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Max Soha...so sad.

rose water Jan 16, 2008 04:25 AM

When I lived in the East Village, I loved Max for cheap comfort food. The bread accompaniment alone--a briney, olive-y, lemon zest-y tomato and olive oil goop--was enough to keep me coming back.

Moved to Harlem, and was disappointed that despite the Soha moniker, Max Soha doesn't deliver outside Morningside Heights. Had a couple meals there and was underwhelmed. Found the ethnic divide--Italian waitstaff standing around, and Latino busboys running around--even more disturbing/pronounced than in the EV.

Went back the other night and was super disappointed.

To start, the special salad--arugula, hearts of palm, avocado, cherry tomato. $8.95. A handful of lackluster droopy arugula, some under-ripe avocado, two hearts of palm strips and some unsurprisingly uninspired out of season tomato bits. Topped with some olive oil, I guess, and no discernible acid or salt.

The bread tasted like that parbaked stuff you can buy frozen. Which can be satisfying if you don't make bread at home, and want hot bread at home. But when not hot at the restaurant, and not interesting, and not crusty...well, it was a disappointment. And the tomato goop, which I so loved, was overwhelmingly sweet, with oversized matchsticks of lemon rind and no zest, and none of the brineyness and complexity of the EV incarnation.

My partner's rigatoni and eggplant had a crazy eggplant to pasta ratio, with huge chunks of eggplant that overwhelmed. She picked out all the pasta she could find, and brought the eggplant home--balancing the pasta/eggplant ratio should result in two more huge meals.

My fettucine with lamb sauce was fantastic, though overly salted. The fresh pasta had nice bite, and the sauce was lovely.

Though the restaurant was only about half full, and the waiters were all standing around a couple yards from our table, I had to be very proactive about getting my water refilled.

All in all, I might go back for the pasta, but I'm not in a rush.

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  1. j
    JSHAFT78 RE: rose water Jan 16, 2008 06:04 AM

    I went to school at Columbia and I went to Max Soha several times. They definitely cater to the student crowd there, so they know even with so-so service and sometimes uninspired efforts, their prices will pretty much assure them of solid crowds. I was usually pretty happy when I went there since I feel their pasta dishes are much better than what you'd usually get at that price range. Haven't been to the East Vilage outpost, but wouldn't suprise me if thre was a gap in quality and service

    1. s
      sam1 RE: rose water Jan 16, 2008 06:09 AM

      i sort of agree with you but if i lived up there, i wouldnt hesitate to keep going...its not as good as the ave b branch but its still solid.

      1. c
        cimui RE: rose water Jan 16, 2008 06:50 AM

        Great and helpful review, rose water. My friend and I were eyeing this as a possible place to meet for dinner. But I'm not sure I'll really want to go for the fettucine, alone.

        1. k
          kimcheater RE: rose water Jan 16, 2008 04:32 PM

          Even though I only live a block away from Max, I usually find it well worth the extra walk to go to Pisticci. Another thing about Max is that they seem to be storing their wine by the radiator or something, because the quality has been frustratingly poor, no matter what I order.

          6 Replies
          1. re: kimcheater
            rose water RE: kimcheater Jan 17, 2008 04:24 AM

            Same can be said for the wine at their cafe down the block. Blech.

            Can you tell me more about Pisticci? I don't know anything about it.

            1. re: rose water
              k
              kimcheater RE: rose water Feb 21, 2008 07:50 PM

              Sorry for the late reply. It's just off Broadway, on LaSalle Street. I used to be able to walk in without a wait, but it's now about 15 minutes--not bad, all things considered.

              Pisticci is what I imagine an honest neighborhood Italian joint to be. Their pasta is toothy and salty, and lightly sauced. The spaghetti pomodoro, for instance, is simple, textbook pasta, with the lightest chunks of bright tomatoes. I don't care very much for their main courses (or even additions like meatballs), but the pasta dishes have never done me wrong; it's not that the main courses are not good, but that the pasta holds its own against most places twice the price.

              The atmosphere is cozy, if a bit cramped. It's a bit moot this time of year, but I've found that the service, being a little busy, is definitely better inside, rather than on the sidewalk.

              1. re: kimcheater
                rose water RE: kimcheater Feb 24, 2008 05:17 PM

                Thanks for the recommendation! What a cozy, warm place. We waited about 15 min, enjoying the live music (which we couldn't hear at all once we went further into the restaurant).

                The mixed salad, though no match for the exquisite greens I just got from my CSA, had reasonably fresh greens, though it was woefully overdressed. I wish places wouldn't serve tomatoes this time of year; the tomato slices were predictably mealy styrofoamy. We got salad for four, and I was shocked at the enormous bowl full of salad they brought out.

                Pastas were all good, and very satisfying. Nicely al dente, nice saucing. My mom adored the mushroom sauce with the fettuccine. Though I really enjoyed it, I was less of a fan--I would've preferred a little less richness and more subtlety.

                I think kimcheater has it totally right--I think I'll walk the couple extra blocks for Pisticci over Max Soha now, if only for the cozy warmth of the place alone. Thanks so much for the recommendation.

                (And thanks again LNG212 for the winter CSA recommendation: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/46870... So. so. awesome. Everybody should join next year. And while I'm on a CSA prosyletizing kick, y'all should join a summer CSA now: http://www.justfood.org/csa/locations/ ).

                1. re: rose water
                  LNG212 RE: rose water Feb 24, 2008 06:35 PM

                  Glad you liked Pisticci. We like it too. The CSA greens this week were amazing. Just in case you didn't hear it from Jeff on Friday, there is a Farm Open Barn ("open house") on March 8th, I think. It's on their website on the CSA link.

                  1. re: LNG212
                    rose water RE: LNG212 Feb 25, 2008 05:49 AM

                    Oh dear, that's like the 10th interesting thing on March 8th that I'm not available to do!

                    I've been think about Pisticci, and need to sort through my description more because it's more complex than I described. It was cozy and warm, despite it's pretty big size. At the same time, the tables were tiny and squished pretty close together.

                    The pasta was still fantastic.

              2. re: rose water
                LNG212 RE: rose water Feb 22, 2008 04:57 AM

                I very much enjoy Pisticci also. The description of a "neighborhood Italian" is really apt. It's kinda cozy and I've always found the waitstaff to be really nice. I like their pastas too. The one with the mushrooms is excellent. We don't get there often enough. :)

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