First Bite: Max and Dylans

1229551738In all fairness, it’s understandable why Theater District newcomer Max and Dylans would’ve been near-empty on a frigid Sunday evening while nearby Fajitas & ‘Ritas (relatively) buzzed with customers.

The sprawling venue has all the ingredients of a thriving downtown nightspot (two bars, plus a sexy-ish ambiance of exposed brick walls, soaring ceilings, low lighting, and a peppy pop soundtrack), so at first glance potential diners might think the restaurant/bar better suited for a Friday or Saturday night–especially judging from the “No sneakers after 8 p.m.” sign tacked to the front door.

They’d only be about half right.

A fun cocktail list–think grapefruit-tangerine margaritas, blackberry mojitos, and a specialty martini called “The Cougar”–is sure to be a hit with the after-work and after-hours crowd. But as the brainchild of Brad Dalbeck and Chris Damian of Tavern on the Water and Scollay Square fame, Max and Dylans seems first and foremost a restaurant, one with an ambitious comfort food menu (a veritable rainbow of creative flatbreads, sliders, and mac and cheese mix-ins to choose from), and one where–sadly–the bar bites are tastier than the actual meals.

Chowder started out with a set of three exceptionally juicy Kobe sliders finished with Gouda, slightly sweet balsamic-glazed onions, and lemon-dressed greens that cut through the butteriness of the meat quite well. A cup of clam chowder was thick, creamy, and satisfying, and one of the menu’s array of flatbreads, a interesting combination of thinly sliced seared duck, more creamy Gouda, and tangy cranberry-orange compote, straddled the sweet-savory line with aplomb.

The mains, however, were more disappointing than delicious. An order of breadcrumb-topped rock shrimp mac and cheese was a bit on the soupy side; the protein, slightly rubbery.

Likewise, oven-roasted chicken stuffed with mushrooms, spinach, jack cheese, and roasted red peppers and smothered in herb cream sauce tasted surprisingly bland and dry. Yet our dessert, a slice of homemade carrot cake, was perfectly moist with a rich, velvety cream cheese icing.

The verdict? Yes, the fare at this bar/restaurant hybrid can be hit or miss. But more important is the question of identity: Inventive comfort food restaurant or sophisticated nightspot?

Perhaps Max and Dylans can be both, but as we sat nearly all alone in the large dining area that Sunday, the usual cacophony of patrons’ conversations conspicuously absent, we wished it might figure out the formula sooner rather than later.

Max and Dylans, 15 West St, Boston, 617-423-3600,

Note: Max and Dylans also opened a second location at 1 Chelsea St. in Charlestown, 617-242-7400