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News around town: Max’s Wine Dive and Cafe Rabelais

Interesting bit of news today, via Alison Cook at the Chronicle. Max’s Wine Dive plans to expand outside of Houston. A second location is planned in Austin, which will probably appreciate Max’s irreverent atmosphere more than most other cities.

Strangely enough, I have never had dinner at Max’s and have only visited them during brunch, when I don’t have to fight for a table with party crowds on Washington. I cannot tell if Max’s has gone downhill, having never been there when JJ was still at the helm, but my few brunch visits have been very good.

Most recently, I went for the Nutella and banana stuffed French toast, which was a decadent combination of intensely sweet French toast, chocolate, perfectly crisp salty bacon and Serrano chile spiked roasted potatoes (what salmonella warning?). The dish is pure Texas and it tastes great.

 

Today I visited Cafe Rabelais for the first time since Jason Blankenship left. I have heard from several people that Rabelais has subsequently gone downhill, which is most unfortunate. The kitchen wasn’t always reliable, but Cafe Rabelais has long been one of the best French bistros in town.

Normally, showing up at Cafe Rabelais after 11:30am meant that you were pushing your luck and may have to wait for a table. Today, I found the restaurant almost entirely empty. The place filled up a more within the hour, but the crowds have clearly figured out that the quality has slipped.

Only it hasn’t. Maybe the food was subpar over the last few months, but my lunch today was very good. I’ve had the merguez sandwich at Rabelais once before, and it was almost completely dry. Today, the same sandwich was served on fresh loaf of bread and was perfectly grilled. The fries, which tasted battered to some people, taste light and crispy to me. I doubt there is batter on them, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they were properly double fried and dusted in potato starch, which would account for a difference in texture. Either way, I thought Rabelais is better than ever. The question is why?

One possibility is that there is some fresh talent in the kitchen. I spotted a new chef I have never seen before sporting a toque that said “Jason Kerr” at Rabelais today. Could this be the same Jason Kerr who has been keeping the lights on at Zula? If so, I expect Rabelais to continue going strong.

July 10, 2008   7 Comments