experiences to choose from: more formal service on the restaurant’s patio, or communal seating at picnic tables on the restaurants terrace in view of the on-site herb and vegetable garden. Granted, this is produce that sits on a lip above the FDR, but who’s complaining? Riverside dining options are few and far between.

1. Birreria, 200 Fifth Avenue, 212-229-2560 Eataly’s rooftop beer garden serves a modest selection of interesting craft beers, some of which are brewed in-house. With the market below as its purveyor, the quality of the ingredients used translates to pitch-perfect antipasti and salumi, as well as larger plates like flap steak with porcini-beer mustard. Larger groups of carnivores would do well to order the piatto misto, a platter that includes the restaurant’s three proprietary sausages and apricot glazed pork shoulder and three vegetable sides for $90.

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The Village Voice’s New Year’s Eve Guide

It’s with good reason that more than 1 billion people around the world tune in to watch the ball drop in Times Square: No one knows how to do New Year’s Eve like New York City. And while you can brave the crowds and the cold this year with none other than Miley Cyrus performing just before midnight, there are countless other ways to make the evening memorable.

Our New Year’s Eve guide is packed with ideas for nearly any kind of celebration you’re looking for. Get started before the sun goes down at Williamsburg’s charming Maison Premiere, which opens at 4 p.m. for cocktails and oysters, a dish known for bringing good luck on New Year’s. If you’re not an oyster fan, but want a prosperous 2014, try Rosanjin, an authentic Japanese restaurant serving a special bowl of lucky buckwheat noodles with its elegant 10-course kaiseki dinner, or Marco’s for lentils and cotechino, a traditional Italian NYE dish.

What about entertainment, you ask? While most theaters are dark tonight, the long-running Sleep No More, an interactive Macbeth–inspired drama, plays at the McKittrick Hotel along with a delectable feast and masquerade party. For music fans, the options couldn’t be better. Mykki Blanco at Gramercy Theatre, Antibalas at S.O.B.’s, and Andrew “Party Til You Puke” W.K. at Irving Plaza are just a few you can count down to midnight with. If it’s dancing you’re after, trek over to the Bell House for The Rub‘s old-school, bump-n-grind house party, or hunt down Verboten‘s bash, featuring rising British house DJ Maya Jane Coles, at a secret location. And as the clock strikes 12, the insanity keeps going at BLKMRKT Membership’s “24-Hour Party” at Output. See you on the dance floor.

Our New Year’s Eve Guides:

Eats + Drinks: Dishes and spirits to celebrate

Concerts: Music to soundtrack the start of a new year

Dance: Strut your stuff at these parties

Wild Card: More options to ring in 2014

The 10 Best Champagne Cocktails in NYC by Nicole Schnitzler

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Our 10 Best Restaurants for Oysters in NYC

Lucky for those of us who crave raw bar offerings in this city’s summer heat, oysters are now offered at almost all restaurants of a certain echelon that are worth their salt. We demystified the source of the shellfish in last week’s Village Voice, and now we’ve rounded up the 10 best spots for eating oysters in NYC. For ultimate usability, we’ve compiled the list superlatively, high school yearbook-style. Read on for steals, deals, splurges, and scenes within New York’s massive mollusk market.

 

Best Bucket-List Oyster: Aqua Grill, 210 Spring Street

If you’re serious about oysters, Aqua Grill is a must. Chef Jeremy Marshall stocks one of the city’s best selections of bivalves culled from waters around the world, amassed into a list that changes on a daily basis. The mollusks are shucked before your eyes if you’re at the bar and served with finesse by a friendly, knowledgeable staff.

Best Hole-in-the-Wall Oyster: Upstate, 95 First Avenue

This tiny, no-reservations First Avenue spot houses a long bar with just a few tables squeezed in for good measure, but it boasts a killer oyster selection. Choose from over 20 varieties, and don’t miss the happy hour special: $12 for a half-dozen oysters and a pint of craft beer. As a bonus, the spot serves complimentary whiskey cake, a sweet treat to finish your meal.

