Good to the max

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Rob DeWalt

Max’s

403 ½ S. Guadalupe St. (be­hind Corazón night­club), 984-9104 Din­ner 5:30-9:30 p.m. Mon­days-Satur­days;

closed Sun­days

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.

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