There are four seats at the French-style restaurant in Inwood Village where, from behind the counter, one can watch the souffles being made. Sweet, savory – even a soup souffle – the cooks are beating eggs until they peak, mixing and folding bechamels and bases, sauteing ingredients, timing the ovens to a clockwork precision; it’s all right there, just a couple of feet in front of the customer. Head Chef Cherif Brahmin is there, too, making sure that the dishes have risen from their original, uncooked and custardy form to the sublime souffles they have been intended to become.
And they always turn out. After all, it wouldn’t make much sense to call the restaurant Rise if the souffles fell flat.
“A lot of chefs thought I was crazy to start a souffle restaurant. They said ‘How are you going to do that?’” recalls Brahmin, who with Hedda Dowd co-owns Rise n°1, a restaurant centered around the souffle. “Because when you make a souffle and you put in the time to prep it, by the time you put it in the oven the customers are waiting. And if it falls, then it’s failed.
“It’s like a crepe,” he continues with a laugh. “It’s just flat.”
Fortunately for Brahmin and Dowd, that’s never been a problem at Rise n°1, which they established in January of 2008. As a Salon de Soufflé, Rise features souffles of every sort, from savory offerings such as Truffle-Infused Mushroom and Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Chevre to sweet options that range from Chocolate to Grand Marnier. Even their Marshmallow Soup features them – three goat cheese souffles (the ‘marshmallows’) served in a bowl with carrot bisque and pesto.
“I personally grew up eating them, and the souffle is a whole food – when you have it served with a salad, you have everything you need.” says Dowd. “When you look at it, it is celebratory; it visually satisfies you. Then when you put a spoon into it, the aroma is very satisfactory. So you’ve got your visual, olfactory and taste senses satisfied – you’ve accomplished a lot with one category of food.”
And at Rise, it’s a category of food they take seriously. In the book written about their restaurant, Rise to the Occasion: A French Food Experience (from which this story’s images are taken), the dish is described as ” a miracle of air and eggs – high and browned. And then, when you dip in, you are greeted by luscious, soft creaminess – the wonder and joy of souffles!”
Though Rise may focus on the ‘wonder and joy’ of the souffle, it is not the only category of food they offer. Along with an international, Franco-centric cheese selection and a wine offering befitting an upper-tier French restaurant, Rise also allows for space on the menu for classic dishes such as Soup a L’Oignon Gratineé to plates of their own invention, such as the Rise °1 Salad, a salad that features baby greens, pecans, blue cheese, and Granny Smith apples. It can even be served with salmon or chicken as a main course.
But it’s not just the menu or the wine selection that keep customers coming back to Rise. Impressive though they may be, they are matched by the cozy and casual atmosphere that Dowd and Brahmin have created. It was important to both of them to create an ambiance that made people want to be there, not just want to eat the food they provide. They do their best to ensure that their customers feel truly comfortable and welcome.
“There’s a sense of intimacy here, a level of integrity about the people and the place, and wherever your eye goes, you see something that might remind you of something meaningful,” says Dowd. “And if you don’t already have those memories, then that’s something we want to provide.”
Providing not only memorable meals but memorable experiences is the goal at Rise n°1, and it seems that the souffle is the perfect medium through which they can achieve their aim. It’s a legendary dish not easily mastered, and the end result is the ‘masterpiece of French cuisine,’ as the Rise site states. If there is indeed a perfect dish to go along with creating great memories, that dish could easily be the souffle.
And if there’s a perfect place to eat them, it could easily be Rise n°1.