Best Oyster to Eat and Run: Grand Central Oyster Bar, Grand Central Station, 89 East 42nd Street

This classic midtown oyster haven keeps it classy with solid service, serious ambiance (see the Gustavino tiled arches for proof), and dozens of varieties of oyster, listed with helpful descriptors so that you can easily differentiate between Blue Points and Malpeques. The bar provides good reason to come early and slurp down a dozen before you board a train, though this restaurant is also a worthy destination in itself.

Best Oysters for the Hype: Maison Premiere, 298 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn

This Bedford Avenue hotspot–with its sexy, 19th-century French Quarter ambience, friendly waitstaff, and absinthe on tap–has received a lot of buzz since it opened in 2011. If you can snag a table, you’ll find its oysters definitely live up to the hype: Maison Premiere stocks a well-edited list of hard-to-find varieties. Having trouble deciding? Opt for the five species selection, chosen on the spot by the chef.

Best Oyster Deal: Fish, 280 Bleecker Street

This West Village eatery, with a cute but no-frills interior and solid service, doesn’t stock a huge variety of oysters, but it makes up for a lack of breadth by offering one of the best deals in town: An $8 all-hours special that nets you a half-dozen oysters plus a glass of house red or white or a PBR.

Best Rooftop Oyster: Brooklyn Crab, 24 Reed Street, Brooklyn

On Mondays and Tuesdays, the Crab offers $1 house oysters (usually Blue Points) and $2 Naragansett drafts all day, which makes it a fun cheap date early in the week. Best of all is the rooftop, where you can grab a table and watch the sun set over the harbor. Just arrive early, because the dinner rush is a mob scene.

Best Scenester Oyster: John Dory Oyster Bar, 1196 Broadway

April Bloomfield’s Ace Hotel seafood spot doesn’t take reservations, but with an extensive and rotating variety of the freshest oysters $3 can buy, aficionados would be foolish to skip it. Plus, drinking with the Manhattan hipsters and bridge-and-tunnel types that swarm the hotel lobby bar as you wait is a worthy experience in humanity, and there’s always a bauble to buy at the adjacent Opening Ceremony.

Best Red-Tape Oyster: City Hall Restaurant, 131 Duane Street

If you’ve spent your day in court or gnashing your teeth at some city agency over permitting or parking tickets, step into City Hall Restaurant’s coolly civilized dining room for a simple platter of oysters from the extensive raw bar, or splurge on a shellfish tower, which is one of the best in town. This spot’s been around for years, and it’s a reliable snag for a last-minute date reservation. It’s also great for groups and parties, making it a prime spot to gather after a City Hall wedding.

Best Oyster Family: Mermaid Inn and Mermaid Oyster Bar; 96 Second Avenue, 79 MacDougal Street, 568 Amsterdam

With a daily oyster happy hour (5 to 7 p.m. uptown and Second Avenue; 4 to 7 p.m. in the West Village) and outdoor seating at Second Avenue and uptown, this ever-growing NYC oyster standby is always a reliable catch. The list divides the mollusks between East Coast and West Coast, which gives you a chance to compare and contrast.

Campiest Oyster: Sammy’s Fish Box, 41 City Island Avenue, Bronx

With over-the-top nautical, neon, and airplane-themed décor, Sammy’s looks and feels a bit like a carnival. But after a day carousing at City Island, it’s fitting and super family-friendly. Let the kids eat mac & cheese while you nosh on a plate of oysters (we’d go fried here). Highbrow it’s not, but after 47 years in business, it must be onto something.

Hungry for more? Find me on Twitter @findthathannah.

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Demystifying New York’s Favorite Mollusk, The Oyster

On a recent Friday night, a crowd amasses outside Williamsburg oyster mecca Maison Premiere, smoking their way through a 90-minute wait for a table. Meanwhile on Manhattan’s West Side, diners pack the bar at Aqua Grill, slurping down more than 30 bivalve varieties, and on 29th Street, the salivating hordes spill into the Ace Hotel lobby bar, waiting in boozy purgatory for a table at John Dory Oyster Bar. Just uptown, ad executives eat themselves into briny oblivion beneath the tiled arches at Grand Central Oyster Bar, where primetime dinner reservations are scarce at best.

