June 28, 1999 | Insatiable Critic


        Maison strives valiantly to be French. Indeed, it has more applied Gallicmania than any other four bistros in town: Art Deco curlicues everywhere, gold-leaf lettering in French on the mirrors, and a stained-glass ceiling. "Call us French-American contemporain," suggests owner Antonio Francesco, also the top honcho at Ecco-La. He wanted to call the place House of Bordeaux, but entrepreneurs with claims on that name pounced with a vengeance. Never mind. The Upper East neighborhood's gung-ho dining hordes quickly discovered Maison, creating a backup at the bar. (Summer weekends and sidewalk seating seem to have eased the congestion.) 

        And anyone able to sign off on the $100 tab for two without getting a headache or an anxiety attack might be pleased with the Viennese chef's eclectic food: sautéed sea scallops in a spicy kaffir-mussel broth, seared sweetbreads with tomato confit on spinach, exquisitely cooked monkfish with white asparagus and ramps in a champagne-chive sauce, or an amazingly moist breast of chicken on truffled mashed potatoes. On my second visit, the waiter was so Gallic he spoke only French, and even those with a phrase-book command of the language didn't mind. But Francesco is still revising. He plans to add a Pâtisserie Maison behind the restaurant and a Taparia next door with a downstairs lounge and flamenco. And he's hired a veteran chef-about-town with a command of cooking in several languages, Herb Wilson, to oversee all the kitchens. Chef Rene Lenger may want to take his spaetzle and hike downtown to Bouley's newest effort, Danube. Given that some of the crowd trolling Second Avenue is happiest drinking dinner, it may not matter if the kitchen gets better or worse. To be continued...

Maison, 1477 Second Avenue, at 77th Street (879-4824). Dinner, daily from 5 to 11:30 p.m. A.E., D.C., M.C., V. 

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