Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Maison Maurice, a somewhat surrealist adventure.

Less than a year ago Maison Maurice in Beverly Hills opened up.  It was what is called a “soft launch” – which really means, “We didn’t advertise or tell anybody.” Somehow this place landed on my radar and we decided to give it a try on a Sunday evening after hanging out at the beach.

There are two Maison Maurice’s. Well, actually three, all at the same location.  That is to say 3 fundamentally different eating areas. At the far back there is a large room, sort of dark and with a slight eastern euro vibe. Not for me, but I can imagine many liking it. Then there are the tables set in the atrium area. This is where you want to sit for that casual romantic "I’m in a lost corner of Paris" feel – lots of plants and that cobblestone alley feel done in a very nice way. And then there’s the bar, which is where you go for the “did I just step into a French gangster movie?" surreal experience, which I must admit is where we sat, and where I would sit again! The decor is old French bar mixed with movie memorabilia (love the wallpaper in the bathrooms!) and on the big screens in the bar are black and white French film-noir playing. Oh, and a soundtrack that I wholeheartedly approve of, filled with Aznavour, Montand, and my favorite Joe Dassin song “L’Ete Indien” that had me singing out loud (the drinks probably helped).

The owner was as nice as could be. He spoke French, (he is from Lebanon), and later in the evening the chef stopped by, who was very French in that Marseilles bad boy way. Both stopped by our table, chatted us up, and were great hosts, including sending over a round of free Champagne, and an extra dessert. Classic French casual, yet wonderful hosts.

Throughout our evening various French men stopped in, sat at the bar, had a drink or dinner, spoke loudly or very very quietly, and then went off. If the film noir movies wern’t enough, this traffic could easily get the imagination going.

The waitress and barmaid were also quite friendly.

The food? A mixed bag. We had an off the menu mousse de canard appetizer which was quite good, though it was served with a small bowl of homemade mayonnaise. I love homemade mayonnaise, but with paté, a bit unusual, no?  We also shared an endive salad that was good, but with just a little more effort could have been great (a slightly better vinegrette, and some small pieces of grilled lardon maybe?). We had a couple of the chicken with peppercorn sauce, and immediately I regretted not getting the steak with peppercorn sauce. The chicken is boneless skinless chicken breast, which personally is not my favorite part of the chicken. Interestingly the sauce that came out with the chicken was a bit salty and so-so. When I asked the sous-chef for a bit more out came a big bowl of it, and this time it was divine, a cognac infused mervielle! The frittes were above average. A friend had the Provençal shrimp with linguine, something not on the menu but which the staff had zero objections preparing, and was good. Not great, but quite serviceable.

With dinner we had a bottle of rosé from Gassin, a wonderful small town near St Tropez. I was floored that they had this wine! In fact kudos to Maurice for an eclectic and very fairly priced wine list heavy in Southern French wines.

Lastly we had dessert: an Ille Flotant that was very good, and would have been even better if the chef had stayed traditional and floated it in crème anglaise rather than a raspberry & strawberry coulee. We also had the profiteroles, which swam in a nice dark chocolate sauce. With dessert we had some excellent Pineau des Charentes.

If your dining decision is going to be made based on quality of food alone, Maison Maurice has a little ways to go and can only be said to be average, though it would not take much effort to step it up a notch: stay simple, go traditional, and keep it French! Avoid Americanizing! Give me a salade de lentilles aux saucisses, some classic escargot in butter and garlic but with a hint of pastis, a poulet roti with herbs, lemon and olives, or a pissaladier!

But you don’t go to Maison Maurice just for the food. You go because the combined package of food, ambiance, eclectic friendly staff, wonderful decor, and the occasional French expatriate wandering through all work to create an evening to remember.

I shall be returning. Look for me in the bar.

A votre santé,
Le Capitaine

Here's the link to their site: