Maxwell's Speakeasy + Lounge is now open on the ground floor of The Walker, the modernized, condo-ized vintage apartment building in the heartof Tacoma's downtown condo country.
Troy Christian and Sean Quinn, El Gaucho veterans who launched Asado and Masa before splitting with X Group Restaurants, are the team behind Maxwell's. Matt Colony, formerly of Pacific Grill and The Beach House at Purdy, is the chef.
Maxwell's has easy-going, upscale style. Diners are greeted by chain-draped chandeliers and gauzy curtains that made me feel like I'd stumbled into a flapper's dressing room. Low ceilings, moody earth tones and shadowy lighting give the bar and warrens of dining areas an aura befitting Maxwell's speakeasy subtitle.
The menu's designed around small plates and sharable entrees and side dishes, most priced $6-$21. The pricey exception is a $32 rib steak.
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I savored three lamb porterhouse chops from Ellensburg, dressed in mushrooms, almonds and lemon. The tender and tasty chops were bubblegum pink inside and charry-black outside. Other entrees include potato-crusted cod, apple-wood smoked pulled pork sandwich and a smoked rib chop. Even though peppercorn butter on the steak sounds kind of '80s, I heard good comments about the blood-rare, bone-in rib-eye.
Onion soup made with Walla Wallas was a bowl of sweet-salty depth and bliss, with sherry and cave-aged gruyere bookending the lively onions. Aside from fantastic flavor and total comfort, there were onions, cheese and croutons in every spoonful.
I didn't think pomegranite seeds belonged on Quinn's gooey nachoes at Masa, and I'm not convinced using the bitter/sweet fruit in mignonette complements briney oysters at Maxwell's. (Note to whomever designed Maxwell's oysters on the half shell presentation: That bed of polished rocks beneath the bivalves rocks. Just be sure diners know they're rocks and not olives. Wouldn't want to break a tooth, you know.)
Among the other small plates, I'm looking forward to the tenerloin tartare with quail egg, the beet salad with fresh honeycomb, and the carrot-fennel soup with curry and tarragon-infused oil. I overheard one diner rave about the halibut cheeks.
And, of course, I'll be back for the cheese and cured meat flights ($3 per serving, $9 for a selection of four) that included house-made pork loin rillettes and smoked trout.
Open since Friday, Maxwell's has already experienced management turnover. Tewfik Boulenouar, described by Seattle food writers as a front-of-the-house dynamo from his days at Coupage, El Gaucho and Waterfront Seafood Grill, has left his position as Maxwell's general manager.
Christian said Boulenouar is being replaced by Rich Troiani, a veteran of El Gaucho, Waterfront and the eponymous (but Mackay-owned) Troiani Ristorante Italiano. Christian said Troiani was his mentor a decade ago at Kimpton Group in Portland.
Boulenouar told me "nothing dramatic" was involved in his departure. Boulenouar said he plans to open his own restaurant. Most likely it'll be in Seattle, he said, but he didn't rule out Tacoma.
Maxwell's Speakeasy + Lounge: 454 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma; 253-683-4115. Hours: 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 4 p.m.-midnight Fridays-Saturdays; 5 p.m-9 p.m. Sundays.