I’m really excited to share this review with you today! But before I do, have you checked out my new Facebook page yet? I’d love to connect with you over there & share some awesome local events, fitness inspiration and hobby inspiration. Like my page to stay up-to-date!
Every foodie has a list of restaurants that they’ve been meaning to check out. Mine is…intimidatingly long. I consider it a blessing. Connecticut has so many excellent restaurants, and it’s helped to reinvigorate the city of Hartford and the state itself. I’ve been amazed to see how many wonderful chefs & restauranteurs have chosen to help put Connecticut on the foodie map! I don’t eat out very often to help keep my spending under control, but I enjoy a treat every once in a while.
Max’s Oyster Bar in West Hartford Center has been on my list for years. I’ve walked, driven, (okay & let’s just admit it, probably stumbled) past Max’s Oyster Bar for the past eight years or so. For the first four years I was a poor college student who didn’t care about good, quality food. After I graduated, I was a poor teacher (what a life!) who still didn’t really care about what she was eating. But for the past three years I’ve been a healthy, happy foodie who, although still a poor teacher, has realized the merit of spending a little extra money for a quality meal. Life is short, and when I go, I want to know that I’ve treated myself to high quality food that has fed me both nutritionally and spiritually. I believe that all good food is “soul food.” :)
So when Dan & I decided to check it out last week, I was very excited to see what all the buzz has been about! We’ve both had it recommended to us by others for years. I decided to whip out a new bright lace blazer I snagged at Marshalls for the occasion!
A quick note about the photos in this post…I knew that I would have trouble getting good photos–most restaurants have pretty poor lighting (come on guys, help foodie bloggers out!). I tweeted about it and got some great advice from local photographer Julie from Jewels: Photography & Life. She said I should use a high ISO. A what? I’ve learned how to navigate most of the manual features for my Canon Rebel XS such as shutter speed, aperture, and white balance, but I had never heard of ISO. If you do a quick google search, it will rock your world! It can be a lifesaver when you are shooting in low light.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to check out Julie’s tip until after we got back from Max’s Oyster Bar, so these photos aren’t the best. Still, I’m excited to try out this new knowledge the next time I find myself in a place with low lighting.
Anyway–on to the food! We arrived around 7:30 PM on a Friday night with no reservation and were shocked that we were seated right away. The decor is absolutely beautiful. They have both indoor & outdoor seating, which is always a nice feature!
After being seated at our table, I thought I felt water dripping on me. I looked up, and sure enough, there was a pipe above us that was leaking a line of water just behind my chair & the ones at other tables next to me. Our server noticed me scooting my chair in to avoid the water, and immediately angled all of the tables in the area to ensure I wouldn’t have to eat my meal all soggy. As you’ll see, the service here was absolutely incredible.
I ordered my favorite kind of white wine–Chardonnay. Perfect for a seafood dinner! :)[caption id="attachment_801" align="alignnone" width="960"] chardonnay always does me good. :)[/caption]
We were given bread and these delightful sticks of carrot with fresh ginger. They were nice to nibble on as we made our meal choices.
We decided to order two appetizers so that we could experience as much of the menu as possible. We knew we wanted to order the Baked Oysters, but weren’t sure about the Crab Cakes. We asked our server, and he was completely honest–he said the crab cakes were alright, but that the Blackened Tuna Tacos would be a nice complement to the oysters. They were also cheaper!
The Baked Oysters were…oh my gosh. The server put it best when he said, “They started serving these while I was away on vacation, and when I came back I said, ‘wait. we’re serving potato skins now?!’” The oysters were topped with carmelized onions, tasso ham, brioche, and gruyere cheese (one of my favorites). They. were. fantastic!! They were like a lighter potato skin, made with really high quality ingredients.[caption id="attachment_796" align="alignnone" width="960"] loved this serving tray too![/caption]
The Blackened Tuna Tacos were small taco shells filled with house-made guacamole, cilantro, spicy corn relish, and topped with raw tuna. It was almost like a sushi taco! These were a nice pair with the oysters–it was cool and refreshing. I only managed to get really blurry pictures of these due to the low lighting, but I can guarantee you these looked really wonderful. :)
We went back and forth about whether or not to order salads, and decided instead to split one. Our server recommended the Crispy Pork & Pickled Peaches Salad, which he said is often overlooked on their menu, but is one of the best salads they have. He was also more than happy to split the salad for us, and they even took the time to serve it on nice individual plates, which I thought was very impressive for a more upscale restaurant. I was very turned off by the service at Metro Bis when Dan and I went a year or so ago–they made me move my purse from the corner of my chair onto the floor, and the server was clearly irked when we asked to split a salad. Although their food was fantastic, the cold, snooty service we received has made me very hesitant to go back. But the service at Max was really the best we have had in any restaurant. Our server was young, but he was so professional–he made amazing recommendations, spaced out the courses of our meal perfectly, didn’t rush us out of the door, and was happy to serve us well without being overbearing.
The salad was such an interesting mix of flavors. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not usually a big pork fan, but I loved how crispy this pork was. The spices they used were savory & delicious. I was surprised at how bright the pickled peaches tasted. When I envision pickled anything, I think bitter and spicy (it must be the Korean girl in me). These were so tasty–a little sweet, and very refreshing. It included cilantro, mint, shaved fennel, and Vietnamese gastrique (yeah, I didn’t know what it was either ;).
I could tell from the amazing appetizers and salad that we would be in for a treat once our entrees arrived. Dan decided to try the Paella, which included shrimp, clams, mussels, chorizo (my FAVORITE), scallops, calamari, chicken, and saffron rice. Holy meat goodness, right?!
It came in the cutest individual-sized paella pan. I’d love to have one (or two) of these at home! The nifty stand you see in this picture had a bowl at the bottom to toss the empty sells. So clever!
I went for the Blackened Swordfish. Confession time (again): I only started eating fish three years ago. True story. Sometimes I can’t believe what a picky eater I was!
The swordfish was served atop a bed of southwestern-style quinoa, which they called “Ron’s Quinoa.” It had black beans, corn, tomato, avocado, and cilantro. It came with a side of tomatillo salsa.
This swordfish was SO tender. I couldn’t believe it! I had tried swordfish one other time at Spri’s in Hartford. While it was good, it was a little tough. But this preparation from Max’s left the fish beautifully tender. Paired with the delicious quinoa, this was a filling, vibrant meal.
The quality of the food at Max’s Oyster Bar is certainly linked the the friendly relationships they have with local farmers. Their use of local ingredients really brings their dishes to the next level!
Although we were tempted to see what wonderful desserts they could put out, we were both in the delicate “full, but happy” stage. We didn’t want to tarnish our evening by pushing our bellies over the edge, so we passed on dessert. I’ll definitely be back to try a dessert sometime, though–perhaps a wine & dessert evening!
After finally getting to experience the fabulous environment, service, and food, I can see why people have recommended Max’s Oyster Bar so often. I’ll certainly be joining the crowd of local foodies who recommend it to those in search of a great meal and a great dining experience!
What restaurants are on your list of places to check out?
Do you think spending extra money on high quality food is worth it?
Have you ever had notably poor service at a restaurant? Any places with notably great service?