You could say New York is experiencing a major bout of oystermania. Demand for oysters has risen relentlessly since the 1990s. To meet it, oystermen are increasingly transitioning from fishing to farming; with oyster beds largely ruined by overfishing, pollution, and disease, farms make oysters a renewable commodity.

Grand Central chef-owner Sandy Ingber says farmed oysters mean increased availability during summer months, when oysters go through a spawning period that renders their flesh thin, flabby, and unpalatable. “Back in the 1990s, there were so few oysters in the summer . . . it was just brutal. Now, when one is going out of season, another’s coming back on,” he says.

At Aqua Grill, owner Jeremy Marshall says he chooses from more than 250 varieties; something is always in season. Marshall likes Rhode Island Moonstones: “They have a sweet meat and briny finish. There are great subtleties to the liquor [the brine inside the oyster], so you get these cucumber and watermelon flavors.”

Like wine, oysters take their name and flavor from their surroundings—all East Coast oysters are the same species, Crassostrea virginica—so they’re defined by the bay they come from. Those who live by the bivalve tend to speak of the different varieties in start-to-finish terms and flavor notes.

Ingber prefers Island Creek Oysters (George W. Bush’s favorite—he calls them “Oyster du President”), from Duxbury, Massachusetts. He says it’s best to try an oyster “naked,” without cocktail sauce or other accoutrements: “Put it in your mouth, swirl it around, get the full flavor. You can taste the terroir of the oyster. Then put whatever you want on top.”

At Island Creek Oyster Farm, wholesaler Chris Sherman says his oysters taste like the sea floor: “We plant our oysters right in the mud, with the algae, so there’s this great vegetal tone, celery-grassy flavors, and a buttery texture,” he says. At low tide, Island Creeks are exposed to the air and clamp shut to survive. This encourages thick muscle growth and makes for a “really strong, sweet finish,” Sherman says, “as the enzymes in your mouth start digesting that muscle.” This kind of hearty meat is unusual for farm-raised oysters, which are known for being pampered by farmers rather than struggling for survival.

Marshall says wild oysters tend to be heartier. “Wild shells are firmer and don’t crack as easily,” he says. “The meat inside tends to be stronger. Liquor retention is much better, because the shells have been tossed around, and it’s survival of the fittest.” But, Marshall says, because of their relative scarcity, “You just don’t see them that often.”

There are still wild catches around if you know what to look for. One popular local variety is the “Naked Cowboy” from Long Island Sound.

Long Island oysterman Jeffrey Mannheimer has been diving for shellfish in the sound for 25 years. He’s one of a handful of locals to make a successful business of it—most fishermen use other methods, but Mannheimer loves to dive. “I enjoy being underwater. I’d rather go 30 feet deep than pull on 60 feet of aluminum pole and get 20 oysters. I can catch them faster.”

This year, the sea is abundant. “I’m working areas where more often than not, we don’t have work,” Mannheimer says. “There are no guarantees with fishing. We had no oysters for a 10-year period.”

In the mid-’90s, a plague wiped out the entire local catch. Mannheimer stayed afloat by fishing for clams and buying and selling fish instead. When restaurants were smacked during the 2008 financial crash, demand for fish fell and Mannheimer’s trading business suffered, but the oyster beds were back. “I went back to the water, and I’ve been happy ever since,” he says. Oysters from the sound bring a good price for their hardiness (big, thick shells, longer shelf life), relative rarity, and punchy, full flavor.

Since then, demand has risen. Karen Rivara, a founding member of Noank Aquaculture Cooperative in Connecticut, credits the recent craze to new ways of thinking about food. “Oysters fit into the new trends, which focus on local and sustainable foods. People are very engaged with where food comes from. With oysters, production is sustainable—they’re eating something that will be replaced.

