Maison Kayser on the Once Square, Now Hip UES

When there are no errands to be run or chores to be done, no appointments to be kept or parcels to be schlepped...what is it that you most like to do?

I’ll tell you what I like: I like to hang out in places where you can linger for an hour nursing a cup of coffee, doing little more than watching the passing scene. Preferably, places that open early and stay open late, with no reservation required. Growing up in Sherwood Park in southeast Yonkers—the most boring place in the world—the only exciting thing that ever happened was the opening of a diner on Yonkers Avenue. It was a classic All-American diner with a red neon sign, Formica counters wrapped in chrome, red leather booths with tabletop jukeboxes, and waitresses in black uniforms with pencils tucked behind their ears.

 My friends and I soon discovered that for the price of a cup of coffee, they’d let you hang out all afternoon. Which we did, as it was one of the few places we could afford. What’s more, the diner was filled with an interesting cast of characters—do you think he’s a Mafioso?—none of whom lived in Sherwood Park.

 Years later, I became enamored of Parisian cafés with tiny tables where everyone was either engaged in spirited conversations or writing a sequel to Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu—In Search of Lost Time. Without realizing it, Ihad become a flaneuse, one who loves nothing more than to walk the city and observe the passing scene.

So it was last Monday, after an exhausting iPhone class at the Apple on Fifth Avenue—how to purchase additional iCloud space when on vacation; how to back up your iCloud library; how to coordinate your iPad and your iPhone—I made my way uptown to one my favorite haunts—Maison Kayser at Third Avenue at 74th Street.

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It’s not a diner, but something better— a Parisian boulangerie, patisserie, brasserie and café all rolled into one. Take a look at the storefront—at the details, the classic lines, the style. I'm in Paris, all over again.

Filling the Bread Basket

In 2012, when the neighbors heard that Eric Kayser, a fourth-generation French Master Baker, was opening a shop on Third Avenue, jubilation reigned. At last—shades of Paris!—there would be a bakery with crispy croissants and crusty baguettes on the Upper East Side. Everyone knew that in France, in order to hang out a sign reading Boulangerie, the baker needs to make the dough and bake it on the premises. Which they do here at Maison Kayser on the UES, where freshly baked loaves of bread come from the ovens every two hours. Did you notice the cuit sur place in the photo above? That means baked on the premises.

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Is it any wonder that after a few years in France, Julia Child would say: How can a nation be great if their bread tastes like Kleenex? Meanwhile, back home we stayed loyal to Wonder Bread that “helped build strong bodies twelve ways.”

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Beyond the Bread Basket

After opening his first shop at 8 rue Monge in Paris in 1996, Eric Kayser went on to open places in most of the capital cities of the world—from Taipei, Singapore, Hong Kong and Seoul to Lisbon, Tangier, Dakar and Kinshasa. There are more than twenty Maison Kayser shops in Paris alone and twenty-five throughout Japan.

From Day One, Maison Kayser has been packed—the neighbors overjoyed to have a good bakery, as well as an attractive brasserie for casual dining—be it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Since then, he’s added outposts in Bryant Park and Flatiron, and the latest at Third Avenue at 87th Street. The once staid, stuffy and square UES is suddenly hip.

Enjoying the Bread Basket

Today, too late for breakfast and too early for the lunchtime crowd, I have my pick of tables and choose one with a clear view of the restaurant and bakery. Sometimes the simplest things in life give the most pleasure, n’est pas?

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So it was that morning. I was pleased with everything: with the white marble tabletops banded in chrome, the table setting, the unvarnished wood flooring, the bentwood chairs. Studying the menu, I chose the Saumon Fume & Deux Oeufs au choix.  Scrambled, s'il vous plait.

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And then I simply sat back and watched. Watched the waiters in their black-and-white striped Breton shirts filling small burlap bags with an array of breads. Watched two young moms catching up with one another while feeding bits and pieces of buttered bread to the babies on their laps. Watched an elderly gentleman using a knife and fork to cut through a crusty Gruyere topping on a bowl of French onion soup. Watched a college-age student highlighting every other paragraph in her book. If commonplace, I found it most reassuring.

It's what makes being a flaneuse so enjoyable. For when you are observing the passing scene—your analytical mind not making any judgments—you are 'in the moment', untroubled by either the past or the future.

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Waiting for Les Oeufs—organic eggs, I might add—I walk over to Take-Out to check out the pastries and ask the young man behind the counter if they have any gluten-free breads. (In this citadel of fine breads, the question borders on the sacrilegious.) He’s not sure, but suggests the flourless chocolate cake. I promise to try it another day.

After the velvety eggs and seconds of coffee—both excellent—I walk uptown to see what's happening at the new Maison Kayser at 87th Street and Third. By now, the lunchtime crowd is pouring through the doors. The young lady at the front of the house tells me that this Maison Kayser is slightly larger than the one at 74th Street. Really? Perhaps because of the layout, it feels smaller. That said, the offerings in the cases are every bit as delectable. Including a new twist—a loaf of bread embedded with chocolate chips.

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Taking the Bread Basket Away

Let me ask you: When there are no errands to be run or chores to be done, no appointments to be kept or parcels to be schlepped... is there somewhere you like hanging out and watching the world go by? Do tell!

PS: Thanks to my brilliant webmaster, my blog, Desperately Seeking Paris, now has a SHARE button to take you directly to your Facebook page. Give it a try, won’t you? And, please,  stop by next Sunday for coffee