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For instance: The presentation of the food. There was a time, many years ago, when building a layered entrée was fun and classy. A chef who wanted to send out something snazzy might put down a pool of aubergine-colored sauce, then a layer of sautéed broccoli rabe, then a layer of cranberry-infused smashed potatoes, then some sautéed onions, then a nice piece of steak or fish, and then a little garnish of something. Cool, right? So you'd take a bite, and if you got the layers on your fork, you'd have a little taste of everything. In the past decade, this concept has been pounded harder than one of Tucker Max's bimbos. You couldn't flail a dead horse any deader than to send out an entrée like this today. At Max's, we had two on a recent visit. Our 16-ounce Delmonico steak ($29) was a genre classic: a pile of sauce, asparagus, "roesti" potatoes, steak, and crispy shoestring onions. Everything tasted pretty good, in a mooshed-together kind of way, except for the steak, which beyond the accouterments had no flavor at all. This was an entrée as distant from the integrity of an Alice Waters dish as 1971 Berkeley is from, well, 2006 Boca.
Potatoes shredded, smashed, puréed, pulped, lyonnaised, scalloped, roasted, julienned, frenched are all over this menu. At Max's, you're never far from a spud. They came with the grouper special too ($24): pink sauce, layer of sautéed Swiss chard, layer of mashed potatoes with medium whole shrimp, layer of sautéed onions, piece of grouper. The generous portion of grouper was dry. The chard really should have been de-stemmed. But the potatoes were freaking delicious.
For instance: The pairings of flavors. I'm not one to dis a plate of calamari, even if I've eaten roughly 1,000 pounds of the stuff since 1995. Buttermilk battered calamari and zucchini ($9) at Max's is really yummy crisp/chewy and perfectly seasoned until, that is, you make the mistake of dipping it in the "spicy tomato sauce." I can't believe anybody in the kitchen has actually tasted this Prego spaghetti sauce-cum-Tabasco, or what passes for it. Hideous. The "lemon caper aioli" is lots better. But "aioli"? How quaintly 1990s.
The sauce problem resurfaces with the fresh oysters ($13 for a half dozen). The mignonette sauce served with these (they were ice cold and plump) is too vinegary. Cutting it with a little oyster liquor or wine would have helped.
Why this crowd of high rollers would need to turn to their food for "comfort" anyway is an open question. Here in the American heartland of Boca, women two decades my senior have bodies like high school cheerleaders; the men are richer than Jack Abramoff and mostly not yet indicted. But to follow the theme through to its bitter end, we ordered the apple pie ($8) for dessert more like a pot pie, with a crust not flaky but of a thick, chewy, cookie-dough consistency and a scoop of absolutely scrumptious vanilla ice cream, tasting homemade. Our bill for two, with a martini and a single glass of wine, including tip, came to $132.
But it was money well-spent. Over dinner, I came up with the title of my next best-selling column: I Hope They Serve Mashed Potatoes at Max's. This one's a no-brainer.