Sometime last week, I was fortunate enough to attend a press dinner* at Max Restaurant hosted by Susan Rike. I had perused the menu a few times online and was really looking forward to dining at Max. This East Village restaurant was established in 2000 and if you're fortunate enough to speak to the owner Luigi, he will tell you tons of stories about the restaurant, its food and other fun facts. Luigi joined us for parts of our meal but mostly spent time shuffling in and out of the kitchen with one magnificent dish after another.
The bread that we were served was pretty unremarkable, but the Salsetta (Max's complimentary dipping sauce) was excellent. A delicious blend of tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, rosemary and citrus peels. As far as dipping sauces go, this is one of the better ones I have tasted.
Next we sampled the Crostino Toscano. I'm not a big fan of chicken liver pâté so I didn't love this particular appetizer. However, if you are so inclined this one was pretty good...I could definitely taste the liver.
Lucky for me the next appetizer was Melanzane a Funghetto. Eggplant is not my favorite vegetable, but this dish was great. Luigi mixed in the Parmesan tableside, which was awesome and made it taste that much better.
I really enjoyed the Melanzane and finished every bite; unfortunately this meant that the next 11 courses would be difficult to stomach. The Mozzarella di Bufala was pretty remarkable although I must admit that I am as much enticed by the story, as I am the actual flavor.
Apparently, Luigi gets his mozzarella from a small producer in Italy. The product comes in on one plane every Tuesday. That's right, pretty exclusive stuff over there. The mix green salad was a nice departure from everything else and the olive oil and balsamic vinegar livened up the greens.
The best part of most real Italian restaurants is the pasta. Max's pasta outshined many of the places that I have been to and when you consider the price point of the dishes in the restaurant, I am truly amazed at how fresh, light and delicious the pasta tasted. We started with the Ravioli di Porcini in Crema Tartufata.
From the smell alone, I knew I would enjoy this dish. It is extremely rich so even the two that Luigi served was more than enough to keep me satisfied. The truffle cream sauce was rich yet somehow tasted light enough to lead me to believe I could finish a plateful. The next dish was Lasagna.
It contained ground beef, and since beef is not on my to eat list, Luigi was kind enough to serve me one of the specials for the evening Lobster Ravioli with spicy tomato sauce.
It was round, cooked to perfection and well spiced. The tomato sauce was INCREDIBLE. Luigi imports his tomatoes from Tuscany and they truly are special. He opened up a can for us so we could taste them.
The sauce takes about 3 to 4 hours to cook and it definitely tastes as though it is made with great care. After the Lobster Ravioli, I was definitely getting full. Luigi then served Fettuccine al Sugo Toscano.
Very good-looking fettuccine, but it was a beef sauce so Luigi prepared something special for me. Black Linguine with Shrimp.
Oh Luigi! The linguine was perfect! The sauce had a little kick to it and was similar to the sauce used for the Lobster Ravioli. I do recall singing a little bit after taking a bite of this particular dish. After three pastas, I felt I had enough. Luigi had other plans. He served the rest of the table Spaghetti Chitarra al Ragu d’Agnello.
Nothing wrong with a little lamb ragu, but Luigi made sure that I had Gnocchi alla Sorrentina served with tomato sauce, basil and fresh mozzarella.
These bite size pieces of gnocchi were delightful. Light and delicious. Even as I write this almost a week later, I am dreaming of the little yummy bits. I must go back for the gnocchi! About two hours after we started our meal, we reached the protein. The Filetto di Baccala was perfection on a plate and I really wish it photographed better.
Salted Cod has never tasted so good. It was served with a side of mashed potatoes. They tasted like they had a hint of truffles in there. The cod tasted like it was pan-fried but was very light so likely placed in the oven for a short time. I had enough after eating the Cod. However, Luigi had other ideas and served the Polpettone.
A large serving of meatloaf with a potato pancetta gratin and a side salad. The meatloaf is actually stuffed with eggs, ham, and mozzarella.
Apparently, people order this dish and actually finish it! Unbelievable! Lucky for me I got to sit that round out. As full as I was from all the wonderful items I had consumed, I was still very much looking forward to the desserts.
The Tiramisu was by far my favorite. The presentation was great and the consistency was perfect. If you are a Tiramisu lover, this one will not disappoint! The crème brulee on the other hand just wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be.
I consider myself somewhat of a crème brulee connoisseur. While the sugar was properly caramelized, the custard wasn’t as smooth and creamy as I like. It was sweet, but still the consistency threw me off. Unfortunately, the Panna Cotta was even less impressive.
It just didn’t sing out with sweetness the way I expected it to. Although to be fair, I dug into it immediately after the crème brulee without a palate cleanser so it may have been too much for the flavors to follow each other. Regardless, I was glad the Tiramisu was sitting on the table and I could enjoy more of it.
Max Restaurant in the East Village is truly a gem of an Italian restaurant. The atmosphere is energetic without being obnoxious. There are three areas to the restaurant including an enclosed patio that I would LOVE to dine in when the weather gets a little warmer. The restaurant opened in February 2000 and I can see why it is still thriving. The price points are reasonable and I will definitely make the trip down to that neighborhood just to eat there again.
* Although this meal was complimentary, that did not at all affect my comments or views towards this dining experience.