“They also just taste really good,” Rivara adds, almost as an afterthought. “There’s a wow factor to eating oysters that stays with people.”

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Part Two With Lisa Giffen, Executive Chef of Maison Premiere

In part one of our interview with Lisa Giffen, executive chef of Maison Premiere, we covered her French-influenced culinary style, the plastic bench scraper she keeps in her pocket at all times, and the spot where she celebrates a special night out. In part two of our chat, she reflects on her desert island food, divulges her favorite food-related item to give as a gift, and gives advice to amateur cooks looking to improve their kitchen creations.

What’s your favorite meal to cook at home?
Anything I can make through slow-cooking or roasting and not have to worry about it, so pernil or duck à l’orange. I like to let all the work do itself and hang out with my friends and drink wine. And then, hours later, dinner is ready.

What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten?
When I was 15 years old, I went to Paris with my mom. I grew up in Europe, and I had an opportunity to travel, but until then, I just wanted to stay home. But when I was 15, I went, and it was my first time having oysters, my first time watching French people eat and drink wine and smoke cigarettes. They had this attitude. It made me appreciate eating out and leisurely lunches.

What do you wish you could put on your menu?
It’s less about items and more about ingredients. I would use the very best olive oil or the very best Champagne in my sabayon. I guess I could do it if I wanted to charge people $1 million, but it’s not accessible. And it’s kind of snobbish to think of food like that.

What music is best to cook to?
We cook to a lot of Gorillaz. And a lot of jazz when it’s a stressed moment. Chef Lisa is in her stressed mode when jazz goes on, and everyone knows that.

What one tip would you offer an amateur cook looking to improve his or her cooking?
Just try it. The idea behind cooking is trying. At home, try everything. You’ll figure it out and get better. And for an amateur chef, go work at restaurants for free or for pay–the more experience, the better.

What do you wish you could tell your line-cook self?
Enjoy this moment when there are no other responsibilities and you just have to focus on this day and this mise en place, versus all the other things you’ll eventually take on. And try to inspire people and get inspiration from them. It can be exhausting. So just focus on cooking this food right and well.

What’s your favorite dish on your menu right now?
I have maybe three favorites right now. One of the items is the black cod. Another is the pigeon with foie and star anise. It’s super-tender, and the turnips are cooked different ways–glazed and fresh–so they all have different textures. And finally, the sea urchin. The daikon comes raw, pickled, and braised. We combine that with the sea urchin we get flown in from California.

What are your favorite local purveyors?
Anyone at the Greenmarket. D’Artagnan for meats, pigeon, and rabbit. All of the oyster purveyors: Hama Hama, Norm Bloom in Connecticut. We get so many oysters. Learning when they’re harvesting and seeding is like learning about vegetables; there’s such a small window. They’re mailed to us and brought to us. Naked Cowboy brings them to us directly. Krystof [Zizka], the owner, helped build and maintain all that so we can have all the variety.

Describe your craziest night in the kitchen.
There was a night at Adour, and we were serving a very big private dinner. Eighty people were coming. Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller were there; each chef was doing a different course, and we were doing the first and last courses. Mr. Ducasse was in the kitchen, and all of these chefs and sous chefs were working together. We were going to send out these gougères [a type of puff pastry] at the beginning. So we made the gougères and put them in the oven, and someone burned the gougères. All of a sudden, we’re scrambling around, whipping eggs, and making a whole new batch of gougères fast-fast-fast. We were frantic: We had to whip out 80 more gougères. But I’ll never forget seeing Mr. Ducasse standing there, cool as a cucumber, and watching all the other chefs watch us quietly from the sidelines. There was this divide in the kitchen. That’s what it’s always like when some mishap happens. A tray of something falls down, someone burns your whatever, and you go fast to get it fixed.

What’s your proudest culinary moment?
It’s not like one single moment, but sometimes when I’m teaching another cook something, I reflect and remember when I was learning that. I remember when that skill took me forever to do. It’s a proud moment I have all the time. You see how far you come even in little day-to-day things. I remember all the trouble, and I see the other person struggling and remember when I was that person.

