136 Main St., Southampton
SERVICE: Attentive but disorganized
AMBIENCE: South of France meets South of Hampton
ESSENTIALS: Open every day; lunch, noon to 3 p.m., dinner, 5 p.m. to midnight; weekend reservations necessary, weekdays, recommended; major credit cards accepted; wheelchair accessible from parking lot
Maison Vivienne has as much to do with the South of France as Bain de Soleil. But it arrives tanned and stylish, with Gallic accents and Hamptonian flair. It’s this summer’s table chaude.
If the weather allows, dine on the brick patio, decorated with lavender and boxwood, where the umbrellas say Voss and the mineral water is Badoit. Listen, as a songstress sings “The Girl From Ipanema” while models from the maison’s pop-up shop bossa nova by in colorful, beachy dresses by Marina St Barth.
Select a celebratory wine. Peruse a caviar menu. Check a card that announces a “St. Tropez brunch fete,” with an evocative black-and-white photo of Bardot. Enjoy the assorted fashion statements made by prime-time diners. Imagine re-enactments of Bastille Day on Main Street.
Maison Vivienne uncorks at an address that has hosted restaurants as varied as Kozu and Nammos, the Post House Cafe and Nello Summertimes. Overseeing the dining room is Allan Basaran, a partner with years at Nello here and in Manhattan, and, accordingly, an expert in cosseting the impatient clientele that expects it. Service can be described charitably as slow.
Svitlana Flom, editor of the lifestyle-and-food website Art de Fete, owns this Maison, which makes modern the awash-in-white Dutch Colonial that dates to the 17th century. Executive chef Florian V. Hugo, who studied with Paul Bocuse and worked in Alain Ducasse restaurants, is from Provence.
So, your butter arrives with a little shower of flaky, black sea salt and slices of sweet radish. There’s respectable bread. And a wine list you’ll read from right to left. Entry level $50. The house’s excellent cocktails: $18.
Nibble on the flavor-packed pissaladiere, the Nice specialty, vivid with delectably fresh anchovies, caramelized onions and olives. Instead of a pizza-style dough, this version is almost lavash-thin, breaking at the touch of a knife, but it will do. Stay Niçoise with a rich riff on the namesake salade, anchored by a cut of seared yellowfin tuna the size of a stick of butter. The fish is velvety; the supporting cast, stellar.
A satisfying salad of jumbo lump crabmeat and paddlefish caviar comes with crostini. The summer salad Vivienne translates eclectically into grilled peach, confit tomatoes, pearl-size balls of mozzarella. The bright gazpacho, floating melon balls, and hinting of sherry vinegar, is a refreshing side trip.
The memorable main course is the generous, rosy, honey-lavender glazed duck breast, with a puree of sunchoke and sherry-roasted figs. A hefty block of tenderloin, which almost rivals it, benefits from green peppercorn sauce and a lush potato gratin.
Pan-seared branzino, which must be the official fish on higher-end menus across Long Island, rests on a diverting confit of baby fennel and olive-oil mashed potatoes. The rich but risk-averse union of lobster and sea scallops Florentine, naturally, has spinach, creamed variety, for company, with green apple and lobster sauce.
All of which lead to bouillabaisse, using a “traditional recipe from Marseille.” But Maison Vivienne’s seafood stew is as far from Marseille as Southampton is from England. It’s mild and fresh, with plump shrimp. Yet, even the slightest taste of the Mediterranean is missing. The advertised rouille, traditionally a rust-hued, peppery sauce, is more like garlic-starved aioli.
Desserts also generally stay away from Provence, with a timid chocolate mousse and a modest spin on peach Melba. The fig tart: an unripe tease.
But no one really is here for sweets. Maison Vivienne is a show, an entertainment, with some very good food. And when the singer is up to “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars,” you’ll be tempted to hum along.