UPPER EAST SIDE — Upper East Siders were eagerly soaking in the je nes sais quois — and world-famous French bread — as baker Eric Kayser's first U.S. brasserie-styled café opened Wednesday.
With 25 Maison Kayser bakeries in Paris and nearly 80 others around the globe since 1996, the renowned fourth-generation French Master Baker often called the “ambassador of French bread to the world,” was on hand for the opening of his first New York boulangerie at Third Avenue between East 74th and 75th streets.
“I am very happy,” Kayser said. “New York is a magical city. People like quality, and that's what we do.”
His new block will soon become a powerhouse of French artisanal baking.
Just across the street were signs posted in a window advertising the coming of a François Payard bakery — just down the block from where the pastry chef had planned to move last year before bowing out of the space.
Kayser’s 4,000 square foot, 104-seat space at 1294 Third Ave. will serve up French classics, salads, pastries, fresh coffee and his raved-about bread — made with organic flour and hand-kneaded and baked on site by a team led by a chef and pastry chef imported from Paris.
The kitchen uses only homemade, natural sourdough leavening (or levain) in liquid form, which is a more time-consuming and difficult process than other bakeries use.
“I closed my eyes and I felt I was in Paris,” said Louis-Jean Egasse, the co-owner of the Upper East Side spot, of his first bite into a baguette made at the new shop. “The bread is different in texture than other breads.”
Egasse and his business partner, Lou Ramirez, plan to open two more Kayser bakeries in Manhattan — at 921 Broadway near 21st Street and at 8 W. 40th St. just across from Bryant Park. They are eyeing Boston and Washington, D.C. for next U.S. locales, Egasse said.
One morning during the Third Avenue café’s four-month construction, when Egasse was standing outside, a woman came up to him and asked what was coming in the space. Before he could answer, another woman approached and said, “’It’s Eric Kayser, the best bakery in Paris,” Egasse recounted. “I didn’t have to say anything.”
This particular area of the Upper East Side was appealing, he said, because it’s near a French community that includes the Lycee Francaise and it’s also very family-oriented.
Egasse was pleased that a group of moms with strollers came opening day, but was apologetic that unlike in Paris, he couldn’t let in customers with their dogs. (They do have bowls of water outside for pups, he noted.)
“People here appreciate good stuff,” said Matalon, who was in Paris two weeks ago on vacation where he frequented Maison Kayser.
“We’re so excited,” said Jeanie Turkel, 47.
She and her husband, Len Turkel, stopped in while on their way to pick up take out. “There are no good bakeries on the Upper East Side,” she said, noting that they get birthday cakes from a place in Rhode Island.
Now, they were overjoyed by the new bakery and the coming of Payard.
“Oh my God,” Jeanie Turkel said. “I love to eat.”
Sharon Bernstein, who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years, bought a cookie with dark chocolate and milk chocolate.
“Now we’re getting our fill,” she said of both French bakeries. “Before we had nothing. I’ll be happy, but it won’t help my waistline, for sure.”