51 Avenue B
Between 3rd and 4th Street
New York, NY 10009
A few weeks ago I was invited to a Press dinner for Max, a rustic home-style Italian trattoria in the East Village. I was to blog about my dinner experience. That’s easy enough. It turned out, it’s more than about the food – it’s about good food, the passion, inspiration and how it connects people.
About two years ago, on a very cold winter evening, three very hungry friends ventured to Tribeca. One of the friends, Christina, urged Addie and Rima to brave the cold to have a try at what she thought was one of the best lasagnas that she ever had. So off they all went to a restaurant called Max.
About fourteen years ago Luigi, affectionately called the “visionario” of his family, left Southern Italy for the Americas. When his friends would go out to play, he would rather read Max, an Italian magazine that features a lot of things American and would dream to live there. After years of hard work, Luigi is now the proud owner/chef of a restaurant that prepares home-style Italian dishes, emphasizing Southern Italian flavors. He named his restaurant Max.
Four days ago, I went to Max, East Village where I met the owner/chef. My passion for food was pint-sized compared to Luigi’s but my continual search for good food came into full swing with Luigi’s unflappable passion to deliver it.
The press dinner started with a fresh basket of Tuscan bread and the delicious Salsetta (Max’s complimentary dipping sauce). This delicious dipping sauce is one of its kind, made with a mixture of Extra virgin olive oil, roasted tomato paste and olives. We were also served with a glass of proseco, which went well with the appetizers that we sampled.
Crostino Toscano $6.95
- Chicken liver pate on toasted bread, which I recommend to order as an appetizer if you’re a fan of pates. Every bite is rich, doesn’t have that pasty texture, not overpowering or too heavy – you will need all the tummy space for the main course!
Melanzane a Fungetto $5.95
- Diced fried eggplant in thick tomato sauce with basil, also a solid dish. The tomato sauce was described on the menu as thick, but it complements the thin and delicate eggplant pieces.
Mozzarella di Bufalo
- imported from Southern Italy, it is one of the best, melt-in-your-mouth buffalo mozzarella cheese that I’ve ever tried. It is not on Max’s regular menu, so you might want to ask your server about pricing and availability, if you plan on ordering it.
Insalata Mista $6.95
- It’s your usual fresh mixed green salad, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. Probably a good start if you’re going to attempt finding room for dessert.
Ravioli of the Day $13.95
- the ravioli of the day was Ravioli di Porcini in Crema Tartufata, this dish was so rich in flavor. I’m more fond of red sauces, but I enjoyed every bite. I thought it would be a mushroom overkill, what with Ravioli being stuffed with Porcini mushrooms then again poured with more mushrooms (sauce that is, crema tartufata is usually made from combination of truffles, olives, olive oil and seasonings). I was wrong, this was delicious.
Rigatoni Al Ragu Napoletano $10.95
- The Rigatoni was cooked perfectly al dente, meatballs were delicious, sweet Italian sausage was a good complement to the flavorful meat sauce.
Lasagna Fatta in Casa $10.95
- This was the lasagna that my good friend Christina raved about and now I remembered why. The combination of the homemade pasta, chunks of meat within and the red sauce that tasted kinda sweet with a hint of cinnamon, complemented well with béchamel (thin white sauce made of butter, flour and milk). The tasting portion was a good size, so I can just imagine the actual serving size – it would be a steal for this price.
Fettucini Al Sugo Toscano $10.95
- Again, homemade fettuccini was cooked perfectly al dente, with Max’s tomato meat sauce was unusually sweet, the acidity that you normally taste in tomato sauce was not that apparent here. According to the chef, the red toscano sauce is a concoction of celery, carrots, onion, wine, ground beef and a spoon of heavy cream. According to me, this sauce is a concoction of deliciousness.
Filetto di Baccala Al Forno $15.95
- The pan seared fresh cod fish was meaty and juicy, and served with creamy mashed potatoes. I’d order this if I started with the Melanzane a Fungetto.
O’ Polpettone “E Mamma” $13.95
- Mom’s meat loaf with potato pancetta gratin and mixed greens. The meat loaf was shaped like a football and when cut, you can see that it was stuffed with a perfectly hard boiled egg in the middle. It was seasoned well, a little crusty outside yet soft and well seasoned as you bite into it. And the potato pancetta gratin is not something to overlook. The saltiness from the pancetta, the grated cheese, starchiness of the potato, all layered and topped with a browned crust. A steal for $13.95 – this is not a dish, it’s a meal.
Polenta al Ragu d’Agnello
- light and fluffy but still tasty, it was very delicate to the mouth. I didn’t see this on their regular menu, but was part of the Press dinner tasting menu, so ask the staff prior to ordering it.
The round of desserts came and I wished I had brought another stomach with me because the homemade Tiramisu ($6.95), Panna Cotta ($6.95) and Crème Brulee (not on the regular menu) were served in a generous potion but I could only take a spoonful each and I had to wave the white flag. I officially surrendered. Happily of course.
Before enjoying each dish (all fourteen of them with a bonus small portion of the Gnocchi with walnuts and gorgonzola, very good combination of flavors, and the gnocchi is so fresh), Luigi served and answered our questions with gusto. There’s no doubt that Luigi does everything with passion.
Now its my turn to share this passion to other foodies, and I’ll start by bringing Christina and Rima back to Max.