East End Eats: Quelle Surprise at Maison Vivienne
136 Main Street
Dinner daily from 5 p.m.
Thursday through Sunday,
When I see that a new restaurant/hotel in Southampton has “house and deep electro French music,” I go, “Blurgh.” When I see that it offers cabanas, I say, “Harrumph.” Why are there cabanas when there is no piscine, no mer? Perhaps there is a robinet, a ruissellement from which one must seek shelter? The promise of famous D.J.s gives me agita. I just think, “Here’s another nightclub masquerading as a restaurant and it will close in the fall, and something different, yet the same, will be in its place come Memorial Day weekend 2019.”
And so it was with such an attitude (think Eeyore the donkey of “Winnie the Pooh”) that I approached my assignment to review Maison Vivienne at the Southampton Inn. I am delighted to report that I was wrong, wrong, wrong.
The restaurant is large and white and airy inside with a soaring cathedral ceiling and windows everywhere. The floors, chairs, and chandeliers are black and there are big, collage-like artworks depicting various actresses, singers, and models. There is also a pretty brick patio, and that is where we dined on our visit.
Upon being seated you are offered a basket of various rolls and a slab of good butter sprinkled with black sea salt and sliced radishes. We chose pissaladière, grilled shrimp, and tuna tartare to start.
The pissaladière was quite good, with a rustic crust, nicely caramelized onions, black olives, and excellent anchovies on top. The grilled shrimp dish was excellent. The three jumbo shrimp were smoky and not overcooked, and the fava bean hummus underneath was minty and delicious. There were micro greens on top and dabs of mayo and olive oil all around. All of the dishes here are beautifully plated with swooshes and shards, flurries and petals and coulis. The tuna tartare was mild itself, but the pickled bits of zucchini folded into it and the gingery sauce on the plate jazzed it up.
For entrees we ordered the bouillabaisse and roast chicken breast. The bouillabaisse was presented with the fish and shellfish in the bowl, surrounded by croutons topped with rouille, with the broth poured over. The dish had Yukon Gold potatoes, mussels, shrimp, clams, red mullet, and monkfish. The broth was rich and briny and the rouille had just the right amount of garlic and saffron.
The chicken dish was excellent, the skin crisp and the meat juicy. The best part, however, was the faro risotto, studded with bits of asparagus. It was perfectly seasoned and the texture chewy. The sauce surrounding it was very “chicken-y,” as Julia Child would say.
The service on the night of our visit was excellent. Our waitress, Nandia, was lovely and helpful. The interior of the restaurant remained empty that evening, but the patio was filled up by 7:30. Prices are moderate to expensive. Appetizers are $16 to $30, entrees $30 to $51, and no sides are offered. Desserts are $13 to $15.
The desserts are made in-house and we tried two of them, the fig tart and molten chocolate cake. The fig tart had a very pale crust, which gave the impression that it might be undercooked, but it was crisp and delicious and faintly sweet. The pastry cream and fig slices were both delicious, the pastry cream tasting lightly of vanilla and the figs ripe and sweet. The molten chocolate cake had good flavor, but it had passed from being molten to simply dense. I’m sorry, but I am always disappointed when the promise of “molten” is not delivered.
I went to Maison Vivienne with a prejudiced attitude and came away happily surprised. The food is southern French with quite a few local additions like Satur Farms greens and Catapano goat cheese, so props for that.
Staff say the place will stay open year-round, and that would be nice. After the cabanas have been folded up and the D.J.s have moved on and the deep house chill-out remix French electro musique has quieted down, this Eeyore would certainly go back.