Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
"We have an oyster list, and an absinthe list—we work in lists here," says Jared Stafford-Hill, the new chef at Williamsburg's Maison Premiere. The restaurant has been open for over a year but only launched a full seafood-centric small plates menu last week. "So I got together a list of every seafood I like, including ones you don't really see many of, and crafted a menu out of that."
The elegantly designed salon, drinking parlor in the front, and vine-enclosed garden out back has long been a popular spot for its absinthe list and $1 oyster happy hour. But even though some of us could make a meal of a few strong cocktails and a dozen oysters or two (I'm raising my hand here), Stafford-Hill's menu makes a full meal possible. Dishes range from two-biters to near-entrees, with a whole section devoted to seafood "chilled on ice."
"I wanted to have that whole section be something like an oyster tower," says Stafford-Hill, "with everything laid out on chilled ice. Everything in its shell. But I wanted it all dressed—there's no work to be done, everything's already composed for you." So a scallop served in-shell appears with a shellfish consomme and dollop of tomato granita, graced with olive oil and espelette pepper; sea urchin from Marin County, "so intense I wanted to tone it down a bit," is wound with thinly sliced watermelon and cucumber.
"I probably do more with garnishes than some chefs would," says Stafford-Hill, "but it's restrained. It's still all about the amazing seafood we're getting."
The "small plates" are more sizable, composed dishes rather than seafood bites. Fish and seafood remain the focus, of course, but not to the exclusion of all else. Poached tuna arrives in a sea of summer gazpacho. Sweetbreads join langoustines.
Take a look through the slideshow for a tour of Maison Premiere's new menu—a rainbow of seafood with a boozy surprise at the end.