The vibe at Maison Kaiser on Third Avenue between 74th and 75th streets is very Upper East Side but manages to be casual regardless of the time of day. Lunch is a mob scene as is brunch with the resulting noise rebounding off the hard surfaces. However, dinner is far less crowded and accordingly quieter. The really good news is that the food is wonderful and, if you haven't gorged yourself sufficiently, the adjacent bakery stays open very late, ready to supply additional high quality breads and sweets.
Everything I've eaten here has been impeccably fresh and beautifully plated. The leek appetizer with blanched leeks blanketed by a sauce made sharp by Dijon mustard sprinkled with chopped hardboiled egg, was delicious and enormous. There is always a seasonal, flavorful soup du jour in addition to always-on-the-menu onion soup and gazpacho in warmer weather. The tartines are open-faced sandwiches, again very large. They vary with what is currently available in the market and include grilled chicken with artichoke tapenade, one with goat cheese, caramelized onions and figs sauced with balsamic vinegar as well as a vegetable version in which lightly cooked zucchini takes center stage sitting on a thin layer of goat cheese with English peas, super snap peas, radishes and a tangle of a veggie I couldn't identify. Maison Kaiser serves both Croque Madam and Monsieur, the former including the obligatory egg on top served sunny-side up. More solid fare includes a lamb stew that is perfect in every way; a "Fisher's Pot" with scallops, salmon, and other fish in a saffron sauce and beautifully roasted chicken. Prices, while not super-low are not ridiculous.
Ladies who lunch eat salads of which there are plenty, most with a slightly original twist: there is watermelon, feta cheese and sprightly greens in a pomegranite-ish vinaigrette; chicken salad with fennel and oranges and lobster salad with greens, citrus and scallions in a tomato vinaigrette.
The restaurant has no liquor license but will get you a bottle of wine from nearby. They do have all manner of teas and coffee. Anything baked is TDF. The butter (in foil wrapped pats, less than chic) that comes with the table bread basket is too cold but the bread is heaven. The baguette wins raves but if you're a carb-avoider, beware--this is not the spot to pick because the cookies, tarts (apricot/pistachio is especially divine), éclairs, financiers, brioche and more are truly first class. Lemon tart has the freshness of the fruit. Anything with chocolate is intense.
Service is efficient and friendly with staff in black and white stripes. If a question about a menu item is posed and the waiter or waitress doesn't know the answer, (which he or she should but hey), it's relayed to the kitchen so you get the correct info. There is a window into the bakery area to watch what goes on which varies depending on the time of day (I saw the flour-covered canvas slings for resting loaves being readied.)
Eric Kaiser is hailed as a French baker extraordinaire; this location was his first NYC entry although now there are several others scattered around town. He's a Parisian success story and his addictive baked goods as well as well as the eating-in spot are a welcome addition to the area.