If you've been to Max's Wine Dive, you probably know about their egg sandwich, their famous fried chicken, their ultra-gourmet burger and their Max 'n Cheese. What you may not realize is that half of the Max's menu changes each quarter, with fun and exciting menu items that are always a treat to try, although Katharine Shilcutt mentioned Max's in her recent post on ten new fall menu items she's excited about.
The mastermind behind these menu changes is Executive Chef Michael Pellegrino. I love listening to him describe how he came up with a specific menu item, or the theme he uses for a particular menu. His enthusiasm is always infectious, and I usually get caught up in his stories just as much as his food.
For the fall menu, which he just rolled out last week, he invited me to come in for a preview. As the dishes came out, he explained how the fall menu was inspired by a recent whirlwind eating trip to New York City, which he took with his general manager and the Max's Wine Dive chefs from San Antonio and Austin.
The way he describes it, the entire trip -- four days of lunch, snacks, drinks, dinner and late-night snacks -- was packed to the hilt with visits to places like Momofuku Ssam Bar, Greenmarket at Union Square, Babbo, Minetta Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, The Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, The Spotted Pig, Eataly, Shake Shack, WD-50, ABC Kitchen and more.
During one of those late-night eating extravaganzas at The Spotted Pig, he thought, "Why don't I make all the things that I want to eat late at night?" And that's how the fall menu was born.
We started with a dish that practically made me swoon when I saw the new menu online: duck confit tarte tatin. "If you were serenading me with a menu, chef, you succeeded," I told him. Chopped pieces of apple, crisped to a golden brown, formed the top layer of the individual-size tart, which was served on a long, rectangular plate with an open egg yolk on the side. An aroma of cinnamon and baked apples was released when I dug my fork into the middle of it. One server behind the counter walked by, winking at me, saying, "That dish is the sh*t."
When I tasted it, the crust was a bit harder than it should have been, and the chef noticed me stabbing it somewhat vigorously to break the shell. I thought the flavors of sweet roasted apple with the soft shredded duck worked together, but for those who try this dish, just know that it's more sweet than it is savory, and probably something you want to sample towards the end of the meal.
Next up came the "wow" moment. There is always one dish that you don't stop thinking about, and the beef belly meatballs served on duck fat biscuits with a cranberry jam made such a strong impression that I couldn't stop talking about it for days. Like a rich kobe beef meatball, but juicier and more flavorful, the beef belly meatball just oozed with juiciness as I smashed it between the biscuits and took a bite. There were three meatballs on the plate, and one wasn't nearly enough: I dusted off two in record time, all the while groaning delightedly at the sinful decadence of it all.
To follow, we had a picture-worthy dish of foie gras torchon with escargot, creme fraiche and tawny port-macerated blueberries served on a perfectly coiffed leaf of violet-red endive. Served on a bed of decorative grayish-tan beans, they had a wonderfully creamy yet crisp texture, enhanced by the a tinge of chewiness from the escargot.
The braised lengua pot roast with mousseline parsnips, so soft you could cut into it with a fork, was a dead ringer for homemade pot roast. The flavors were rich and strong, softened and complemented by the delicately whipped parsnip mousseline. "I love lengua," said Pellegrino, "and I wanted to use it in a way that was familiar enough that anyone could eat it."
I thought my stomach would burst at this point, but I could not restrain myself from hand-picking the glazed pork spareribs and spicy Chinese yellow chive coleslaw-like concoction that came out next. The glistening sweet vinegar glaze was like a tangy sweet and sour sauce, crusting and caramelizing on the meat to give it some crispness on the initial bite. It was like Chinese food on steroids, and I loved it.
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So there you have it, Pellegrino's take on grub he'd like to eat himself late at night, inspired by recent meals at some of the best restaurants in New York City. "These would all be fun to share," I commented, to which Pellegrino responded: "They're meant to be shared. Just grab some friends, order a bunch of dishes and dig in."