Three summers ago chef Greg Baxtrom opened Olmsted, a pretty place in Prospect Heights that, with its relatively affordable, immediately appealing menu of farm-to-table dishes, almost instantly became everyone's favorite restaurant. I finally ate there for the first time last spring, and thought it was even better than the hype.
But Baxtrom is not one to rest on his (probably house-grown) laurels, and so after nearly two years of dreaming and experimenting, planning and preparation, last night he opened his second restaurant in the neighborhood, Maison Yaki, located basically across the street from Olmsted. As the name suggests, it's a French restaurant that borrows the format and vibe from a rowdy yakitori. In other words, you can get things like Duck a l'orange, Ribeye & Bordelaise, and Scallops & Sauce Maltaise, but on skewers. And nothing on the menu costs more than nine bucks.
There are twelve skewer options in all, and at a complimentary press dinner last night I got to eat almost all of them, including the three mentioned above as well such excellent selections as the King Trumpet Mushroom—a la Grecque (Baxtrom grows his shrooms in a "farm" running above the bar), the funky as hell Lamb Leg & Herb de Provence, and the ingenious Tuna Nicoise, for which the chef shows a bit of his Alinea roots.
And there's a whole other half of the menu, too, with small plates like the crisp/juicy Tempura Frog Legs Provencal, the sweet and meaty Cauliflower Okonomiyaki, the intense Beef Tongue Sando, and the mix-your-own Salmon Mimosa Tartare, which comes with thin salty crackers and will be gone in seconds. No matter what you order, definitely get the fresh-baked mini Baguettes with tangy Yuzukosho Butter to go along with your meal. In fact, I'd even get a second round of this one.
Three desserts finish things off: a vase of Pocky-like Maison Yaki Sticks, a slab of Japanese Cheesecake with rhubarb, and, best of the lot, a trio of Profiteroles poured over with sticky matcha sauce. Beer, wine, and cocktails are all available and, amazingly, all priced below $10.
Each of these dishes, both the skewers and the plates, offer a few big-flavored bites of high quality ingredients prepared by one of the NYC's best chefs. But rather than being presented in somber, tasting-menu fashion, you get to share them with your table mates while bopping along to loud David Bowie and A Tribe Called Quest, perhaps between throws at the Péntaque terrain in the back patio. Yes, as at Olmsted, there's an outdoor area here at Maison Yaki too, with cafe-style seating for 18 and a good view of all the boule action.
The whole space, which was designed and built by Baxtrom and his dad, Mike, is charming and handsome, with crazy-shaped tile floors, brick walls, dark wood, red leather, wicker, and cheeky touches like the "Oui Chef" neon sign hanging in the open kitchen. Including the patio and the bar, Maison Yaki has a capacity of about 50 diners and drinkers. At 6:30 last night, walk-ins were being offered a table at 9 p.m., so reservations are obviously recommended. It's a really fun restaurant, and it'll be packed all summer.
Maison Yaki is located at 626 Vanderbilt Avenue, between Park and Prospect Places, and is open Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10:30, and Sunday until 9:30 (718-552-2610; maisonyaki.com)