I had not been that interested to try Brasserie Max & Julie. Perhaps it was a series of dull meals at M&J's sister restaurant, Cafe Rabelais. Perhaps it was because Max & Julie took the space formerly occupied by the great Aries. Perhaps Max & Julie's menu just looked uninspired.
But something about the dishes at Max & Julie snuck up and grabbed me.
Roasted bone marrow was far better than I expected. Three large ossobuco-like bones were served without meat, but with a generous serving of creamy marrow inside. Bone marrow is a simple dish. So M&J wisely serves it with two simple complements: thin toasts of bread and sea salt. Although my wife thought the marrow had little flavor, I tasted a meaty flavor. But the marrow's best quality is a creamy consistency that is much tastier than fat and matches well with the crunch of large-grained salt and toast.
Crawfish cakes were filled with bread crumbs, corn, red pepper, and crawfish. I rarely get excited about crabcake-like dishes. But this version had excellent accompaniments: a mustard sauce plus a dense salad of frisee and lardons (bacon) in a vinegary dressing.
Perhaps the best dish of the night was a skate wing, served with croutons and a lemon butter, caper sauce. Along the Gulf Coast, we rarely see skate on menus. It is a delicious, mild fish in the ray family that has curious ribbed, almost corduroy-like texture. The buttery croutons on top of the fish created an interesting texture contrast. And the lemon butter, caper sauce complement the skate's delicate flavor.
Our only disappointment of the night was a goat cheese salad. The greens, cheese, and dressing were perfectly good quality. But every ingredient in the dish -- dressed greens, cheese, marinated mushrooms -- had a slimy texture. That would not have been a problem had there been something crunchy in the salad to balance the texture. The two small bread crisps served under the goat cheese were insufficient.
I like M&J's large, French-only wine list. I like the simple interior, which has not changed much since the space housed Aries.
On a Friday night, the crowd seemed split between two groups: young, 20-something professionals in jeans and untucked shirts; plus the usual over-50, French restaurant crowd. For some reason, French cuisine does not seem to popular with my generation. Perhaps, that might change if we had more casual, high quality, creative French restaurants like Max & Julie's.