Friday, October 5, 2012

Goodbye New York.

It appears as though I took a little break this past week from writing... Time flies.  The end of summer flurry hit these parts pretty hard, stuffing our schedules with all sorts of events to attend, including a much needed restful weekend in Livermore, sunbathing and sleeping in.  I noe feel refreshed and ready to continue on into eating, drinking and discovering even more fall foodie finds.

Before I jump head first into autumn, I must share a few last tidbits from my trip to the east coast...

After trekking my way around half of the island and most of Williamsburg, it was time to pack up my bags and say goodbye to all of my new friends and my new-found love for Brooklyn..  Each evening was filled was laughter, brilliant wine and food, LOTS of food-  I was overwhelmed by the generosity of our hosts from Creative Feed and the Bordeaux Council.  They treated us to some of the most memorable, deliciously unique meals every evening after long days of exploring.  I couldn't be more grateful to be included in such festivities. 

My plane was set to take off at 6:30 on Saturday night, which gave me almost an entire day to spend taking in a few last breaths of city air.  My friend Rob Moshein (the Austin Wine Guy) and I met first thing in the morning, had a giant cup of coffee and checked out of the Wythe Hotel, our hearts set on wandering Bedford Avenue for a few hours.  We were sidetracked by word of mouth that Smorgasburg was happening just steps away from where we were headed.  This news made me giddy as a school girl. 

Smorgasburg is a giant outdoor foodie greenmarket that takes place in Williamsburg every Saturday and Sunday.  It's like a farmer's market, but the majority of vendors are selling their own homemade goods- everything from fresh baked muffins, to pit BBQ pork ribs and cotton candy.  You can find canned pickled vegetables, granola blends, popsicles, soy sauce (impressive!), freshly baked cookies and hey, even Blue Bottle Coffee.  It's the place to see and be seen by your fellow food junkies on crisp weekend morning, with your face stuffed and smiling.  Needless to say, if you love food as much as I do, get your booty down to the waterfront and load up on your favorite NY purveyor tasty treats.  We meandered a bit, spoke to some of the vendors and decided to keep wandering due to the blazing summer sun and heat.  Best to keep moving and find a nice chunk of shade after the night we'd had on the rooftop with our wine.

The nicest thing about native New Yorker's is that they love to share favorites.  They're always excited to tell what restaurants to check out, what exhibits to catch and where the best cocktails can be found.  Basically the streets are like a living, breathing Zagat guide, just stop anyone and ask.  On this particular day, we were told to have lunch at Maison Premiere.

Maison Premiere is an "Oyster house and Cocktail den reflective of the staple establishments of New York, Paris and New Orleans.  Inspired by hotel lobbies of days gone by, afternoons in Paris cafes, late night dinners brooding over bivalves and wading through glasses of pastis and absinthe.  We bring to our guest a list of oysters from 30 different varieties based on market availability.  Our Absinthe list boasts the largest collection of premium Absinthe's in New York City, and in honor of the ceremony and traditions of Absinthe, Maison Premiere's ode to the green fairy can be found center stage dispensing chilled water in the form of the world's most accurate working replica of the Absinthe fountain which once flowed in the Old Absinthe House of New Orleans."

As we rambled down Bedford Avenue that morning towards Maison Premiere (along with the rest of Brooklyn), I couldn't help but notice how quaint and lovely the streets were.  Flower pots hanging from brownstone windows, people out walking their dogs with a cup of coffee in hand, very few cars passing by, shops just lifting their gates to welcome eager patrons.  It could not have felt more perfect of a way to spend my last day in New York.

We arrived at the doors of Maison Premiere precisely at noon- we had been advised to do so to avoid crowds of lunchies seeking succulent sea goodies.  The building itself is covered in a soft patina, with nothing but incredibly narrow floor-to-ceiling green shuttered doors on it's facade.  There are no bells and whistles, just a simple hand-painted tin sign that reads "Oysters" hanging modestly on the exterior wall.  To call them proper doors would be unfair.  Mostly because you have to turn sideways to get through them- a sublime, accurate throwback to the cafes of times past. 

Once you squeeze yourself through the entry, you are welcomed by exquisitely dressed waiters, bartenders and waitresses.  Like stepping back in time, literally, they create the overall sensation that you've entered another world.  The best way to convey the Maison Premiere staff attire, in my opinion, would be described as such:  Turn of the century European aristocrat meets Sherlock Holmes and Amelie for tea, when Downton Abbey walks in and throws a little Steampunk on the table.  That may be a little too, erm, flowery of a description, but I honestly felt that way as I was seated.  The men with their crisp white shirts rolled up to their elbows exposing fully tattooed forearms, Windsor ties, fitted pin-striped vests, slim slacks, shiny shoes and slicked back (yet slightly hipster) hair were intriguing.  I half expected them pull out pocket watches when serving us.  The ladies, dressed in black, almost Victorian garb with pulled back hair and red lips are reminiscent of early Parisian barmaids, luminescent in their own simple, elegant way.  By the looks of it, I would say the employees are told not to wear clothing or accessories that date past the 1920's.  It's a wonderfully original touch that only contributes to the atmosphere- a lovely one at that.

