Entries in Mai House (5)


Someone's in the Kitchen at Mai House

It looks like the soap opera at Mai House is over. Eater has the news today that David Lee, a former sous chef at Bar Room at the Modern, will be behind the stoves.

We were big fans of Mai House under founding chef Michael Bao Huynh. Top Chef’s Spike Mendelsohn replaced him, and Top Chef’s Lisa Hernandes replaced Spike. Neither one figured to be a permanent figure, and owner Drew Nieporent wasn’t going to let the place drift for long. Lee comes in with serious cred. He plans “serious menu changes,” with about half the dishes to be replaced by sometime in November.

We’ll give Lee a few weeks to get out the kinks before dropping in for a look-see.


Update: Who is in the Kitchen at Mai House?


At Mai House, the story seems to be, “He said…she said.”

More than two weeks ago, Eater reported that top cheffer Spike Mendelssohn was out, and another top cheffer, Lisa Fernandes, was in, but retracted the story after owner Drew Nieporent denied it.

But last week, Spike told Chow.com, “She’s at Mai house helping me. She’s executing my menu. She’s executing my vision,” and today’s Daily News credits her as chef de cuisine there.

We still don’t know if Spike is out, but it seems pretty clear that Lisa is in.

Previous post: Who is in the Kitchen at Mai House? Sing along to the tune, “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah…


Who is in the Kitchen at Mai House?


Note: Click here for a more recent update.

There are strange doings at Mai House. In January, founding chef Michael Bao Huynh was out. Or was he? Apparently, it was just a misunderstanding: he had merely gone AWOL for five weeks.

In March, Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn launched a tasting menu at Mai House, based on the food he’d prepared on the TV show.

Yesterday, the mystery of Huynh’s whereabouts was apparently resolved: Gael Green reported that Huynh had taken over at Rain, on the Upper West Side. And today, Eater reported that Mendelsohn was fired at Mai House. Eater reported, at first, that another Top Chefer, Lisa Hernandes, was replacing Mendelsohn, but later in the day this was retracted.

If this were any other restaurant, we’d assume an Eater Deathwatch was in order. But because it’s a Drew Nieporent restaurant, we figure it’ll all get sorted out. We love Mai House, and want it to live long and prosper.

But who is in the kitchen?


Mai House


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)

Food: **
Service: *½
Ambiance: **
Overall: **


Mai House

Drew Nieporent isn’t accustomed to doing things quietly. With Nobu, TriBeCa Grill, and Montrachet (among others) in his restaurant empire, he knows how to make a splash. So it is surprising that when the Times published its fall restaurant preview, there was no mention of a new Vietnamese restaurant from Nieporent’s Myriad Restaurant Group. Was Nieporent trying to downplay expectations? If so, he needn’t have worried. Mai House, which opened just nine days ago, is a hit.

Nieporent likes to keep a close eye on his restaurants. All but one of his seven New York properties are in TriBeCa, within a five-minute radius of one another; indeed, three of them, including Mai House, are on the same block as his corporate office on Franklin Street. The night before Mai House opened, I walked in to take a look. There was Drew, lecturing the serving staff: “You’re here to serve the customer, not the kitchen.” It may not be the most startling insight, but I’ve been to a few restaurants where the staff needed that lecture. Last night, Drew was in and out of the restaurant several times, chatting up the staff and making subtle adjustments.

I began with a couple of the specialty cocktails, which were only $10 apiece, in a town where they could easily be $15. Either of the Tiger Tail (Absolut Peppar, Triple Sec, Passion Fruit Puree, Thai Chile) or the Flyboy (Ginza no suzume souj, Marasca, Rhum Orange, Lime Juice) could easily become addictive.

For the appetizer, I ordered the Wild Boar Sausage ($11) with green papaya salad. The sausage is served warm, and is just mildly spicy. The kitchen slices it into small pieces, so that you can pick it up with your chopsticks. It comes mixed with the salad, which is crisp and refreshing. Braised Berkshire Pork Belly ($23), on a bed of red cabbage and drizzled with coconut juice, should be everyone’s guilty pleasure. It looks gorgeous and tastes even better. After getting on the scale this morning, I concluded I should have resisisted Sticky Rice with Chinese Sausage ($4), but I’m glad I didn’t.

Vietnamese Coffee ($4) was a dud. A mix of espresso-like coffee and condensed milk, it tasted sour and dull.

The chef, Michael Bao Huynh, made his name at Bao 111 in the East Village. He must be especially fond of the wild boar sausage, as he came over to my table after dinner to inquire whether I had liked it. I replied that I did, adding that the braised pork belly was terrific too. He replied in self-deprecating fashion, “That must be because you like pork.”

The menu is still undergoing some refinement, as one would expect for a new restaurant. A pre-opening menu (PDF) had the wild boar sausage as an entrée, but now it is available only as an appetizer. While it immediately leaped out at me as the first thing to try (and I was not disappointed), evidently not enough diners were willing to take that leap of faith for a main course. I’m glad Huynh hasn’t given up on it.

The space is gorgeous (see the Eater preview), although fairly informal. There are no tablecloths, though I was happy to see lacquer chopsticks, as opposed to the disposable wooden ones they’re using at Nobu these days. The server was attentive, and almost a bit over-eager. He apparently hadn’t been briefed on the evolving menu, as when I asked for a recommendation, he suggested an item that is no longer on offer.

Mai House hasn’t caught on yet. It was only just barely warming up during the 6:00 p.m. hour last night (hardly a barometer on a Friday night, I must admit). If I am right about the cuisine, it won’t be a secret for long. If all Vietnamese cooking is this good, I’m ready to hitch the next flight to Hanoi.

Mai House (186 Franklin Street between Greenwich & Hudson Streets, TriBeCa)

Food: **
Service: *½
Ambiance: *½
Overall: **