By Jay Weston
Romance. That is what comes to my mind when someone mentions Hungary. Every young man should have a Hungarian woman in his life sometime, and mine taught me many, many things — including a love for Hungarian food. So, when my Las Vegas-based food writer friend Max Jacobson called me recently to join him for dinner at a Hungarian restaurant in North Hollywood, I quickly obliged.
Oh, my, Maximilian’s Garden is a find! You’ll enter through the flower–sprinkled rose garden patio. If it’s a warm night, take an umbrella table and begin your dining-drinking adventure… or explore the maze of small white table-filled rooms in the charming, softly-lit house and visit the open kitchen to meet the charming, robust, white haired chef/owner Laszlo Bossanyi. If the setting were more romantic, it would be illegal.
On this and then a subsequent visit, I tasted chef’s wondrous fare from his native Hungary, which has a rich tradition of dishes like Wiener Schnitzel, Stuffed Cabbage, and of course the various Goulashes — here called Gulya. There are two versions of gulyas served, the Veal Gulyas (13.95) with spaetzle (those tiny potato morsels) and a Transylvanian Gulyas (13.95) with a dollop of sour cream, my choice.
We started our first meal with as assortment of small plates, including Hungarian cheese (korozott) and Libamaj, Austrian Ham, Langos (garlic rubbed potato fritter), and crispy little potato pancakes, which put my grandmother’s to shame. His Roast Duck (15.95) is crispy-skinned — juicy and delicious. Served with a plum compote sauce. For the less adventurous, there is Lake Superior Whitefish (14.95) and Mustard Coated Salmon (14.95). Chicken Paprikas (12.95) is a superior version of this paprika-laden dish, and my date enjoyed her Roasted Lamb Chops (16.95) served with haricot verts and mashed potatoes au jus. He will also prepare a schnitzel with pork or chicken and turkey upon request.
The lunch menu features several wonderful salads ($6-7 for half, $8-9 for full), especially a Herring salad with chopped green apples, white beans, in a lemon sour cream dressing. And then there’s the Hangover Soup ($7), which is worth the trip by itself, with sauerkraut and smoked sausage. Or a pot of Gulyas Leves ($12), beef goulash soup with ton of vegetables and Hungarian spices. I’m going back to Maximilian’s on Sunday for brunch with some friends from Burbank and will try the Gomba Paprikas ($9) — dumplings with a Hungarian Mushroom ragu. Desserts are very special here, and you will be thankful for ordering the Apple Strudel ($7) served with vanilla ice cream, although I prefer the poppy seed version with its sour cherries. Apricot crepes, patschinka, are another classic worth trying.
For a neighborhood restaurant, this eatery has a wine list (courtesy of Blue Danube Distributor) which is formidable in its choices of Austrian, Hungarian, Croatian, Serbian and German wines. Last night we had a Hungarian Tokaj, a varietal barrel-aged white from “Lapis Vineyard” which was heady, exotic and complex. Wine lovers will be pleased by the surprise to be had.
Again, I must marvel at this unbelievable gem of a unique, exciting dining experience, and can only suggest that once you visit, you will be hooked forever, thinking about your next visit as you leave. As they say in Hungarian: Jo Etvagyat — good appetite!
Maximilian’s is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. On Wednesdays, the complimentary wine tasting at the wine bar starts at 5 p.m. and runs to 9 p.m. It is a wonderful spot for all private events, weddings, bar mitzvahs and corporate events. Maximilian’s Garden is located at 11330 Weddington in NoHo. For reservations, call (818) 760 1300.