Monday, April 2, 2012

Restaurant Review: Max's Wine Dive

In my effort to fit as many restaurant experiences into the three days I would be available for Restaurant Week, there would have to be at least one I'd visit for lunch rather than dinner. After hours of meticulous consideration of each of the possible menus, I settled upon Max's Wine Dive for my mid-day meal. I don't think I could have chosen better. The patio overlooking downtown Austin was the perfect location to enjoy this sunny spring day with a glass of wine, some gourmet comfort food, and a couple of friends. 

Yes, that is my friend's baby food spoon behind my Venue Chardonnay. 

We began our meal with the MAX 'n Cheese, a dish that sounded incredibly amazing on paper, but would turn out to let us down upon actually sampling it. The pasta was tossed in truffle cream, fresh mozzarella, white cheddar, Gruyere and Grana Padano cheeses, which sounds like it should be absolutely exploding with flavor. But while the modified mac 'n cheese was extremely creamy, we all agreed that it was disappointingly bland, like the pasta hadn't been drained after it was boiled, watering down what should have been a flavor-packed sauce.

Fortunately, the meal was to improve with the next course. 
The Pulled Pork Stuffed Peppers we were about to enjoy would make the entire meal for me. 

I mean check those babies out!

Right away the presentation of the peppers caught my eye, and I had a feeling they would be something special. The two carefully-placed piquillo peppers were stuffed with juicy pulled pork and cotija and rested lightly on top of a chipotle aioli and a drizzling of cilantro chimichurri. The peppers sliced effortlessly with just my fork, and it was easy to get a little bit of everything in each scrumptious bite. The chipotle aioli was bursting with flavor and worked with the chimichurri to provide a surprising level of spice to the dish. The piquillo peppers lent a lovely sweetness to the plate, and the pork played its role as fatty protein with true elegance. The only thing I might have changed about the plate was the salt content in the pork. To me, it felt like the pork itself could have been seasoned with a slightly heavier hand. Nevertheless, this delightful appetizer had me excited for the main course to come. 

I'd heard endless rave reviews about the gourmet grilled cheese and tomato soup at Max's so I absolutely had to try it when it landed on the Restaurant Week menu. The sights beaming at me from the plate in front of me had my hopes high for the flavors I was about to experience. 

Doesn't that just look like grilled cheese and tomato soup at its best?

I dipped into the soup first, the tanginess of which was exquisite. I found it to be perfectly seasoned and absolutely delectable, despite the paste-like texture. I was not to be as pleased with the grilled cheese though, which was seriously lacking in the cheese department. The bread was obnoxiously thick and difficult to bite into. When I did tear it apart, I found that there wasn't nearly enough cheese on the bread, and the pimento cheese that was there was entirely too rich, making the entire sandwich difficult to eat. 

Feeling a bit unsatisfied, we decided to take a chance on some dessert, ordering the Pineapple Upside-Down Bread Pudding and the Hot Fudge Sundae, the first of which tasted like a bar of soap to me, and the second of which was unacceptably dry. 

Disappointing that something so tasty looking could turn out to suck so badly...

Although my meal with Max's Wine Dive was a bit inconsistent, I can't say it's not a place I will return to. The atmosphere really was fantastic, and the service was upbeat and friendly. I had an excellent time with my friends there today, and there were certainly aspects of my meal that were impressive. I just hope that if I do return to this establishment in the future, the culinary experience will prove to be more consistently extraordinary. 

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