“It’s a smooshed duck rillette.”
“I think it’s mayonnaise.”
“Did we have chicken liver?”
“It looks like—”
“Don’t say it.”
Our eyes were reluctantly scrutinizing a small, gray piece of unidentifiable food that’d been hanging out in the center of our partially cleared table for an unpalatable length of time. This was my second visit to Maison, and this was exactly what I was hoping wouldn’t happen.
You see, I kind of love this restaurant, a French bistro from’s Sue Kim-Drohomyrecky and Peter Drohomyrecky. I love that it serves a large selection of its wine by the quarter, half and full liter, and I like how that wine comes to the table in an understated glass pitcher. I’m charmed by the bread service, which is accompanied by a sweet little plate of radishes with a smear of butter and a spoonful of coarse gray salt. I am very easily smitten by any meal that can begin with a seafood tower in which the oysters are expertly shucked, the shrimp gently poached and the lobster fresh and sweet. And I find the “snacks” section of the menu, especially the puffy, rich Gruyère gougères and the soft-cooked eggs draped in bright mayonnaise, simply delightful. All this, and a room that nicely balances casual and sophisticated, gracefully incorporating the light that floods the north end of the restaurant, which overlooks Lakeshore East’s manicured park, into a dim (if a bit sterile) bistro environment.
What could possibly go wrong? Too much. Maison is a big ship, and the staff is still very much getting its sea legs. Service, though friendly, is surprisingly unpolished, even for a restaurant scarcely a month old: Multiple times per meal, the food runner had to fetch silverware after setting the dishes down on the table. And that lovely seafood tower? Once the platter was cleared, though the server visited our table multiple times, no one wiped up the plate-size circle of beading condensation lingering in the tower's wake—until my companion finally sacrificed his napkin. And, yes, this is a little thing, but the server should consider changing her spiel about the restaurant having “one of the best pastry chefs in the city”: It raises expectations far beyond the scope of the desserts, which are extremely standard renditions of French classics. Of the three I tried, the best was probably the textbook profiteroles, the worst was the crème brûlée (full of vanilla-bean flavor but heavy and overly eggy), and somewhere in the middle was the lemon-curd tart, a perfectly pleasant thing except for the bitter quenelle of whipped crème fraîche atop it.
Perfectly pleasant is a phrase that applies to too many of the dishes that come out of Maison’s kitchen, which is under the direction of Custom House Tavern’s chef, Perry Hendrix. It’s true of the roasted chicken, the best part of which is definitely the thick slice of toast beneath it, which is soaked through with rosemary-scented chicken jus. It’s a fair description of the braised beef ribs, a huge block of meat that’s gorgeously tender and, to be honest, sort of hideous to eat on a 90-degree night. And it goes for the bistro steak, on-the-mark medium rare but in need of salt, a rare occurrence in the Maison kitchen, whose liberal application of the mineral borders on egregious: The duck rillettes tasted like nothing besides the seasoning, and the skin of the chicken seemed to have been assaulted by it. Preserved lemon lent an interesting acidity to the steak tartare, which is solidly prepared but can’t hold a raw-meat candle to Maude’s. And then there was what had the potential to be my favorite main dish: If gnocchi are pillows, what Hendrix is doing is a luxurious Tempur-Pedic mattress. His gnocchi are creamy and substantive, surrounded by fresh peas and tender mushrooms. And yet,the overall dish is extremely dry. My first thought was that it needed a little pan sauce to help unite the components. My second thought was that what Maison really needs is time.