Maximo’s Italian Grill
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
During the three years that Maximo’s remained closed following the hurricane, its many fans never gave up hope it would return. It did, early in 2009, with new owners but one of the lead chefs from the old regime. They reopened it with all the hipness, the Tuscan-style roasting, the great fresh ingredients and the first-class wine list it had before. It’s now as if nothing had happened.
The kitchen relies heavily on roasting and grilling, olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs, all applied to an array of first-class main ingredients. They’re not afraid of searing and encrusting meats and seafood dramatically. A convincing spike of red pepper turns up in many (and perhaps most) dishes.
When Maximo’s opened in the late 1980s, it gave ambitious diners something they’d not often seen in New Orleans: a Northern-style Italian menu with all the sophistication you’d find in the best restaurants of Tuscany or Rome. It also opened with one of the very few excellent collections of Italian wine, and has long held the local lead in that department. The original owner chose not to return after the hurricane, but three years later new owners and the former chef brought Maximo’s back to life.
From the street, it looks like another converted old French Quarter building. Inside, the dining room is striking and contemporary. Booths run along one brick wall and tables are just inside the front door. But the focus of the restaurant is its open kitchen and its famous diner-style counter. The music is of the current era, a little too loud for those who might not relate to it.
Soup du jour
Pesto and shaved Parmigiana Reggiano
»Sicilian shrimp (wrapped in prosciutto, grilled)
»Chili-glazed sea scallops
»House ravioli of the night
Lamb chop lollipops
»Mussels marinara or with white wine garlic sauce
»Fire-roasted shrimp, spinach and arugula
Romana salad (arugula, prosciutto, raisins, shaved Reggiano)
»Caesar salad with lump crabmeat
Pasta aglio olio
»Pappardelle pasta with duck, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, mascarpone demi-glace
Penne and crawfish diablo
»Pansotti (ravioli of the day)
»Pasta Rosa (shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, wine-garlic sauce, cayenne)
»Veal with capers, lemon white wine sauce, pasta
Pasta Bolognese (meat sauce)
»Veal saltimbocca (prosciutto, sage, Marsala)
»Fire-roasted chicken and Italian sausage
Grilled garlic shrimp
Smoked duck leg, tomato-basil risotto, asparagus
»Veal fontinella (breaded, fontina cheese, pomodoro sauce)
»Veal noci (wild mushrooms, pine nuts, sherry cream sauce)
»Rack of lamb
Mixed grill of seafood
»Fish of the day
FOR BEST RESULTS
All the action is in the front of the restaurant, where the regulars keep a party atmosphere going. But if you want to relate with the chefs and get the freshest food, sit at the counter.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The levels of red-pepper spice run through too large a percentage of the menu. It’s good, but not for every dish in a dinner.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +2
- Consistency +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +2
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +1
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday dinner
- Open Monday dinner
- Open till 11 SU MO TU WE TH; midnight FR SA
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Most restaurants in the French Quarter would kill for a crowd like the one that keeps Maximo’s humming. A hip crowd of customers who obviously know the restaurant well concentrates near the front door–smart seating on the part of the manager, because nobody could walk past and not feel the buzz.
Maximo’s does more with a bowling-alley-shaped building than any other restaurant in town. Not only that, but as you walk back you feel as if you’ve moved from one restaurant into another. And you catch fleeting glimpses of people who feel securely hidden in their booths. Romantic possibilities abound.
Meanwhile, the aromas emanating from the kitchen make this the most delicious-smelling place in town.