Thursday, May 14, 2009

Max's Wine Dive

Max's Wine Dive was actually one of our favorite places to eat when we were living in Houston. I used to live about 5 minutes north of the Washington corridor where the original Max's still sits today. Needless to say I was delighted to find out that they were opening an Austin location. The tongue-in-cheek kitch of having an upscale "dive" bar will suit the Austin crowd just perfectly.

Named after the owner's six-year-old nephew, Max's Wine Dive prides itself on its unique pairing of fine wines and New American comfort food. (One of its many mottos is "Fried Chicken and Champagne?... why the hell not?") Most of the dishes are new takes of classic favorites such as pot roast (made with Kobe beef and braised in a red wine jus), a fried egg sandwich (tossed with truffle oil and served with organic gruyere), and ribs (with a glaze made from hoisin sauce).

I've had a good portion of the menu in my time. The hands-down favorite is the Kobe beef burger (you can add a side of kimchee or foie gras if you'd like) and the "haute" dog. I also really like their take on grilled cheese and tomato soup (served in a shot glass).

Of course the prices for this "dive" food are maybe the other half of the joke, but more on that later.

I was definitely pleased that the space in the Austin location is much more opened up. Whether you have single stamina and like working the room or you have couple's coma and are just looking to settle in with your ribs and shiraz, everyone here feels included. Max's Wine Dive also likes to push the party atmosphere -- at the Houston location there were often House DJ's spinning, even during dinner hours -- so don't go expecting a quiet dinner experience. The jukebox, I've heard, is pretty darn amazing.

And of course the other side of the coin is the bar's extensive wine selection. If you're like us and enjoy a good glass but have no idea how to pick one out, the bartenders are all very knowledgable and courteous.

Now if there's one thing to be aware of at Max's, it's that prices do add up. At most other bars, you'll order a few appetizers and a couple of drinks for you and your date and be just fine. At Max's if you aren't paying attention you could be walking out with a three digit bill easily. (And to be clear, their wine prices are actually quite reasonable, they just serve REALLY nice wine there.)

The good news is Max's features not only a happy hour from 4 to 7pm, but also the DOUBLY COOL "Reverse" happy hour from 12am to 2am on Fridays and Saturdays, with discounts on both food and wine.

All in all, I think the happy hours are going to be the time to go. Not just for the prices but for the atmosphere that really takes advantage of what Max's does best. Call it just a hunch, but I think Austin is going to have many a good time to come at Max's Wine Dive.

Max's Wine Dive
207 San Jacinto Blvd

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Austin Crawfish Retrospective

It all started when I was a kid growing up in Michigan. My mother would buy frozen crawfish from the seafood counter every once in a while. When I moved down to Houston, a.k.a. the Dirty South, I learned so much more about crawfish (not "crayfish").

The crawfish boil is a big excuse to hang out outdoors, get messy, eat delicious seafood, and drink a lot of beer. Gotta love the 3rd coast. Crawfish in its real form is a hot, juicy, steamy fresh miniature lobster tail. In fact, the chinese word for lobster is actually "crawfish."

Although Austin is a mere 2.5 hours from Houston, the available of good quality crawfish is like night and day. So I set upon a mission for the best crawfish in town, and this is what I found.

Quality Seafood
Already famous for their, well, quality seafood, we were delighted to find the freshest and the cheapest crawfish in town. Service is fast, you can see them weighing out the crawfish behind the counter so you know you're getting your money's worth. Seasoning is spicy but not too salty. And at $5.99 per pound, it sure beats $6.99, the rest Austin has to offer.

5621 Airport Blvd

Crawfish Shack & Oyster Bar
One of my favorite things about crawfish is that they're high in protein and low in fat. The perfect weight-loss food. Although Crawfish Shack & Oyster Bar, some of this was lost in the greasy boil they used. Butter was unnecessary with their recipe. However, they also had BBQ blue crabs. As you from my "Mama Ren's Blue Crab" post, they are my favorite. Nowhere else have I found such a fare.

2013 Wells Branch Pkwy # 106

Fish City Grill
This is the only place in town found that serves crawfish every night of the week. Delicious and convenient, I just wish "spicer" didn't just mean "saltier." At $6.99 per pound you pay for the convenience.

4616 Triangle Ave # 200
4200 S Lamar Blvd

Cypress Grill
Good if you are south of the river, however they only offer on Tuesdays. The crawfish was delicious, although on the light side of weight. Not sure if we got all 3 lbs that we ordered. At $15.99 per 3 lbs., even with the thumb on the scale this was a great deal.

4404 W William Cannon Dr # L

Shoal Creek Saloon

It's claim to fame was its cajun food, but the quality of their crawfish says otherwise. Seasoning was on the light side but the biggest disappointment was how many dead crawfish there were in the mix. Approximately half were dead or had crushed head. Not so appetizing. Maybe it was a bad day, but at $6.99 per pound it's not worth it even if it wasn't.

909 N Lamar Blvd

HEB Seafood Counter
It's hard to heat this up to the proper temperature but in a nostalgic way, this reminds me of my mother's crawfish. For the price of $2.49 per pound, this is certainly a good choice when you crave crawfish right now. After freezing the "wang" (crawfish innards) the mustard in the head comes out easier, yet freezing does something to change the quality. Not a bad choice for the price in a pinch.

Various Locations

Summary: Quality Seafood FTW, as it tends to be. Nothing yet compares to my favorite Houston crawfish joint. Mardi Gras Grill remains #1 in my heart forever.