What’s your desert island food?
Pizza. I love pizza. Who doesn’t love pizza?

What’s the most pressing food-related issue today?
Sustainability and being responsible about everything. That and making food more affordable. We talk about organics, but we leave a lot of people without money out of that picture.

What’s always in your refrigerator at home?
Pellegrino. That’s the only thing right now.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
In oysters, there are these little pea crabs. One of our cooks was making everyone eat them. And I was like, “I’m not going to, that’s gross.” So he fried one up and made me eat it. And it was fine. It was fried, so it was good.

What’s your favorite food-related item to give as a gift?
I like giving pickled items. That’s always fun. And honeys. Everyone likes honey. Kitchen tools if you know the person. Then you can be like, “Here, you need a zester,” or, “Here’s a cast-iron pan.”

What’s the most challenging thing about working in the New York restaurant scene?
It’s nonstop in so many ways. You’re not one out of 20 restaurants in a town, you’re one of a million. You go to a farmers’ market and you say, “I’m gonna get the peas!” Well, 20 other restaurants went to get the peas that day, too. You’re always competing with everyone with regard to purveyors, people’s time, and exposure. In a smaller scene, those things might be easier.

When customers want to thank you for a superb meal, what do you wish they’d send to the kitchen?
First of all, I’d like them to thank the team. I can’t do this all by myself. But maybe pizza. We’re all hungry back there. Pizza and beer.

What’s next for New York restaurants?
Market-driven spots. That trend has been going on for a while, and it’s what people want. I think we’ll see more focus on the relationships people have with their purveyors. So many people are excited to talk about where food comes from. There are all these small farms, purveyors, and oyster harvesters that we want to highlight now. I also think we’ll see more combination cocktail bar-restaurants or good hotel restaurants, where it’s unclear which aspect is the draw and both are doing something atypical. On the same note, you’ll see more obscure locations and less run-of-the-mill restaurants. Like a pizza place that also runs a farm in the back. People will forge different compelling partnerships.

What’s next for you?
The summer menu in a month or so.

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Lisa Giffen is Maison Premiere’s Everything Girl

When Lisa Giffen joined the team at Maison Premiere two months ago, she was given the official title of executive chef, but she prefers to call herself the Everything Girl. “Did the linens come in? No? Well I guess I’ll deal with that,” she says. “The toilet’s backed up? I’m on it. We’re missing a shipment? My job.”

Giffen grew up in Germany, where her parents worked as contractors for the military, and she made her way to New York in 2003. Her path to this Williamsburg spot led her through prolific restaurant kitchens, but her journey started with permanent markers. “I went to college and business school, and I ended up in New York through a job with Sharpie markers,” she says. “It taught me a lot about business and managing relationships with people. I use those skills every day. But being in New York really helps fuel your passion because you’re surrounded by food.”

So she started exploring what she initially thought was a hobby, only to realize that she had to make a professional leap. “I had this sales job and could work from home, but then I moonlighted working in restaurants,” she remembers. “Eventually, moonlighting overtook the job. It was like, ‘Why are you sending emails at 2 a.m.?’ Well, I just got out of the restaurant. I had to make a decision, and I decided to stay in the culinary world.”
She took a stage at Prune, which helped her land at Blue Hill. “That’s where I met Juan Cuevas, and I went with him when he went to Upper West Side’s [now closed] Eighty One.” Giffen made the leap then over to Daniel before landing at Alain Ducasse’s Adour, where she spent three years working her way up the ranks to sous chef.

And then during a summer stint, she heard about an opening at Maison Premiere. “I worked with Jared [Stafford-Hill, Maison Premiere’s former executive chef] at Adour–I was the sous chef, he was the fish cook–and we spent a summer in New Jersey because the kitchen closes at Adour in the summer. We bonded, and when this project came along, he asked me if I wanted to join, and I said yes.”

This is part one of our interview, in which Giffen weighs in on what she hates seeing on menus, an underrated kitchen tool, and the hidden caviar and champagne gem she loves in Midtown. For part two of our chat, check this blog again tomorrow.

