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Dine Out Lauderdale at Cafe Maxx Works Like a Charm

Last week we suggested our top five Dine Out Lauderdale choices, a list punctuated by one Cafe Maxx. Based on our visit this week, we were right: Cafe Maxx has come up with a spectacular Dine Out menu that gives you more than just a little sample of the restaurant's extensive bill of fare, it manages to be a rewarding meal worth making the special trip for.

Maxx has been around for a quarter century now, yet it still remains one of the more interesting restaurants in Broward. A big part of that is co-owners Oliver Saucy and Darrel Broek. By now, it would be expected in the restaurant world for Darrel and Oliver to have taken a back seat; if they had went the popular route, they might be far away, working on their seventh or eighth or twenty fifth restaurant by now. But when you first step into Cafe Maxx, you notice their presences are intact. Broek is there, manning the host stand and walking the tables, talking to guests. And of course, so is Saucy, whose large frame operates on a tilt behind the glass dessert cases in front of the open kitchen. When things slow down -- which they did not until 9 p.m. on this particular weeknight -- Saucy steps out from behind his enclosure and interacts as much as a head chef who just worked a jam-packed dinner shift is wont to do. What's more, the pair operate a successful restaurant full of successful people -- it would be easy to carry themselves with an air of pretension, yet these are two fine, personable hosts.

As for the Dine Out Lauderdale menu, Maxx doesn't hide it from customers, like some restaurants do. Those black-shirted waiters plop the Dine Out menu on your table as soon as you sit, a single page list of four-courses. With that many dishes, you'd expect the restaurant to skimp a little. But most of the offerings are generous and very solid. Such as

Beef tartare: Sometimes, simple works best, and in this case it does. This tartare is an exceptional round of minced tenderloin with very little dressing, just a smattering of capers, onions, wisps of basil, and small cubes of grilled portabella. In place of the classic egg yolk, Maxx uses an herbed aioli, very basil up front. You couldn't start better than this tartare.

Duck Ravioli
: This one didn't work as well. What came out was loose and very minimally filled, and layered almost like a napoleon of pasta. The duck was almost undetectable, the smoked mozzarella faint but present. On top, a scattering of sun-dried tomato, basil, and grainy Parmesan cheese. The brown butter sauce that it soaked in was under flavored and felt oily where it should've been luxurious. I'm not sure if the transfer to Dine Out portions ruined this one, or it was just marred in execution.

Sweet Onion-Crusted Snapper: A return to form, this is a beautiful plate, with a sizable cut of local snapper mounted atop a round of mashed potatoes. (There was a time when chefs would mash any root or tuber, but they now seem to be embarrassed to use anything but potato. I guess I long for the passe.) Spread on the fish's supple frame is a near paste of caramelized onion, so deeply rendered to dark sugars it reminded me of something fermented -- fish sauce, soy maybe, but definitely Asian. A very lightly flavored orange Madeira butter coated the bottom of the plate, delicate but slightly too forgiving. Very solid, though a waiter passed by with a plate of double lamb chops from the Dine Out menu, and I felt a pang of buyer's remorse.

Cheesecake: The menu described the cake as having a "mosaic of fruit sauces," but on my plate was a sort of cinnamon crema. It turned out to be a fine thing, as the rich, melting cheesecake stood up to the peppery spice. The round of cake was maybe an inch-and-a-half across, but I couldn't finish it after everything I'd ate. But when I think about cheesecake, this is exactly what I want: smooth, mouth-coating, a perfect balance of sweet and savory.

While I didn't love everything I tasted, I highly recommend partaking in Maxx's Dine Out menu before the offer is up. It's not often you get a chance to sample so reasonable from a place this accomplished.

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John Linn

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