The Fargo area continues to impress me with the number of very good to excellent fine dining restaurants. During my annual trip to Fargo a few weeks ago, my dealer, Rod from Arctic Audio, and his wife, Ellen, suggested we try a place that has been open for about five years in West Fargo - Maxwells. I'm always up for trying new places on the road, so it was off to Maxwells we went.
Mike Marcil is a Fargo native who was working for Internet companies in the Bay Area before getting into real estate development. Along with some investors in California, The Marcil Group developed over 40 commercial properties on the West coast and across North Dakota. One of the commercial properties that he purchased was a small bistro, wine bar and gourmet market called Littlefield's Bistro in West Fargo. Marcil transformed the place into W.F. Maxwells. (I'm guessing the "W.F." stood for West Fargo.) Eventually, the name was shortened to just Maxwells.
The Executive Chef at Maxwells is Mike Wald. As a teenager, Wald's infatuation with fine dining began when he worked in a small Italian restaurant in Bismarck by the name of The Walrus Co. Wald eventually went to Bismarck State College to study restaurant and hotel management. He interned at a fine dining restaurant in Bismarck - The Bistro - before becoming the saucier at the restaurant, but learned a number of various recipes using locally grown and sourced foods.
Wald moved on to Fargo to study tourism and business management at North Dakota State. He became the Executive Chef at Littlefield's Bistro in 2003 and stayed on when Marcil purchased the restaurant in April of 2008. Wald's dedication to using locally sourced foods is the signature for Maxwells success.
Rod and I drove over to Maxwells located in a strip mall on the west side of 9th St. E. in West Fargo. (see map) Maxwells sits in a corner of the strip mall just south of the corner of 9th St. E. and 13th Ave. E. Ellen was waiting for us and we were shown to our table by managing partner Ramon Sosa. Menus, including a wine list, were already sitting on the table. Our server that even, a young lady with the interesting name of Chanda, came over to ask Rod and I if we'd like to join Ellen in a pre-meal drink. I asked for a beer and Rod got a mixed drink.
Because of the availability of locally sourced food, the menu at Maxwells changes from time to time, depending upon the seasons. Most evenings you'll find beef entrees, as well as lamb chops, pork entrees, and seafood. Rod and Ellen were veterans of Maxwells and Ellen was raving about the appetizers including the bacon-wrapped scallops topped with lobster chunks.
When Chanda came back from the bar with our drinks, we decided to order up a couple appetizers. Of course, we had to have the bacon-wrapped scallops and I looked over the seared ahi tuna and ordered that.
The bacon-wrapped scallops (below left) were everything Ellen said they would be. Bacon-wrapped anything is a winner, in my book, but these were excellent. They had small chunks of lobster on top along with fresh rosemary and drizzled in a pepper cream sauce. Rod let Ellen and me have two of the scallops - what a guy!
The ahi tuna appetizer (above right) was served with wasabi, soy sauce and ginger. But on their own they were fresh tasting and very good. There was sort of a pepper/sesame seed crust to the ahi tuna strips. The appetizers were an amazing start to the meal.
Chanda came back after we finished off the appetizers and wanted to know if we were ready to order our main course. Rod asked her what the housemade soup was that evening and she told him it was a chicken, wild rice and cranberry soup (it sounded so Christmas-y!), and a pork/corn chowder soup. Both sounded very interesting.
Ellen ordered first and she got the Copper River salmon that came with purple Brazilian potatoes and asparagus. She also ordered the mixed green salad with blue cheese for starters. Rod ordered next and he got the lamb chops. And he ordered the pork/corn chowder soup for his starter.
I was having trouble between the lobster spinach fettuccine and the spicy glazed pork chops. I finally decided upon the pork chops. I also ordered the parmesan Caesar salad - I think that's what it was called. Chanda explained that it was their version of a Caesar salad.
For wine, I found that they had a good price on a bottle of the 2008 Jordan cabernet. Chanda said, "You know, we had some of the 2002 Jordan cabs at a special price." That immediately piqued my interest. She asked if I wanted to find out if they still had them and at what price. A few moments later, she came back and said, "I'm sorry, we're sold out. I knew we had some last week, but we sold out of the last bottle over the weekend." No matter, we took the 2008 Jordan cab instead.
Chanda brought our salads and soups out to us. When she sat Rod's soup down, she said, "Oh, darn it. I brought you the wrong soup. You ordered the pork/corn chowder soup, right? I got the cranberry/wild rice and chicken soup instead (below left). Oh, well. I'll leave this here for you to try and get another soup for you on the house."
She brought out the pork/corn chowder soup (above right) and a couple extra spoons for Ellen and I to sample the one that Rod didn't want. He said to Chanda, "Hey, don't worry. I'll probably eat both." I did sample the pork/corn chowder soup and it was very good with smoky pork chunks and sweet corn in a buttery creamy broth. Rod said the cranberries helped zip up the taste of the chicken and wild rice soup which is a staple of Minnesota and North Dakota diets.
Ellen's salad was combination of mixed greens topped with a blue cheese dressing and slices of strawberries in the corners. It was a nice presentation.
My salad was pretty interesting. They took parmesan cheese and melted it into a thin layer. They then forged the still warm parmesan cheese into a bowl and placed the greens, sliced tomatoes and more shredded fresh parmesan cheese on top. Ellen said, "Oooh, that's good. The bowl is edible and it's the best part of the salad." My salad, on it's own, was very good. But pulling off pieces of the hardened parmesan was a great complementary taste to the salad. Ellen couldn't help herself in reaching over and cracking off pieces of the parmesan cheese bowl. I was happy to share.
Our meals came out and, once again, the presentation was very nice. My pork chops sat on a batch of sweet potato wedges and had a sweet and spicy glaze ladled over the top of the entree. The pork was tender and flavorful, even if it was a bit overcooked to my liking. I didn't think the glaze was either too sweet or too spicy - both taste sensations seemed to cancel each other out. Still, it was a very fine dish.
Ellen's salmon was lightly grilled and served on a bed of sliced blue potatoes and asparagus. Two different types of sauces - one was, I believe, a homemade mustard sauce - were drizzled on the plate to dip the salmon into. The salmon was firm and flaky, not overcooked at all. Ellen declared it to be delicious.
I'm not big on lamb chops, but I have to say that Rod's chops looked delectable. They were cooked to a medium rare and stood in a tee-pee-type fashion over mixed vegetables. The same sauces that were on Ellen's plate were on Rod's plate. Rod thought the lamb chops were outstanding. Looking back, I wish I would have tried them other than the pork chops - which were still very good.
After dinner, Rod fielded a call from a client of his and invited him over to Maxwells to join us for an after dinner drink. After settling up with Chanda for dinner, we retired to the bar area at Maxwells and met up with Rod's client, Hari. Hari was very interested in the new Focal Scala Utopia Be V2 speakers that we had recently released. Rod wanted me to talk to Hari about the speakers and the quality workmanship that goes into them. Over a couple three Scotches in the bar, I was able to do just that. Hari was a very nice man and we had a great time with multiple nightcaps.
Ellen had long left Maxwells and Rod and Hari wanted me to head to another watering hole with them, but I begged off. I had a long trip out to Western North Dakota the next day and it was getting close to 11 p.m. by the time we finished up. But the overall experience I had at Maxwells was exquisite. Once again, I was surprised by another restaurant in the Fargo/Moorhead area that featured fine dining in a great setting. The food was very good, the service we had from Chanda was excellent and it was a relaxing meal. And having a few drinks after the meal was fun, as well. I love going to Fargo and as long as Rod and Ellen turn me on to more restaurants like Maxwells, I can't wait to get back up there.