I'M NOT on Pinterest, but I want to pin every last little adorbs thing in self-described "sweet savant" Kristen D. Murray's new downtown pastry luncheonette, Maurice. I can see Murray picking her way through flea markets, hand-selecting each chair that lines the bar and every decorative colored glass jar and dried flower. I don't know her, but because of the atmosphere she's crafted—along with some darn fine midday fare and inventive desserts—I think I like her.
It's because this time, Murray is getting personal. She's been behind the scenes as a pastry chef at big-name restaurants, including Paley's Place here in Portland and Gramercy Tavern and Aquavit in New York City. Maurice is her first solo venture; it's named after her flop-eared rabbit. Lest you forget that, as you step into the narrow, all-white space, you hang your purses and outerwear on rabbit-eared coat hangers.
But the first thing you'll see are the desserts beckoning from a glass case at the front. This isn't your fattyboombatty Cheesecake Factory fare. Consider Murray's signature concoction: a black pepper cheesecake no larger than my palm, served with kumquat marmalade on top. In no way was it savory, but the sweetness came more from the fruit on the top than the cake itself, which was a welcome twist. The same went for a praline tart served with what a never-condescending server described as "fancy for orange blossom water" and a thin, crisp tuile.
Murray says she grew up in Southern California baking with local fruits and vegetables, and those earthy influences are never far from her palate. We made one visit after 9 pm on a Saturday, following a trip to the Schnitz for some philharmonic action (I know, how continental), and easily put down three desserts and a pot of apple tea ($5.50). Another esteemed reviewer noted that Maurice—open until 10 pm Thursday through Saturday and with a small selection of wine and beer—is most in its element as a swank late-night sweet spot. I can't disagree. Plus, I grabbed a poulet au pain ($9), a savory pastry best described as a chicken potpie sans plate, for breakfast the next morning. (P.S., If you eat like Cookie Monster, watch out because there's an unnecessary bone in that herby chicken thigh.) A shallow bowl of fenugreek and carrot soup was the only awful thing I had, an $8 blend of bitter mixed with unpleasant.
The menu changes almost daily, and is handwritten on paper. Savory lunch and brunch items are on the modest side portion-wise, especially for the price. I felt bad for stealing one of the four diminutive meatballs from my dining companion's tasty lefse dish, served that day with gravlax, cured with blood orange and tarragon, and caviar ($8). A slice of duck quiche with salad was $10. Yet these serving sizes are a good reminder of why the French don't get fat: It's decadent fare. As I bit into creamy eggs on fluffy crust with rich, oily poultry packed in, my stomach said, "keep eating," but a bigger portion was not actually necessary. Plus, a light lunch saves room for those desserts. Before you go, make sure you get a filtered photo of the check, which arrives oh-so-cutely on a china plate tucked in a vintage wooden clothespin.
Expect to spend $8 to $12 for nearly every dish; accoutrements and prices change frequently.