I tried Maxwell's 148, in Natick, for the first time this weekend and was very pleasantly surprised.
The restaurant is located in a non-descript building on Route 135 in Natick, about a mile east of Route 27. (The 148 in the name refers to the restaurant's street address: 148 East Central Street. This practice of naming a restaurant after its address was kind of interesting and hip 15 years ago, but it's probably time for restauanteurs to move on to something new!) In contrast to the austere facade of the restaurant, however, you step inside to a warm welcome and an inviting and sophisticated environment, unlike, I suspect, anything Natick has ever seen before. The room is large and square, but it is divided into more discreet areas through the use of floor-to-ceiling earth tone curtains, creating a smaller square area in the center of the room -- which I suspect could be cordoned off to create a private room -- and more intimate areas between this inner square and the outer walls of the restaurant. We were seated in a back corner that some socialites might consider to be "siberia," but which we enjoyed for its intimacy and privacy.
We started with a bottle of 2000 Conundrum ($50) (I noticed for the first time that the label does not mention Caymus anywhere; has this always been the case?), and a basket of a simple focaccia and some sort of crispy, Asian-inspired bread, served with an olive/bean spread and a sweet and spicy Asian dipping sauce.
The menu is heavily Asian influenced, but there are a number of non-Asian options for those so inclined. I started with a baby greens salad, which was accompanied by thin slices of pear, tiny yellow and red pear tomatoes, and what the menu describes as "gorgonzola focaccia croutons": focaccia triangles topped with gorgonzola and then grilled, toasting the bread and warming the cheese. I found it to be one of those dishes that creates a bit of a surprise upon the first bite, as if your mouth were not expecting this particular combination of tastes, but that I quickly adapted and thoroughly enjoyed the salad. I also tasted my sister-in-law's five spice quail, which also was delicious. And although I did not taste it, my brother's lobster risotto cake was beautifully presented.
I then moved to the "wok lobster," a split lobster tail and pair of claws, partially shelled, wok seared with Asian vegetables in a sweet and spicy sauce and served in a bird's nest of crispy noodles. Although the sauce was on the thick and sweet side, the spiciness came through nicely. For those who are fans of Jasper White's wood grilled lobster, I found this to be a far superior variation on the theme (and, I might add, a far better bargain at $29, served in a real restaurant in stead of a barn). I didn't try any of the other entrees, but my parents split the rib eye, which they said was prepared to perfection, delicious, and plenty big for two. Their only complaint was that the restaurant did not split the steak in the kitchen (although, in their defense, a steak served on the bone probably is one of the more difficult dishes to split in the kitchen while still maintaining the type of presentation that any good restaurant strives for).
Desserts were a relative weak spot. My brother and I both ordered the coconut creme brulee, which was served in a half of a coconut. It was good, but I would have preferred a stronger coconut flavor and a thicker and crispier top. My sister-in-law ordered a dessert special: a flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sauce. This combo is about as old as (or older than) the practice of naming restaurants after their street address, and she reported that it was fine, but nothing special. Same with my mother's profiteroles, which were filled with fresh whipped cream instead of ice cream, and my father's ice cream (vanilla, the only kind they offer) and chocolate sauce.
The service was excellent, as good as many (and better than some) of Boston's better restaurants and far better than you often find in suburban restaurants.
All in all, we had an excellent meal. We definitely will return.