Good to the max
403 ½ S. Guadalupe St. (behind Corazón nightclub), 984-9104 Dinner 5:30-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays;
Beer & wine Patio dining in season
Vegetarian options Handicapped-accessible Noise level: moderate Nearby street-side parking
Restrooms: clean Credit cards, no checks
The Short Order
Opened during the thick of the Railyard redevelopment a little more than two years ago, Max’s Late Night Café quickly gained a devoted local following. Now, with a new chef, a shorter
name — Max’s — and a revamped menu that focuses on contemporary American cuisine with a few playful but restrained science-lab twists, this unassuming fine-dining restaurant tucked behind
a Santa Fe-nightlife beacon is poised to attract even more diners looking for something beyond
the ordinary. More clarity is needed at the table regarding the use of local and sustainable ingredients, but the service is friendly, and the
staff is genuinely eager to answer questions. Recommended: sturgeon sous vide, corn soup with pork-belly “croutons,” day-boat scallops with foie gras ravioli, and white chocolate globe with basil ice cream and warm coconut syrup.
In the June 27, 2008, Pasatiempo, I hummed a few praises for Max’s Late Night Café, a small, unassuming restaurant tucked behind a blues club on Guadalupe Street that, despite redevelopment and snarled traffic in the Railyard area, managed to create a strong buzz and foster a devoted following among local fine-dining enthusiasts. More than two years later, the nearby blues club is now Corazón — a hoppin’ nightspot with live music and dancing — and the food at the restaurant (now simply called Max’s) has blossomed beyond my wildest imagination. That hum is now a song in five courses.
The décor hasn’t changed much; warmly painted stucco walls are offset by a shiny, modern countertop that separates diners from the closed kitchen and a servers’ station. The patio outside the entrance is hidden from street view.
An early Friday-evening meal for three in late August was my introduction to the seasonal contemporary American cuisine of Max’s new chef/partner Mark Connell — a Massachusetts transplant who brings with him experience cooking the French-influenced American cuisine of Salts Restaurant in Cambridge; a tempered appreciation for molecular gastronomy; and a passion for the simple-yet-elegant nuances of authentic Mediterranean cooking.
Three of us sat indoors, started with bottled still water, and chose a lemony, slightly dry 2008 Provenance Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc, which, despite a hard-edged finish, proved a marvelous pairing for the seafood selections to come.
The feast began with a light and satisfying amuse bouche of thin summer melon planks loosely bound with a flavorless gelatinous substance (agar-agar?) alongside a tiny wisp of sweet, peppery oil. Next, on to a single oyster, harvested from Quilcene Bay in Washington state. Delicate, sweet, and slightly briny, it took me back to my blisterfingered shucking years along the Little Snookum inlet.
Two of us opted for the five-course tasting menu (a chef’s choice of smaller portions from the first and second courses plus dessert), and the entire table picked off the plates. An heirloom tomato salad with arugula and goat-cheese sorbet was a meditation on the bounty of area farmers markets. A stone-fruit salad of peaches, apricots, shaved fennel, arugula, and balsamic reduction also satisfied, hinting at the changing weather and harvest but not quite letting go of summer.
“Heavenly” describes the corn soup with pork-belly “croutons” and leek emulsion — the soup’s slight sweetness, vegetal whispers, and semi-smoothness taming the salty crunch of the crisp-chewy pork. A perfectly cooked carnaroli risotto with porcini and oyster mushrooms came with delicately flavored mushroom foam, an addition I didn’t mind here, because it added something positive to the dish instead of distracting from it — which culinary foams often do.
Our friendly server, who was genuinely pleased to find the answers to the few questions he couldn’t answer on his own, next delivered two dishes cooked sous vide (in which ingredients are heated in a water bath at a constant, relatively low temperature in vacuum-sealed bags to preserve their flavor and structural integrity). The first, an oblong mini-fillet of sturgeon with olives, artichoke, and a smooth, bright red-orange piquillo pepper sauce, offered a slight pucker and a tender, lean-yet-meaty texture. It was sided with a remarkable caper-crusted potato confit.
The rare-to-medium-rare Wagyu− beef sous vide with sautéed spinach and wild mushroom ragout as tender, but the ragout overpowered the
Ratings range from 0 to 4 chiles. This reflects the reviewer’s experience with regard to food and drink, atmosphere, service, and value.