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Maison Yaki, Greg Baxtrom's new spot located across from his Prospect Heights mega-hit Olmsted, can be summed up by its bathroom. Inside the French yakitori restaurant's bathroom, the blending of cultures can be seen via the fancy toilet with seat warming functions and a bidet, something that both the French and Japanese have come to be known for.
And that's no dig. It's the cared-for, seamless blending of techniques that makes Maison Yaki, which opens to the public today, such a playful and pleasurable experience. But Baxtrom doesn't refer to the new French-Japanese spot as a return-to-form or even a follow-up to the Prospect Heights favorite. Rather, he sees Maison Yaki as its own thing: a chiller cousin to Olmsted that he hopes will kick the otherwise sleepy neighborhood into much-needed nightlife high-gear.
To do so, he's loosened the rules a bit: Maison Yaki offers much more space for walk-ins and seating is mostly bar stools. All details that complement the shareable, affordable plates where everything—yes, everything—on the menu is $9 or less. Here, French food no longer feels stuffy or out-of-touch, infused with Japanese techniques Baxtrom developed while staging in Hong Kong and Tokyo. Dishes are served with chopsticks, and most come on skewers. Beef tongue and frog legs are made—dare we say—approachable? The former is served in a hamburger-style patty sando with Kewpie mayo (the American version sans MSG), the latter, gets a tempura coating with lemon parsley ponzu, but if the sauces aren't enough there's also jars of espelette Braxtrom drilled holes into to function like salt 'n pepper shakers.
The yakitori offerings include vegetables, poultry, meat and seafood: asparagus with Bearnaise; spring leek vichyssoise; lobster with sauce Americaine; king trump mushrooms a la Grecque; duck meatballs a l’orange (a play on the Japanese egg yolk in soy sauce, substituted here for orange puree). For dessert, there's a play on Pocky sticks with the thin dough made dippable with chocolate sauce. And sustainability still remains a paramount material for the creative dishes, such as a salad that uses goat cheese aged in carrot ash (the remains of the root vegetable for the crepes served at Olmsted).
For ease, the bar at Maison Yaki has 16 cocktails, French wines and sake on tap (all pre-mixed by head bartender Andrew Zerrip, who was formerly at Olmsted); a gin & tonic with fresh yuzu juice and a maraschino Manhattan, among others also under the $9 mark.
The space, which is slightly more narrow and smaller than across the street, was entirely designed by Baxtrom, with help from his father. Much of the same whimsy from Olmsted lives on: outback there's a pétanque court, a French-style bocce, where guests can pick up a game while they wait to eat. Smallhold mushrooms, New York's indoor mushroom incubators (first seen growing inside Mission Chinese) are proudly on display above the bar. A chicken wearing a red beret is the menu's mascot and a "Oui, Chef" neon sign hangs in the corner.
So if you're shit out of luck getting walk-in reservations at Olmsted, we suggest heading over to Maison Yaki for a more affordable, quicker meal making French food fun again.