Chef and owner Alain Lecomte has created a true bistro experience, where one can feel equally comfortable having a small meal at the bar or enjoying a four-course extravaganza in the main dining room. Recently recognized as a master chef of France and cooking since the age of 15, Lecomte presides over a menu that is both timeless and whimsical. Crispy beer-battered onion rings are offered alongside French onion soup and an outstanding seafood crepe filled with chunks of lobster, crabmeat, shrimp and mussels in a tangy, chive-accented beurre blanc. And these are just the appetizers.
His menu is approachable and prices are more than fair for French cuisine. Appetizers begin at $5.50 and max out at $12.95, while entrees run from $19.95 to $32.95 (for the steak and crab cake combination). That may sound high, but all entrees are served with a house salad, sides and a basket of bread. Nightly specials are always in effect, and you don’t need the assistance of a sommelier to decipher the wine list.
So, what does one become while dining at Chez Max — a member of the petit bourgeois? An aristocrat? Actually the answer is a little of both. Entrees such as a Parmesan-crusted rockfish breaded, sautéed and served atop a mound of basil mashed potatoes is one vote for the latter. The fish tasted of the sea, which means it tasted fresh rather than fishy. And its sweetness balanced beautifully with the piquant chive beurre blanc. A nightly special, duck l’orange, is honorable with its sliced, pink-in-the-middle breast covered in a tangy, orange-enhanced stock. The steak au poivre was a nicely prepared Black Angus strip steak coated in crushed black peppercorns with a brandy-induced demi-glace. But the meat had been heavily oversalted, making the dish nearly inedible.
Desserts are fit for a king and range from $5.95 to $8.95 for the decadent cheesecake a la Parisienne and Grand Marnier soufflé, respectively. Yet, it’s Lecomte’s unaffected approach to straightforward cuisine that triumphs with his cold strawberry soup, featuring red-wine-macerated strawberries topped with vanilla ice cream. Simple yet divine.
From the moment you arrive, co-owner Annie Lecomte greets you with her soft French accent. You feel at ease. Inviting dark woods lend the restaurant a tavern feel. Service is an exercise in friendliness and knowledge where servers truly understand the complexities of each dish. We even overheard our bartender giving a couple of fellow diners a culinary lesson on the proper methods to reduce a sauce. Chez Max is the best kind of restaurant — relaxed, yet still very much in control. S
Chez Max ($$$$) 10622 Patterson Ave. 754-3464 Dinner: Tuesday through Saturday 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
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