Thursday, March 08, 2007

Max's Wine Dive

Max's Wine Dive has nearly every indicia of hipness. Seedy-but-upcoming-neighborhood? Check. Cute bleach-blonde hostess in a 1984 Go-Gos dress? Check. Deafening noise level? Check. Irreverent menus, waitrons in funky T-shirts, and an interesting wine list? Check.

But then.... a few kinks emerge. First you notice that the hipster crowd is actually a little older than you first thought -- in fact, they're considerably older than they're dressed. When their Razr V3s ring, it might be a friend calling to meet them for drinks; more likely, it's the babysitter asking when they're coming home.

Then you notice that the top-volume music you've been humming along to happily is oddly reminiscent of a high school dance. But not a 2007 high school dance -- your high school dance, circa 1989. Yes, that's "Bigmouth Strikes Again," but no, you're not seventeen. You're married with kids and a Volvo, and that's a good thing, because most of the food here is priced well out of any self-respecting hipster's budget.

Max's Wine Dive is really a carefully-constructed simulacrum of hipness designed to appeal to yuppies in their thirties who've developed a taste for wine, but prefer to think of themselves as unpretentious and cool. Hey, who doesn't? The wine list is interesting, and the policies progressive: the house will open any bottle on the list if you agree to purchase two glasses or more.

The food is more retrograde. Filled with "fun" updates on Southern dishes and some bistro faves, Max's success rate is spotty at best. Frites (f/k/a french fries) are a decent snack, and arrive hot and properly salty in paper cones with a chipotle mayonnaise. A bowl of mussels topped with garlic, shallots, and hot peppers nestled in a creamy, citrus-y broth was fantastic; there's not enough bread in the world to soak up the juices left at the bottom.

But the appetizers generally set you up for disappointment. Max's fabled "Haute Dog," an unimpressive wiener lost amidst a sea of bland chili and smothered fries, was an unappealing, sloppy mess. I have no idea what goes through the mind of a Texas chef who puts out tasteless chili. Texans are primed to appreciate a spicy, flavorful bowl of red; why do you disappoint them? How hard is it to make a decent chili? The best part of the "Haute Dog" is the homemade pickled jalapeno slices that litter the plate. Skip the dog and order a side of those.

Fried chicken was good, crispy and thin-skinned, if unnaturally sweet. My friend ordered the Kobe beef burger, which arrived wet, red, and barely warm, like a newborn pig. Notably, the crowd of people nominally sitting at the table behind us completely ignored their food when it arrived. They were too busy partying with the folks at the bar.

As Robb Walsh points out in his (generally admiring) review, even the better dishes aren't really well-suited to accompany wines. The emphasis on fried foods and pickled things -- while nothing to be ashamed of, especially when done properly -- isn't really conducive to sharing with wines.

So, take Max's Wine Dive for what it is: a loud wine bar with loud food. But if you're really interested in wine -- or food -- you're probably better off somewhere else.


At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My goodness - I guess it's been previously pointed out to you that your vocabulary is exquisite...even I had to bring up an online dictionary for some of your adjectives! We're going to Max's for the first time tonight so we'll just see if your $5 words fit the bill...(FYI - $5 words are teacher lingo)

At 12:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe that Max's showed up on a site called, "I really wouldn't eat that".

Max's is one of my favorite restaurants in Houston. My wife, some friends of ours and I eat there about once every two weeks, and we've never had a bad dish. Their Max n' Cheese is the best I've had anywhere. Their secret is a mixture of cheeses and truffle oil. The chicken fried steak, not on the menu right now, is incredible, and that's saying something in a city such as Houston, where you can find good chicken fried steak in a lot of different places. Their grilled cheese sanwhich is incredible.

Also their wine list just the right length (not too many or too few choices) and has quality wines from top to bottom.

I guess this just goes to show that restaurant opinions are subjective in nature, but I think that those who like to dine out in Houston should completely ignore the original blog and go to Max's to see what you think for yourself.

At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised at all that Max's showed up on "I really wouldn't eat that"
I used to be a regular at Max's but no longer am. The quality of the food has dropped drastically and the quality of service. I used to be greeted by bartenders who knew me and had awesome personalities and those servers are now all gone taking away from the atmosphere i knew and loved. Even though I still occasionally went for the food which is now just terrible. I won't be back


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