S. Irene Virbila takes us to the O.C. this week for between-holiday filler. With Ristorante Max, she seems completely enamored with the charm of the place at first---a random newcomer in a strip mall, owned by a guy who's been catering in Orange County and Beverly Hills for years. But then Miss Irene finds faults with some dishes, the service, the lack of high-quality ingredients. She teases us:
The minute I heard from a friend who's from the Amalfi Coast that a true southern Italian restaurant had opened in Newport Beach and the food tasted like home, I made plans to go. A serious southern Italian restaurant would be something very different than the northern Italian, mostly Tuscan, places that dominate the Southland.Then let's us have it:
Chef Alfonso Fusco, who also comes from Positano, can cook pasta and tomato sauce with the best of them, but the restaurant could be even better if somebody took the effort to look for top-notch produce and suppliers of meat and especially seafood. But, then, not many Italian chefs in this country make the effort to set foot in the fish market or the farmers market.Given Miss I.'s track record, we'll venture a guess that this is a perfectly suitable neighborhood Italian restaurant. Those in Newport Beach probably enjoy it; they'd quibble with her assessments. But you can almost hear her whisper between the lines, "I drove here for this?"
Read on for more Italian, Peruvian, and South Bay seafood?
Elsewhere: LA.com also goes Italian at Tasca, Linda Burum introduces Venezuelan Coupa Cafe, PoetKitty does ceviche at Balcones del Peru, and Merrill Schindler tries Joe's Crab Shack in the South Bay.