Describe your culinary style.
It’s definitely French-influenced. My style is based on seasonality, of course, and I drew a lot from my time with Alain Ducasse. The food we made there was wholesome food, but done in a way and a manner that’s very refined. All the flavors taste as if someone’s been cooking it for hours. That’s something I appreciate about cooking, and that’s what I want to present.

Describe how you run your kitchen.
I have a great team of cooks from a varying range of experience levels. I like each of the cooks to have some type of ownership over what they’re doing there, though eventually, everyone should know how to do everything. I ask a lot from my cooks, and I give them the experience they need to move on somewhere else in return. If you spend all your time in a kitchen, and I mean at least 12 hours a day, you need to get something out of it. So I try to make sure they’re learning as much as possible. I like camaraderie and ownership and people who want to learn more. The night runs smoother, it becomes our kitchen instead of my kitchen, and there’s less of a that’s-not-my-job mentality.

How do you develop your recipes and menu?
A lot of it is based on going to the farmers’ market. Two weeks ago, the market just had some rhubarb and asparagus. Just one week later, there were a million peas, lambs’ quarters, and tons of lettuces. I have good relationships with fish purveyors, so I get a heads up as to what’s available. I have relationships with oyster partners who have relationships with docks and can tell me when something is coming. It’s nice to be able to take that inspiration; the menu isn’t so rigid then. We’re not feeding 500 people a night, so people who return often can appreciate the menu changes based on seasonality or availability.

Who or what inspires you?
The people I work with. Their dedication is inspiring, and I want to push further to help them. The farmers’ market. My mother really influenced me. Other people that I’ve worked with that now own restaurants or are head chefs: It’s fun to get in touch with them and talk about the hardships and joys of where we’re all at.

What chefs or food people do you most admire?
Alain Ducasse, of course. I learned a lot from all of his recipes. Juan Cuevas [formerly of Alain Ducasse and Blue Hill] was a big mentor for me in terms of culinary style and the appreciation of ingredients. Didier Elena taught me a lot about working with people. He just knows so much. If something’s wrong, he tells you exactly why it’s wrong and how to fix it.

Who do you look to for feedback on new dishes?
The cooks. We’ll have a tasting of what we’ve done. The waiters and the servers weigh in, and the owners have their input, too. With the cooks, though, I have to ask them every day to make this food, so having them taste it is an opportunity to explain why I want it a certain way. It goes back to that idea that I want them to take something from all of it. I don’t just want them to treat it as a job.

What brand of knife do you use and why?
Right now I have a Suisin chef’s knife, and a Misono UX10. You have to pick and choose your knives. It’s your tool that you use all the time.

What’s the most underrated kitchen tool?
A plastic bench scraper. I carry mine with me everywhere. I always have it in my pocket. You can use it to gather ingredients or clean your cutting board.

What’s your favorite item in your pantry or walk-in?
Right now, we’re just starting to get nice lambs’ quarters from the market. And the English peas are great, too.

What’s the most underrated ingredient?
All the fennel parts that most people throw away. Most people cut off the top and just use the bulb. For chilled plates, though, we’ll use fennel fronds for garnish. The rest of the fennel tastes good and is underrated, and it looks a lot better than seaweed.

Is there a food you won’t eat?
Goat cheese or chevre. It’s a mouth feel thing. Everyone knows that about me.

What do you hate seeing on menus?
Pea soup. It’s so good, but what more could you do to the pea besides the pea soup? You’re highlighting that ingredient year after year. I appreciate the ingredients and seasonality, but give it to people in a way that’s going to make it different. That’s something to look forward to.

What’s your local?
Here. I spend all my time here. No, the lobby and the rooftop at the Wythe Hotel. I hardly ever go to Manhattan anymore. I lived in Manhattan for over seven years, but now I live in Brooklyn and work in Brooklyn, and when people are like let’s meet in the city and I’m like, “The city! I can’t go to the city!”

