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Italian Cuisine

Maximiliano's: Congratulations, Highland Park

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Wed, Nov 23, 2011 at 6:53 AM

click to enlarge Jonagold apples - F. FRIESEMA
  • F. Friesema
  • Jonagold apples
Congratulations, Highland Park! Because you've finally transcended a soul-crushing abundance of taqueros, great bars and really good regional Mexican restaurants with a slightly befuddling celebrity-chef-owned trattoria of your very own. The conceit here is re-invented red-sauce Italian cooking, enlivened by high design -- plywood fins; green soffiting; red walls etched with abstracted spaghetti -- and from the day it opened, Maximiliano's was as popular with Mt. Washington families as it was with the local starter-home crowd. Chef Andre Guerrero also has the Oinkster a couple miles north in Eagle Rock, ran swank restaurants like Max, BoHo, Señor Fred and Marché, but Maximiliano's is probably the only restaurant of its type between Silver Lake and Pasadena.

Guerrero's conception of Italian-American cuisine is probably different from yours and definitely not what your Uncle Sal has in mind, but basically succeeds on its own terms: a distinct hit of sweetness in the spaghetti and meatballs; thin-crusted pizzas that are closer to '80s-style California pizza than they are to any of the new-wave Neapolitan pies; and an oddly gelatinous pan-roasted pork chop that spent more time than it needed to in sous vide. The squid salad is basically an order of calamari marinara dumped over a composed salad of lettuce, blood orange and chickpeas -- not bad, but not what you'd call coherent. Spaghetti aglio e olio, the simplest pasta in the Roman repertory was soupy, which is an odd conception of the dish. Brandade, salt cod, whipped with potatoes, had the loose texture of a picnic tuna salad -- again, fine to eat, but very different from any brandade you've ever tasted.

What we have is this: Guerrero's restaurants have always started slow but greatly improved -- Maximiliano's is probably going to be swell in a few months. And his spumoni is one of the most refreshing new desserts of the year, feathery chocolate, pistachio-almond, and cherry ice creams shot out of a Pacojet, layered, and served in a paper cup halved longitudinally, so that it looks like one of those cutaway photos from Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine.

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