In the recent Chowhound's "Ultimate Poll" I listed Joe's in Venice as my number two favorite restaurant (self imposed criteria included dining in the establishment in 2005 and a minimum of three meals there overall) and lunch on Tuesday once again supported the selection. Where else are you going to get a two course meal of this quality for $12? Actually, the celery root soup starter was a bit of a let down compared to what I usually have there (not to mention a terrific version I had at Nook Bistro the week before) but salt helped. The duck leg salad, however, was wonderful. Tender, moist and still a little warm, sitting on a bed of greens with chopped Kabocha squash in a pomegranate vinaigrette where even the texture of the seeds contributed. So good.
Nothing quite exacerbates vallyites like Westsiders who occasionally come over the hill, have a great meal and act like they've discovered the Holy Grail. Well, that's kind of what happened at Max last night. This was truly one of the best meals I've had in a long while - from start to finish. An Ahi tower for $9.50 took a potential cliché and elevated it to a whimsical level where pieces of hijiki seaweed tickled the top of the mouth as you bit into it. The tuna was first rate poised on crispy risotto cakes. My friend's lumpia for $7.50 were light and well seasoned with a tangy orange dipping sauce but the foie gras tourchon that followed for $15 was surely why you order such a dish: light, earthy, silky with a snappy sour cherry relish or compote to accompany. My friend's miso marinated sea bass for $26 reminded me favorably of a similar dish I'd had at Spago a while back and my tandoori flavored salmon for $19.50 worked beautifully with a mint coriander chutney and a subtly buttered rice with lentils. In fact, the entire meal made me think of SIV's great review of Spago a few years back when she said that Lee Hefter, "cooks food that people want to eat... not what he thinks people want to eat." Exactly.
Right before dessert, acquaintances offered a taste of their baby back ribs and they reminded me of my favorite Danish backs at Houston's. The guy laughed and called them the "Sherman Oaks wet variety" but the sauce's sweetness indicated more of an Asian influence, I thought, but they were among the best I've had-meaty and tender. Ironically, recent discussions here about Boneyard Bistro came to mind (a place I really liked on my one visit). For those who complain about the noise at BB, here are even better ribs and cooking a block away in a quieter setting.
Max does Joe's one better when it comes to dessert which I thought were tastier when Joe made them. (His tart tatin is still one of the best I've ever had with vanilla bean whipped cream.) We had the special last night which were pistachio ice cream filled profiteroles with chocolate sauce and whipped cream; as well as a perfect flourless chocolate cake that was actually light and soufflé like instead of the dry dense versions you get most places. Check with glasses of a nice Austrailian SB and Fife Meritage came to $130 before tip. If this keeps up, Max will easily be on my list this year.