What’s the most underrated restaurant in New York City?
A little jewel box on the second floor of a building in Midtown called Caviar Russe. You don’t see it from the street. It’s above a sushi place, and it seats like 20 people. It has these beautiful tasting menus, and it serves really wonderful food and caviar and champagne. It’s nondescript, but not in that we’re-too-cool way. It’s a little gem.

At what New York restaurant do you celebrate a special night out?
Probably Battersby for its intimacy, locale, and food. But for something really special, it would be great to go to Le Bernardin. I went to lunch at Jean-Georges recently, and at those places, you just feel special. Everything in those environments is about you, even the lighting and silverware. I hate to use the usuals, but why not? In your lifetime, you should try it.

What do you wish would go away?
I wish there were fewer pop-ups. It’s too much to keep up with.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
A cheeseburger with fries and a Coke.

Categories
FOOD ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Chatting With Maison Premiere’s Lisa Giffen

When Lisa Giffen joined the team at Maison Premiere two months ago, she was given the official title of executive chef, but she prefers to call herself the Everything Girl. “Did the linens come in? No? Well I guess I’ll deal with that,” she says. “The toilet’s backed up? I’m on it. We’re missing a shipment? My job.”

When she’s not doing janitorial duties, she’s helming the Williamsburg oyster bar’s kitchen, refining a menu of French fare that includes dishes such as pigeon with foie gras and sea urchin with daikon and ginger. She says she’s pushed furthest when challenged to teach someone new, and she culls inspiration from a journey that took her from selling Sharpies to the role of sous chef at Alain Ducasse’s now-shuttered Adour.

In our interview, Giffen weighed in on what she’s learned, talked about the New York City culinary scene, revealed an underrated kitchen tool, and listed her favorite dishes on her own menu. Get a taste of her answers here, and then check out the rest of her interview on our Fork in the Road blog.

Describe your culinary style. It’s definitely French-influenced. My style is based on seasonality, of course, and I drew a lot from my time with Alain Ducasse. The food we made there was wholesome food, but done in a way and a manner that’s very refined. All the flavors taste as if someone’s been cooking it for hours. That’s something I appreciate about cooking, and that’s what I want to present.

Who or what inspires you? The people I work with. Their dedication is inspiring, and I want to push further to help them. The farmers’ market. My mother really influenced me. Other people that I’ve worked with that now own restaurants or are head chefs: It’s fun to get in touch with them and talk about the hardships and joys of where we’re all at.

Describe your craziest night in the kitchen. There was a night at Adour, and we were serving a very big private dinner. Eighty people were coming. Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller were there; each chef was doing a different course, and we were doing the first and last courses. Mr. Ducasse was in the kitchen, and all of these chefs and sous chefs were working together. We were going to send out these gougères [a type of puff pastry] at the beginning. So we made the gougères and put them in the oven, and someone burned the gougères. All of a sudden, we’re scrambling around, whipping eggs, and making a whole new batch of gougères fast-fast-fast. We were frantic: We had to whip out 80 more gougères. But I’ll never forget seeing Mr. Ducasse standing there cool as a cucumber and watching all the other chefs watch us quietly from the sidelines. There was this divide in the kitchen. That’s what it’s always like when some mishap happens. A tray of something falls down, someone burns your whatever, and you go fast to get it fixed.

What’s the most underrated kitchen tool? A plastic bench scraper. I carry mine with me everywhere. I always have it in my pocket. You can use it to gather ingredients or clean your cutting board.

What’s the most underrated ingredient? All the fennel parts that most people throw away. Most people cut off the top and just use the bulb. For chilled plates, though, we’ll use fennel fronds for garnish. The rest of the fennel tastes good and is underrated, and it looks a lot better than seaweed.

What’s the most underrated restaurant in New York City? A little jewel box on the second floor of a building in midtown called Caviar Russe. You don’t see it from the street. It’s above a sushi place, and it seats like 20 people. It has these beautiful tasting menus, and it serves really wonderful food and caviar and champagne. It’s nondescript, but not in that we’re-too-cool way. It’s a little gem.

