At Max's Wine Dive at 10:30 p.m., it is the rare table that doesn't have wine on the table. But having had enough, our group just orders food.
Around the table, attractive couples lean toward each other in those annoying, tiny bar tables over glasses of white wine. It's mostly couples except for us and a trio of girls all carrying those enormous hobo handbags. No one is eating, which is a shame. For the price of one totally delicious appetizer, they all could have their feet on the ground, maybe suggestively brushing ankles, instead of hanging on to glorified stools for dear life.
We get the Max and cheese, pan borracho (also known as "drunk bread," very fitting) and the grilled cheese sandwich. The Max and cheese comes first; it's curly-cue (okay, cavatappi) pasta in a truffle sauce with a mozzarella, gruyere and Grana Padano cheese blend. It's good, but not amazing. You can't argue with truffle flavor, but the sauce seems thin. Maybe Max's is a victim of its own success -- it isn't offering the only upscale mac in town anymore.
Next up: the grilled cheese sandwich featuring gruyere, provolone and piquillo pepper on Texas toast. It comes on a plate with a shot of tomato soup ("like a spicy V-8" according to the shot-taker) and a side of tomatoes and pickles. Table reaction: eww...vegetables. What is this, lunch? But the actual sandwich: To. Die. For.
The pan borracho is enormous, made with sourdough bread soaked in white wine and loaded up with prosciutto, gruyere, mozzarella, thyme, garlic and bay leaves, then baked in a deep pan. It's delicious.
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The food is a distraction from the art on the wall, which depicts a creepy, disembodied magician's hands, and the oddly bright lights. The atmosphere is hardly romantic, but luckily, everything else is so good that no one seems to mind.