Shake + Stir: Max's Bistro & Bar

max's bistro and bar

CVLUX invited a group of local Valley women to cool off, relax and enjoy the second in an invitation- only series, Shake + Stir. This issue’s Shake + Stir was held at Max’s Bistro and Bar, on the northeast corner of Bullard and West, where the group got to spend an evening enjoying summer-perfect appetizers,cocktails and candid conversation.

The first thing Katie Biehl, Kelly Lilles, Laura Mather, Sandy Cetti, Andrea Der Manouel and Donna Kaczmarski saw when they sat down at the table was the incredible centerpiece, crafted specifically for the evening by Mariah Walton of Simply Flowers. She assembled it in several pieces, creating layers with depth that complemented one another perfectly. The top layer with its ombre effect, accomplished by using three hues of purple Moon Vista Series carnations, was stunning. These were set in simple aluminum cubes that echoed the unique stained glass and metal art on the wall behind the table. The cubes were surrounded by another layer of lavender roses, greenery, berries and more, creating an assemblage everyone at the table agreed was exquisite.

Max’s owner, JJ Wettstead, and his staff presented the table with five unique appetizers. First was their Ceviche: citrus-cured seasonal seafood with tomato, onion, scallion, cilantro and avocado, served with house-fried tortilla chips.

“The chips are a perfect complement to the Ceviche,” raved Andrea Der Manouel, calling this fresh, summery offering her “favorite.” Both Katie Biehl and Kelly Lilles agreed.
JJ explained to the group what makes Max’s kitchen and bar unique: “The theme of our kitchen and what we serve is hyper-local, which means we use seasonal, from-scratch, fresh products. And anything we can source locally, we do, from meat to beets.”

“As far as the bar goes, everything is from scratch and we put a lot of emphasis on our process: fresh-squeezed everything,” added JJ.

Next JJ brought out Max’s infamous “Fry Trio,” which included Sweet Potato Fries, Jalapeno-Arugula Aioli Fries (truffle-fried with fresh parmesan) and Eggplant Fries. The Eggplant Fries were Laura Mather’s favorite food all evening. “Eggplant Fries don’t get enough exposure,” she laughed, “And there’s no carbs!”

While the group chatted and ate, the first cocktail of the evening was presented, aptly named “Blueberry Euphoria.” This delicious pink confection is composed of blueberry-infused vodka, muddled blueberries, fresh sweet and sour and a house-made simple syrup, shaken and strained into chilled martini glasses with sugared rims and garnished with two blueberries. It was a hit at the table and, as Sandy Cetti said, “I could drink the pink all night long!”

While everyone sipped, Donna asked the table to share stories about their “first drinks,” which led to a hilarious conversation that included memories of big sisters, gin, strawberry wine and “cute cars,” and also prompted stories of memories that Kelly and Laura, who met in junior high, share. Anyone sitting nearby would think the entire table was a close-knit group of life-long friends, based on the comfortable and constant conversation and laughter.

JJ brought out the Cheese Platter, which included Humboldt Fog Blue Cheese, Porter Cheddar and a French cheese, Brillat- Savarin De Siene et Mama, and was paired with crackers. This was quickly followed by Max’s Hawaiian Poke, which consists of marinated and diced raw ahi tuna with cucumber, onion, green onion, ginger, toasted hazelnuts and yuzu sauce, accompanied by house-fried wonton chips.

While the group sipped the bar’s next offering, the bartender explained how he composed the drink: cucumber and basil muddled into a simple syrup, to which he added a Cucumber and Basil Gin Gimlet and fresh-squeezed lime. An amazing contrast to the sweet “pink” drink the group had sampled, everyone agreed that “Summer on My Mind” was indeed the perfect name for this fresh, tart cocktail, and Sandy proposed a toast to “celebrate life.”

While the final appetizer, French Quarter Shrimp, was being served, a char-grilled garlic shrimp with spicy butter and served with toast points (Donna’s favorite), conversation turned to who each woman would have dinner with (someone either alive or not), if they could. A chorus of “Awwwwww....” followed Andrea’s choice: her husband, Michael. She explained that working together every day is great, but a quiet, romantic dinner together would be a special treat. Katie thought for a bit, but ultimately decided her choice of dinner partner would have to be Donald Miller, while Sandy would pick Dax Shepherd.

The women continued tasting and sipping while they talked about a host of subjects that included Pilates, their kids, the upcoming Luxury Awards, favorite blogs and even sloths. JJ brought the third and last cocktail, explaining that he wanted to present the group with one drink that was vodka-based, one gin- based, and this final cocktail, “The Derby,” which was whiskey- based. The bartender explained the drink: muddled mint, Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Grand Marnier, Contratto Rosso Vermouth and fresh lime, shaken. He said he doesn’t just add mint to the shaker, but “slaps” it in, serving it with a mint garnish.

While sipping “The Derby,” the group continued their easy conversation and several made plans to accompany Laura to the early-morning Pilates class she takes. As the women reluctantly left the table, exchanging goodbyes and hugs, everyone agreed that the evening was, “So much fun!” and that Max’s food and cocktails were undeniably delicious.

Hosted At Max’s Bistro & Bar
Managing Editor Cheryl Ensom Dack
Photographer Don Dizon
Florals Simply Flowers