There is nothing pretentious about Maxim's. It is bright and airy, divided into two dining rooms, one smoking, one non- smoking. An open kitchen allows guests to see Cohen at work.
Her cuisine mines what is best from the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern table - ingredients like garlic, eggplant, parsley, sesame seeds, chick peas and legumes are showcased in dishes that are savory and well presented.
After munching away on a basket of warm pita dipped in creamy tahini (a traditional dip of ground sesame seeds, garlic and lemon), we started with a selection of appetizers.
Since we couldn't decide between two eggplant dishes, our accommodating waitress offered us half and half "so you'll know what you like best next time." A simple gesture, but one that added genuine warmth.
We sampled the fried eggplant ($3.25) and Maxim eggplant ($3.25), different renditions of cold chopped eggplant. The first was sauteed with garlic and fresh dill in a tangy tomato sauce; the second a little spicier, chopped with diced green pepper, hot pepper, garlic and parsley, with just a hint of fresh lemon juice. It was a toss up as to which we liked better.
A platter of humus and falafel ($3.95) delivered a garlicky chick pea dip, flavored with sesame tahini, along with four deep-fried balls of ground chick peas, garlic and fresh parsley. A selection of salads on the starter menu includes tabbouleh ($2.95), the wonderful mix of bulgur wheat, diced tomato, minced garlic and parsley; a mushroom salad ($2.95) flavored with sweet pepper and olive oil; and a Turkish salad ($2.95) of chopped cooked tomatoes spiked with hot peppers and cilantro.
For the main event, we tried the beef shish kabob ($11.95) and another half-and-half collaboration ($12.95) of the spicy sausages and kabob Maxim.
My beef was meltingly tender chunks of steak, skewered with onion and pepper and served with rice and a chopped tomato-cucumber-onion salad. My friend's half-and-half combo was equally satisfying, two chubby links of spicy ground lamb sausage, and chopped lamb kabob flavored with enough garlic to keep away the vampires. Other entrees include chicken breast ($10.95) grilled and brushed with a puree of olives and garlic, grilled whole red snapper ($19.95 market price), which weighed two pounds, and a dish called shawarma ($8.95), turkey breast, spiced, flame broiled and served in strips.
Can we talk chicken noodle soup ($2)? This is the real stuff - good for what ails you and guaranteed to make you feel that somebody loves you. Lentil ($2.50) and leek and potato soup ($2.50) are equally comforting.
For dessert, try homemade baklava ($1.95), layers of honey and nuts baked into phyllo pastry, a true Middle Eastern treat. Deep, rich Turkish coffee ($1.50) brings down the curtain on this spicy, delicious fare.