The restaurant itself is very small, simple and understated.  There is a central bar that has plenty of seating and is perfect for the single diner or a pair of friends.  There are slso a few surrounding cafe tables for larger parties, but it is clear that Maison Premiere is about quality, not quantity.  We were asked by our fine waiter if we'd prefer to sit in the garden, which I am always inclined to do, so we happily accepted.  As we passed the raw bar, I was taken aback by the outstanding beauty of the garden seating area.  I would refer to it as magical.

After we were seated in the garden, we were handed our single page menus-  I've never seen a selection of so many varieties of oysters.  You are able to order as many or as few as you'd like at completely reasonable prices.  We couldn't decide for ourselves, so our waiter was nice enough to pick some of his favorites for us to sample.  After three dozen, we had a pretty well-rounded idea of which delicious oysters we loved-- all of them!!  There wasn't a single bivalve in the place that wasn't impeccable, briny and absolutely divine.  The sea jewels are served with mignonette, freshly shaved horseradish and a light cocktail sauce to chose from.  Most taste perfect in their own liquor, but adding a bit of bite is a nice way to experience different combinations of flavors.  Check out the selection the day we visited:
East End- Peconic Bay, NY
Cape May Salt- Cape Shore, NJ
Sewansecott- East Shore, VA
Shooting Point Salts- Hog Island, VA
Block Island- Block Island, RI
Cedar Island- Judith Pond, RI
East Beach Blonde- Ninigret Pond, RI
Matunuck- Matunuck, RI
Moonstone XL- Point Judith Pond, RI
Ninigret Cup- Ninigret Pond, RI
Rome Point- Narragansett Bay, RI
Chatham- Chatham, MA
Wellfleet- Wellfleet, MA
Cotuit- Cotuit, MA
Duxbury- Duxbury, MA
Thatch Island- Barnstable, MA
Moonshoal- Barnstable, MA
Malpeque- Malpeque Bay, PEI
Wild Cocktail- Malpeque Bay, PEI
Conway Royal- Foxley River, PEI
Blackberry Point- Blackberry Point, PEI
Gooseberry- Malpeque Bay, PEI
Kumamoto- Humboldt Bay, CA
Point Reyes- Tomales Bay, CA
Reach Island- Case Inlet, WA
Elkhorn- Willapa Bay, WA
Hammersley Inlet- South Puget Sound, WA
Hood Canal- Hood Canal, WA
Olympia- Totten Inlet, WA
Steam Boat- Steamboat Island, WA
Cortes Island- Cortes Island, BC
Fanny Bay- Baynes Sound, BC
Royal Miyagi- Vancouver Island, BC
I loved the Malpeque, sweet and briny with a clean finish.  The Moonstones had a stony, tannic flavor and very deep, large cups and meat.  I believe we went for a second round of the Fanny Bay, with it's smooth, pronounced cucumber finish- one of my favorites.  Of course we tried the Kumamoto's, a flavor familiar to me thanks to the area I grew up in and the Point Reyes were succulent and salty as usual.  The Thatch Island made all three rounds, a clear winner at our table.  I could have sat there all day, making my way through their huge list, smiling like a kid in a candy store.  We sipped our sparkling rose as we tasted, savoring every last bite.
The beauty of Maison Premiere is that during lunchtime, they ONLY serve oysters.  No bread, appetizers or small plates fussing up the simplistic, sophisticated oyster selection.  Concentrate on the individual oysters, without distraction- complement them with a fine glass of wine and a table of friends. 
If it's a larger menu you desire, visit for dinner- not only can you delight in boatloads of oysters, but you can snag larger plates of black seabass with fennel & gooseberries, bluefin tuna with gazpacho vinaigrette, sea scallops with foie gras mousse, lobster with corn & custard, pigeon with root vegetables, suckling pig with peach & matsutake and several other bigger bites.  I wasn't fortunate enough to stick around for dinner, but one thing is for sure, I will be back.
I think I'm going to wrap up my thoughts on this particular restaurant, so I leave a little mystery to be discovered by you, gentle readers.  Go.  Run.  Get to Maison Premiere.  I couldn't recommend a more inviting, gorgeous, classy, unusual restaurant to spend a few hours at.  It was the perfect end to an amazing trip for me, and even though people looked at me like I was insane when I told them I ate that many oysters before boarding a plane, I wouldn't have had it any other way.



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