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New Jersey Restaurant Review

Max's Fine Dining
10/2005 - Restaurant Now Closed
602 Route 130 North
Cinnaminson, Burlington County, New Jersey
(856) 663-6297

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
12/09/02

(Note 12/2003 - New Chef - Bruce Lim)

Located along a significantly less than picturesque stretch of Route 130, Max's is a most welcome addition to an area that has long been bereft of fine dining opportunities. Owner Robert Recchiuti's avowed purpose was to fashion an establishment that would serve up exquisitely crafted, sophisticated cuisine in a stylish yet unpretentious atmosphere -- for my money, his charming BYOB has succeeded admirably.

The moment you catch a glimpse of the stately 150-year-old brick structure, you sense that this will not be business as usual... And the interior is just as inviting. The four diminutive dining rooms -- which include a cozy sun porch -- are bathed in the romantic glow of candlelight and come replete with two fireplaces, polished plank floors, and crisp white napery. The ambiance is urbane but decidedly comfortable.

Ingratiating the surroundings may be, but it is the extraordinary food that is guaranteed to quicken your culinary pulse. It is sumptuous yet exceedingly civilized. Executive chef Alex Capasso and executive sous chef Anthony DiPascale strike just the proper chord between the customary and the creative. Presentations are attractive and innovative, yet they don't overwhelm either the eye or the palate with a host of farcical and superfluous ingredients.

You begin with what has become the obligatory amuse bouche... And while the memory of these various and sundry restaurant freebies often disappears into a kind of black hole of oblivion, there is one encountered at Max's that is forever destined to haunt my dreams in the wee small hours of the morning: an extraordinary miso soup. The chef grants only a few beguiling sips of this heady, exotic elixir -- held lovingly in ginger's sensuous embrace and kissed by just a touch of cream -- and yet, they are more than sufficient to set off a long and lingering orgasm in the taste buds.

And appetizers are equally hedonistic... Three beautifully seared diver scallops ($14.00) are set on a spicy seabed of mashed avocado, topped with a tiny tangle of baby greens, and surrounded by dots and dashes of a creamy yellow tomato dressing. The bivalves are incomparable, their rich and meaty countenance marred only by the slightest hint of grit.

The handmade potato gnocchi ($9.00 appetizer/$15.00 entrée) are a study in ethereality. The feathery dumplings swim in a celestial sea of beurre de tomatoes and are lightly sprinkled with morsels of fresh mozzarella. The orrecchietti ($9.00/$15.00) embellished with sweet sausage, broccoli rabe, and a touch of olive oil are more robust in nature but every bit as appealing.

Max's antipasto ($11.00 small/$15.00 large) is yet another option in the prelude department. The cast of characters, of course, may vary from day to day; recently encountered were such diverse items as artichoke hearts, green Sicilian and kalamata olives, smoked mozzarella & provolone cheeses, marinated mushrooms & baby onions, roasted red & yellow peppers, crostini, and decidedly fatty prosciutto. Don't get me wrong, the antipasto is quite good... but in comparison to the other marvelous possibilities, it simply doesn't set off any bells or whistles. It should remain quite low on the diner's gastronomic totem pole.

Entrées are nicely balanced between meat, fish, and fowl... but it is matters piscatorial that are, in my opinion, the most deserving of your attention. The kitchen seems to have just the right touch with regard to both the choices of ingredients and methods of preparation, which joyously complement rather than confound these delicate denizens of the deep. The red snapper ($26.00), for example, is beautifully steamed and swims to table in a light but flavorful natural broth, while a seabed ragout of gnocchi, escarole, and tomato provides a delightful textural counterpoint to the moist and flaky filet.

The pan-roasted halibut ($29.00) is yet another thalassic delight. Reclining gracefully on a savory pillow of lobster potato purée, it is circumscribed by a pool of port wine sauce imbued with lobster essence. Port wine concoctions, it should be noted, can be mighty tricky; a touch too much assertiveness and all individual flavors concerned may be consigned to nihility. Fortunately, that is not the case here. The sauce provides just the proper antithesis to its worthy companions: It tames the overtly rich potatoes while thoroughly invigorating the natural blandness of the halibut. It also adds a delightful splash of color... as does a tiara of baby carrots and asparagus.

The Atlantic salmon ($26.00) is similarly prepared; pan seared, finished briefly in the oven, and then allowed to luxuriate on an incredibly delicious pesto pomme purée. A light but extremely flavorful Provençal (shellfish) broth furnishes the culinary coup de grace.

Committed carnivores also have several outstanding options from which to choose... but the oven-roasted beef tenderloin ($31.00) should surely be placed at the very top of their dining agenda. It is a superlative specimen that arrives medium rare, precisely as ordered; and it does, indeed -- to use those ubiquitous turns-of-phrase -- "cut like butter" and "melt in your mouth." Possessing a host of its own flavorful attributes, it is, nevertheless, wonderfully aided and abetted by a crispy polenta cake and heady merlot sauce.

Even the pedestrian breast of free-range chicken ($23.00), usually considered little more than a gastronomic escape hatch for those with less adventurous palates, proves to be a gourmand's delight. Served on the bone, the flesh beneath the still crispy skin is remarkably plump and juicy and marries extremely well with a creamy Parmesan risotto and perky thyme jus.

Desserts ($8.00) show absolutely no letdown in the kitchen's superior capabilities. The chocolate "bomb" with pistachio filling strikes one as almost a touch too decadent. The chocolate banana tart, on the other hand, is a light and delicate affair embraced in a scrumptiously seductive crust. Homespun bread puddings topped with cinnamon ice cream also appear to figure prominently in the sweet endings department. You may be treated to a wedge of brioche surrounded by alternating dabs of chocolate and caramel or, even better, a warm peach and berry spruced up with pistachio and berry sauces and berry compote. A very nice cheese course ($9.00) is also available.

Max's faces the same problem as many upscale eateries: finding adequate help. And a sign noted on our most recent visit, advertising openings for all positions, clearly testifies to this fact. As does the presence of a young woman who was completely "in the weeds" when confronted with the prospect of attending to more than a single table at one time. In all fairness, however, the service, apart from the incident noted immediately above, has been quite competent and professional across the board.

People always seem to be extremely curious about where professional hired bellies chow down when not on the company payroll -- realizing, no doubt, that a critic's continued presence at a given establishment is an infinitely stronger recommendation than even the most effusive of reviews. So let me confess... When The Artful Diner isn't munching for New Jersey Online and has a free night to spend with family and/or friends, you may expect to find him enjoying the intimate ambiance and exquisite cuisine at this increasingly popular eatery.

By the time this review is posted, Max's will be well into their new fall menu. Go and enjoy!

Cuisine: Italian with French accents
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Sat, 5:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 5:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.; CLOSED MONDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Strongly recommended
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate/Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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