The experts who design restaurants will tell you that each one has – or should have – its own personality. You should know the restaurant’s gender, favorite color, clothing style and preferred music. These things will dictate the decor and ambience and other aspects of the design.
I doubt that there’s a better local example of this theory than Maxine’s on Shine. Everything about the place seems to be a personification of the very woman it’s named for, Maxine Earhart. It’s bold, eclectic, fun. It’s a surprise find, a lone business among the bungalows of the Colonialtown South neighborhood.
It’s undoubtedly the atmosphere that appeals most to its many loyal fans. Based on my recent visit, it isn’t likely the modest food or the laughable service.
Laughable in that when my dining companion told the server the dish he wanted for his entree, she first asked him to repeat it and then laughed and said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” (It turned out that the person who seated us gave us an out-of-date menu. Still, there was a more graceful way to handle this.) Other questions about the actual menu weren’t readily answered.
I don’t have a problem with the overall quality of the food. In fact, I think it may have improved since I last visited. (The kitchen is now under the direction of executive chef Fabiano Olmo.) But nothing stands out as exceptional, which is fine – sometimes good is good enough – and the quality doesn’t match the prices (more on that in a moment).
It’s just a bit of a head-scratcher considering that Maxine’s was named a Michelin Guide Recommended Restaurant two years in a row. Knowing that the inspectors place a greater emphasis on the food, it makes one wonder.
The item we enjoyed the most was an appetizer called Cheese Cigars, which had wonton wrappers rolled with a creamy herbed cheese filling, crisply fried and served with a tangy tomato sauce for dipping. The flaky texture and rich creaminess of the cheese were pleasant complements.
For my entree I chose the lamb ragout with squid ink linguini, which featured braised shredded meat in a tomato sauce served on top of black pasta. The meat was flavorful by itself but the squid ink linguine weighed the dish down.
My companion had a chef’s special of shrimp and gnocchi, which had just five shrimp, on the smaller side of medium, in a thick and creamy sauce. It was mostly forgettable, though remarkable for its $28 fee. (In that context, the lamb, too, was overpriced at $29.)
And while we’re on the subject of money, it was surprising to find two totals on the final bill, one if paying with cash and a higher one for the convenience of a credit card. Yes, I know all too well that credit card processors charge the businesses a fee for their services. And I’m sure many customers appreciate the opportunity to save a few dollars. But with these prices, aren’t those fees already factored in?
Other notes on service: A bartender came to my table to recommend an alternate to the wine I had originally requested, and I liked her suggestion just fine; a nice touch. And a food runner did his job as if he really enjoyed being there. That’s always nice to see.
Maxine’s is currently undergoing construction of an addition, though it did not affect the atmosphere of the existing dining space.
Who knows how the addition will change the place, if at all? One can hope.