Max Takes it to the Max

I don’t eat a lot of Italian food out, unless it is incredibly high end. The main reason is…why? I make a damn good bolognese, can whip up a saltimboca like nobody’s business and I definitely know where to get some cheese so Italian you can almost hear it catcalling you from the Spanish Steps.
Then I went to Max.
This deceptively large restaurant makes you feel like you are entering your grandma’s home. That unpretentious, that cozy. Plus, I heard that Lady Gaga likes this place…if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me!
Salsetta. Roasted tomatoes, a bit of garlic, basil, olive oil, olives and pine nuts.

These were not the sweet, much heralded San Marzano tomatoes, but tomatoes from Tuscany. I found the taste to be deeper, more savory  and even more umami filled than San Marzanos. I was a huge fan. The dip was salty, savory, fresh and even a little citrusy. Oranges and tomatoes play so well off each other – who knew??


We next got some Buffalo Mozzerella, made in the Bronx.



That might sound like an oxymoron, but really…it was so delicious. One of the best mozzarellas I have ever tried. SO sweet and creamy that it was more like butter than cheese. That rich, that satisfying, that incredible. Better than any mozzarella I have had in recent memory. I even preferred it to burrata, whose watery center is too thin for my liking. 


Melanzane a Funghetto.


Soft, creamy eggplant cooked with tomatoes, garlic and herbs. The eggplant must have been fried then slow cooked, because although the flesh was tender, the outer skin was crispy and caramelized. It was not papery or sharp as eggplant skin can be, just perfectly sweet and salty. Eggplants and tomatoes are a match made in heaven, so that was where I was here…heaven. 

Ravioli di Porcini in Crema Tartufata
This was utter perfection. The ravioli was made in house, and was thin enough to let the filling shine while thick enough to relay the flavor of flour and wheat. The porcini filling was meaty and woodsy, and the heady scent of truffles invaded all of my senses. Well, maybe not tough, but I would have picked these little babies up with my fingers if I could. The mushrooms were different enough that they made the other taste more like itself – the porcinis seemed earthier and the truffles more ethereal. 

And let’s be honest, a good ole cream sauce never hurt nobody…except my ever expanding hips.

ANYWAY…

Max’s Lasagna
This is one of the restaurant’s most famous dishes, and I can see why. Whereas lasagna is usually a rich, heavy dish, this one was almost…dare I say…light? There is no ricotta and the meat sauce was more tomatoey than meat-y. The bechamel used provided creaminess without too much richness, Parmesan on top added a nutty sharpness, and the whole dish was an comforting and savory treat. 



If you like a traditional lasagna, this may not be for you, but if you want a lighter, more tomatoey version, this is your perfect dish. 


 Fettuccine al Sugo Toscano
Okay bolognese, I get it. You win. I won’t try to make you again. Because this bolognese was FABULOUS!!! Meaty, a bit spicy and hearty without – once again – being too heavy or rich.

How do they do it? I swear, the food is so light and easy to eat here, you can eat and eat and you don’t get full…

It’s basically my dream. 

Spaghetti with Lamb Ragu
This was so amazingly different from the beef ragu. It was sweet and almost grassy in the way that truly great lamb is. Less tomatoey and more onion-y, it was almost bright with the lamb and the tangy pecorino cheese. The pasta was al dente and it was GREAT. They don’t make the pasta in house, nor should they, if it tastes this amazing to buy it elsewhere.

Baccala.
Not my favorite course of the evening. Not because it was bad, but because it did not stand out as the other dishes did. It was a bit dry and perhaps too “fishy” tasting unless you really love that briny, oceanic taste – which I do. It was simply grilled, and a squeeze of lemon was acidic and bright next to the simple herb salad and the lucsouis mashed potaotes. Still, this one was not a standout for me. 

We tried a few desserts, but let’s just skip to the star, shall we?
Tiramisu.
Clean, creamy mascarpone. Deep, bitter coffee. Heady, soft ladyfingers soaked in rum. A final sweet dusting of shaved chocolate. Perfect.

Seriously.
This whole meal was pretty perfect. The prices are excellent, the cooking was familiar yet innovative and the atmosphere is homey and relaxed. The wine list is expansive and well priced, including many by-the-glass options. This might be my new Italian go-to place in the city. 

Because I need one, now that I have been totally convinced I had just better give up trying to cook it at home!

*Note: My meal was paid for by the restaurant.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*


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Comments

  1. JustinM says:

    Italian has always been my least favorite cuisine; I always find it so boring. That being said, this looks like the kind of place I would really like – light and simple, not overly-sauced

  2. Sarah says:

    Fuck Chinese Mirch! Can we go here on March 4?! I am uncomfortably hungry at work after reading this.

  3. Fritos and Foie Gras says:

    @Justin – you got it exactly right. It is just like the kind of food someone might make at home, but infinitely better – and very well priced!!
    @Sarah-haha then my evil plan is complete! I am SUPER excited for Chinese Mirch, we will hit this up next!! ;)

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