Note: Mai House is closed. There was never an official announcement from Myriad Restaurant Group, but as of June 2009 the space had been shuttered for months, and it wasn’t even open for the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. If you’re not open for that, then you’re not open. Mai House never truly caught on, and it did not survive the departure of the original chef with the short attention span, Michael Bao Huynh, who went on to cook many of the same dishes at BarBao on the Upper West Side, now also closed.
To paraphrase the song, “Mai House is a very, very, very fine house.” But business appears to be slow, based on a Tuesday night dinner that found the restaurant sparsely attended.
That’s too bad, because I think chef Michael Bao Huynh’s Vietnamese-inspired menu is terrific. I rated Mai House at two stars in November, a verdict I’m standing by today. In January, Frank Bruni of the Times awarded two stars as well, but a less impressed Adam Platt in New York awarded only one.
As this visit was a mix of business and pleasure, I didn’t snap any photos. We ordered a lot of food, of which I can only recite the highlights. We started with the Hot Spring Rolls ($11), the Wild Boar Sausage ($11), and the Frog’s Leg Lollipops ($12). The sausage has gone through a number of re-designs. This time, it was served in meatball-sized pieces skewered with toothpicks. The frog’s leg lollipops, each about the size of a large gum ball, came with an addictive hot sauce.
The highlight was the Sweet & Sour Spicy Whole Red Snapper ($28). The body of the fish was fried crisp into the shape of a cylinder, so that it could be used as a serving vessel. This was so cleverly done that I didn’t realize at first that I was looking at a dead fish. The meat of the fish itself, apparently removed before this operation, was deposited inside. Huynh balanced the spices to perfection, so that the sweet, sour, and spicy all had their turn. The fish itself was quite tender.
It would be easy to be cynical about yet another big-box Asian restaurant, but at Mai House the décor doesn’t overpower the food. Service was attentive and competent.
Mai House (186 Franklin Street between Greenwich & Hudson Streets, TriBeCa)