GOOD CATCH: The Maine lobster roll is a reliable remake of a standard item with lots of lobster meat and truly superb French fries.
Who is Max? Who is Dylan? The casual visitor cannot know. We know that the owners also have Scollay Square (which is not located in what used to be that square), so we have our suspicions that Max and Dylan are children or cats, or a confected evocation of the contrasting merits of ethnicity and cool. The menu has a bit of everything, and is mostly enjoyable, especially when potatoes are involved. The same is true of Scollay Square — the restaurant, not the location of Boston's old burlesque district, which is now City Hall.
|Max & Dylan’s Kitchen & Bar | 15 West Street, Boston | 617.423.3600 | Open Monday–Wednesday, 11:30 am–10 pm; Thursday–Saturday, 11:30 am–11 pm; and Sunday, 10 am–9 pm | AE, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access to some tables | Validated parking discounts at Hyatt Regency garage, $10 weekends, $2 weeknights.|
Because it's a bar, the first course here really is drinks, so let's take a look at that. The mixed options include both classic versions and variations. So you could have a real martini ($11) or a watermelon martini ($11) with sugar in it. The Bacardi mojito ($9) is described as "traditional" and tastes like the original blend of white rum, mint, and simple syrup. The side car ($10) departs from the typical cognac/Cointreau/lemon-juice recipe with the fairly common additions of Tuaca and sour mix. The trouble with that is you end up with a drink that is both apparently sweeter and more astringent than the classic.
The wine list also has a decent selection. A glass of 2005 St. Francis Merlot ($10; $44/bottle) had the structure and spice I hoped for from this old Sonoma favorite.
On to food: arborio-crusted calamari ($9.50) is terrifically fried, but I'm not sure what the traditional risotto rice adds to the breading. Slices of banana pepper and halves of grape and pear tomatoes are very nice, as is some spicy mayonnaise. Steamed edamame ($7.50) are green soybeans in the shell, with a clever coating of teriyaki sauce and black sesame seeds. A few slices of pickled ginger reference a sushi bar without actual sushi. And Vidalia-onion soup ($6.50) is the usual beef-stock, mushy-toast, melty-cheese fun, with extra points because the broth isn't over-salted.
Like the drinks, macaroni and cheese comes in classic and modernized versions: regular ($9.50), or with Buffalo chicken ($12), lobster ($15), or prosciutto ($13). The last doesn't conform to the creamy custard style, having instead chewy spirals of cavatelli with a few crumbs and just enough prosciutto for the flavor. Kobe-beef loaf ($18) is a really silly idea, since the clean-tasting subtlety and richness of Japanese-style beef is pointless in a peppery meat loaf — you really get more flavor from cheap stuff. But we don't eat ideas; we eat what the waitress puts in front of us, and this is a fine platter of comfort food: soft, with perfect mashed potatoes, gravy, and just-right green beans. Grilled salmon ($16) comes as a lovely fillet with a bit of citrus glaze, more mashed potatoes, and splendid late-season asparagus. Nothing avant garde, but good eating.
The Maine lobster roll ($18) is a reliable remake of another standard item: cheap bun, lots and lots of lobster meat, maybe a little too much mayo, but truly superb French fries. A bar-restaurant can go a long way on fries like these.
Desserts are not amazing, but an improvement from my recollections of Scollay Square. In particular, the chocolate mini-bundt cake ($8) is sort of molten and very chocolaty, and better cooked than the half-baked version I tasted at the sister restaurant when it opened. It's now a top-shelf chocolate dessert. Carrot cake ($8) is everything but large. The key-lime pie ($8) is the only weak choice, lacking in sour-bitter key-lime flavor to offset the richness. Decaf and decaf cappuccino are wonderful.
These rooms have come a long way since the famous Peabody sisters (one married Nathaniel Hawthorne; one married Horace Mann) had their literary salons here. In the 1970s, a modern architect opened up a tri-level, glass-ceiling marvel that is beginning to show its age with cracked panels and a bit of dirt on the outside. The interior bare-brick, polished-wood, and café-tables scheme still shines, and the collection of slightly naughty black-and-white photos (cityscapes, plus perhaps after-hours at the fashion shoot) is fun stuff.
Service before the serious drinkers arrive is first-rate. Food comes out hot and in order. Our server was there when we needed her, and not hovering otherwise. Because of the three-tier arrangement, it never seems overcrowded, and it doesn't get as loud as it looks. The downside is limited wheelchair access.
Since every Tom, Dick, and Mohammed is trying to do bar food that is just really good, you would think that more of them would hit the spot. But they don't, which is why Max and Dylan, or their parents or owners or inventors, are worth a visit, here or at their new location in City Square, Charlestown.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.