What’s the most challenging thing about working in the New York restaurant scene? It’s nonstop in so many ways. You’re not one out of 20 restaurants in a town—you’re one of a million. You go to a farmers’ market and you say, “I’m gonna get the peas!” Well, 20 other restaurants went to get the peas that day, too. You’re always competing with everyone with regard to purveyors, people’s time, and exposure. In a smaller scene, those things might be easier.

What’s your proudest culinary moment? It’s not like one single moment, but sometimes when I’m teaching another cook something, I reflect and remember when I was learning that. I remember when that skill took me forever to do. It’s a proud moment I have all the time. You see how far you come even in little day-to-day things. I remember all the trouble, and I see the other person struggling and remember when I was that person.

When customers want to thank you for a superb meal, what do you wish they’d send to the kitchen? First of all, I’d like them to thank the team; I can’t do this all by myself. But maybe pizza. We’re all hungry back there. Pizza and beer.

Categories
Bars FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Maison Premiere’s Lisa Giffen Shares a Wine Secret: Drink Savoie

Food and wine are natural companions, so I’m polling some of New York’s most illustrious chefs to find out what kind of wine they are drinking off and on the job. After establishing they actually drink wine (a surprising number prefer beer!), I’m asking a few questions to find out who’s got a penchant for Piedmont, which chefs dislike oaky Chardonnay, and why there is no right or wrong way to enjoy wine.

In today’s installation of this series, I’m chatting with Lisa Giffen, executive chef of Maison Premiere.

Do you drink wine at home?
Yes, but not alone; only with guests. When you are at the restaurant all the time, you get to taste some great wines, so it balances out.

What types of wine do you like to drink? Any grape or style preferences?
Right now, I’m really into the Savoie, a French mountain region next to Switzerland. It’s definitely a terroir-driven, under-appreciated, best-kept secret region with great domaines and talented, up-and-coming winemakers: Belluard, Dupasquier, St. Germain, and Adrien Berlioz. Also, there are all sorts of really cool varietals that, for the most part, you only find there: Gringet, Persan, Mondeuse, Jacquère, and Altesse. Patrick Belluard is making the best sparkling wine in all of France, and he is the only winemaker I have ever heard of making wine with native grape Gringet. If you see the rare Mont Blanc cuvee, buy it all and smile.

Are there specific bottles you love or drink on repeat?
Anything from Burgundy.

Do your preferences carry through to your wine lists?
I think our wine list is amazing and getting better and better. I’ve worked for restaurants with unlimited budgets that employ Sommeliers, Assistant Sommeliers, and Beverage Directors, and so on, and that carry extensive and rare wine lists; for a smaller operation like Maison Premiere, I think co-owner Krystof Zizka does an incredible job of finding beautiful and truly special wines.

Where do you shop for wine?
In my biased opinion, the best wine store in New York, is, hands down, Chambers Street Wines. They have a wealth of knowledge, and if you ask for a recommendation, they find just what you were looking for.

Do you ever buy wine by the case?
I never have. When I worked at Adour by Alain Ducasse, I told the sommelier that and he bought me my first case of wine.

Is there one perfect wine and food pairing for you?
I love French wines, and I find them easy to pair with food based on the different regions. I particularly love to pair our seafood driven menu with Chenin Blanc from Touraine, especially the village of Montlouis (and my favorite Montlouis winemaker is Frantz Saumon); the wines go incredibly well with oysters, sea urchins, razor clams, langoustines, turbot, citrus, and herbs, but also foie gras and quail!

Read more of this series:
Wolfgang Ban of Seasonal, Edi and the Wolf, and The Third Man
Anita Lo of Annisa
Frank Prisinzano of Frank, Lil’ Frankie’s, Supper and Sauce
Ben Daitz of Num Pang
Harold Dieterle of The Marrow, Perilla, and Kin Shop
Gabe and Katherine Thompson of dell’anima, L’artusi, Anfora, and L’Apicio
Alex Raij of Txikito, La Vara, and El Quinto Pino