As this is my first column written in the new year, I thought I’d start by saying that I always have disliked New Year’s Eve. It’s a celebration built entirely around a collective sigh of relief, as we’re counting down the seconds, thinking, “Well, thank god that year’s over.” Then, we wake up the next day, and do the same thing all over again until next year. I never have bothered with resolutions, but perhaps I should. That’s the only conceivable reason for a holiday like this: to try to make better choices this year than the last. If that is so, then my resolution shall be to put a higher value on experiencing pleasure.
My inspiration for such a resolution is restaurant Max. Too often, we view food as a necessity—a thing we must grab on the way to our next experience. At Restaurant max, food is the experience.
Chef Nick O’Leary began the journey with the lovely Roasted Beet Salad ($8), sprinkled with creamy goat cheese, candied pecans, and hazelnut vinaigrette. For the more adventurous, Beef Carpaccio ($8) is a triumph of thinly sliced beef, tarragon, fried capers, arugula, shaved parmesan, and—best of all—the ultimate goddess of the food pantheon: truffled brown butter. O’Leary seems to share my passion for truffles, and for that I am truly grateful. Truffles in some form make appearances throughout the menu, and wherever they appear, magnificence is sure to follow.
With our starters, we were treated to three signature cocktails: Mississippi Molotov ($9), a fruit-forward drink mitigated with a healthy bite from Serrano chilies; Humphrey’s Tea ($9), a smooth little vodka wonder with a twist of lemon and a sprig of rosemary; and North Point ($9), a pretty huckleberry vodka drink that mimics the flavor of Sweet Tarts candy. Later on in the evening, we also tried East of Oregon ($9), which marries raspberry vodka with a little kick of sage; and Gatsby’s Daisy ($9), a wickedly drinkable concoction of Charbay Green Tea Vodka, lavender, and tarragon. All in all, the signature cocktails tend to be very festive, and on the fruity side.
Our next food course was Ahi Tuna ($27) and Salmon ($24). Not to slight the latter, which was flakey and moist, bathed in a heavenly black truffle emulsion, but the Ahi Tuna was absolutely divine—giant white beans, poached leeks, tomato confit, and fragrant smoked ham form the perfect backdrop to the tender, seared fish. O’Leary hints that this dish is ordered less often than it deserves, which really is a shame, because while every entrée I tried was truly fantastic, this was one of the inarguable standouts.
Following was Rabbit ($22), met with a happy little union of wild mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and what else but truffle oil, served over hearty tagliatelle pasta. Filet Mignon ($32), most likely a customer comfort-food favorite this time of year, is given a healthy sear before it is placed in the center of a very flavorful al dente risotto. Lamb ($34), however, is another absolute masterpiece—a beautiful presentation of T-bone and tender short ribs, sunchokes, polenta cake, and porcini stuffing. To be brief, if you like lamb, and you have not had O’Leary’s yet, find a time to go to Restaurant Max before the menu is changed.
After the main course, if you are in the mood for something sweet, individual dessert “shooters” are available in a wide variety of flavors. We tried Chocolate Peanut Butter Whopper Cake, Lemon Lavender Pie, and Raspberry Limoncello Mousse, but I probably could have been just as happy with Macadamia Nut Pie or the perhaps Double Chocolate Cake. I love the idea of a minidessert—so often, you get done with a lovely dinner, and simply don’t have the appetite for a large slice of cheesecake. These little darlings are priced at just $2.50, so order a few for the table—and if you’re feeling cozy, share.
And really, why not? It’s not every day one has a meal like this. Days drift by, one bleeding into the next. Each can seem so important on its own—tasks to get done, deadlines to meet. But when a year passes by like that, what do you really take with you? For me, good food is more than just a moment’s pleasure. It reminds me of how much is yet to be experienced in this world. I am resolved to remind myself of that more often. It’s a small goal, true, but sometimes, it’s the small things that make the biggest difference in the context of a lifetime.
215 S. 4th St., Mpls.