Sunday, April 10, 2011

Max's Cafe

To anyone who happens to be reading this, thanks for sticking with us through the long hiatus, caused by job changes, relocation across the country, and general distraction. However, Michael and I are back and intend to start keeping up with the blog (which I know you will all understand is somewhat of a labor of love).

Anyhow, I will kick off the rejuvenated blog with a review of Max's Cafe in Santa Fe, which we visited for the first time last night. Let me start with the bad, which is that the visuals of Max's are, shall we say, unprepossessing. It is down a small and not particularly attractive back alley of Santa Fe. The entire restaurant is a smallish rectangle in which a large chunk has been taken out for the kitchen, leaving an L shape with a few oddish paintings on the wall and a rather unfortunate neon "Open" sign of the type usually found in roadside bars. There are, I am guessing, about 10 tables and seating for maybe 35 guests at a time, plus a tiny bar and service area (complete with cash register) protruding into the dining area. The few windows look out onto an abandoned parking lot.

To find the beauty at Max's, it is necessary only to look at the food. The menu is not extensive, but it is excellent with a number of intriguing choices. Michael went for the "two hour egg", very slowly cooked until it appeared to be the most tender and delicate poached egg ever, topping a bed of crispy polenta and a mound of reduced wild mushrooms. Just delicious. I had the special appetizer which was a torchon (the size and shape of a minature hot dog) of foie gras, perched on a log of rather sweetish brioche, with some dabs of blood orange puree and gelee on the size and nestled under a tangle of frisee. The foie gras was excellent...pure and rich flavored, although I could have used a little more of the pleasantly astringent citrus to balance the richness of the foie and brioche.

Michael's main course was a Wagyu flank steak which came in a series of slices over a kind of blue cheese stuffed enchilada. We both felt that while the steak/blue cheese combination was excellent, the pungency of the cheese was a little overpowering for the rather mild steak. Concept good, but a slightly more mellow blue might have worked better. I had zero complaints about my "suckling pig tasting platter" (and what could be wrong with that)...a triple confection of the most tender pork loin, pork confit under a shatteringly crispy top, and braised shoulder wrapped in chard (which tended to fall apart, so it didn't look as neat after being attacked, but it sure tasted good).

We spotted what looked like a chocolate bombe going by and had that for dessert. To our pleasant surprise, it was a chocolate shell which melted away when hot creme anglaise was poured over it, leaving a chocolate-flavored liquid studded with chocolate bits and other goodies I was too sated to fully identify.

With dinner we drank a bottle of Van Duzen (Oregon) Pinot Gris, which was crisp in the Oregon style, and very good with the food. One criticism I had of Max's is that the wine list is rather bipolar, with just a few selections in the under $50 range and many trophy bottles in the $100 or even $200 range, which seems a bit out of sync with the very casual setting and moderate prices. Max's needs to add a few more midrange options, particularly on the white wine side, as the list reads as though it might represent the leftover cellar of some defunct high end restaurant, salted with a few less expensive options.

Prices were reasonable for the quality with a bill of about $150 before tip, including the wine. There is also a chef's tasting menu for $76 but this seems very expensive for a restaurant with apps in the $10-15 range and mains for about $25-35.

All in all, though, the food was some of the best we have had in Santa Fe and we will definitely be back soon.

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