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There's nothing on the outside of Max that immediately distinguishes it from any other Italian restaurant in this city. Even upon entering, I wasn't expecting anything particularly special from this Tribeca trattoria. And yet the food was surprisingly well-prepared, enough so that we can see why chef Marc Murphy recommended it in his guide to the neighborhood.
One meat-free way to start your meal is the melanzane a funghetto ($8), stewed chunks of eggplant in a tomato sauce. The eggplant was silky smooth, benefiting from a long, slow cooking process, and the tomato sauce was mild enough to let the flavor of the eggplant come through. Grana Padano cheese helped round out the flavors of the dish. Save some of the bread they bring you when you sit down; you'll want something to spread the eggplant onto.
If you began with the eggplant, you might then opt for the porcini ravioli ($18). The six large ravioli were stuffed with rough-chopped pieces of porcini and smooth ricotta cheese, then covered with a cream sauce. The sauce helped amplify the earthy flavor of the mushrooms, instead of masking it. My only complaint is that six ravioli seems a little stingy for such a high price point.
My favorite dish of the night was a simple side dish of sautéed broccoli rabe ($7). The rabe was perfectly seasoned, still slightly bitter, and a squeeze of lemon over the top made the dish a thing of uncomplicated joy. I finished the entire bowl on my own.
It's easy to walk by small Italian restaurants in this city without giving them a second glance. And it isn't easy to find a good one, but Max fits the bill. The Tribeca neighborhood that surrounds it is home to lots of trendy, upscale restaurants; Max is a changeup from that. Sometimes less is more.