You don't have to meet Maxine of Maxine's Seafood Cafe to meet Maxine, if you know what I mean. She is the larger-than-life presence at the cafe. You feel her, you see her and you hear her. Mostly hear her.
"Do you have the swordfish order," she asks the busboy in a piercing whine that reminds you of moms reprimanding their bratty kids. The response by the busboy is in low tones. From across the room we can't tell if the busboy has the swordfish order or not. But we do know Maxine, standing elbow distance from the busboy, didn't catch it, either.
"Do you have the swordfish order," she repeats even louder.
Do you blame her? Maxine is a one-woman act juggling the activity in the food-to-go department, the dining room and the kitchen like an orchestra conductor caught at the moment of summoning the clang of symbols, the roll of drums and the hoot of horns in one swoop. After all, we're talking about the restaurant Maxine loves and has fashioned after her fondest dreams: something clean, something healthful. Something you take Mom to with full confidence that she is getting the very best (or almost), the very freshest (for sure), at the most reasonable prices (bet your bottom dollar on it). I'll tell you, Mom will be proud you're so smart about where you shop.
It's a restaurant with a mission, and you feel it, see it and taste it in every bite. The American Heart Assn. "Dine to Your Heart's Content" red hearts, indicating that the food item is low in fat and cholesterol, riddle the menu like bullets, and the fresh fish is clearly displayed over clean shaved ice in cases where Maxine holds court with her take-out orders. You can see the fish and, if you ask, you can smell it to be sure it's fresh--and you can be sure it's fresh.
"I'm going now to deliver (yes, she delivers, too)," Maxine announces to her staff for all the customers to hear.
And off she goes, lugging two armloads of take-out destined for somewhere in Hollywood or beyond, the busboy carrying the swordfish order, in tow.
Actually we did not expect to find Maxine's Seafood Cafe as much fun. Or as good. But the neighborhood crowd who frequents the cafe obviously has discovered its assets and seems to enjoy the homey, friendly atmosphere and its cast of characters. The wholesome-looking waiters are cordial and efficient in a bumbling sort of way, but you know you're being taken care of as Maxine herself would wish. That, you had better believe.
The menu is a mixed bag of American regional-ethnic fare with mesquite-grilled fish and seafood house specialties dominating. There are also a few appetizers, pastas and an a la carte dinner special that includes non-fish items such as chicken fajitas , Oriental chicken salad and stir-fried chicken with pecans and noodles. There is a spit-roasted chicken with garlic and thyme, which was quite abundant and flavorful and mesquite-grilled ground chuck steak, both $7.95, and both offered with soup or salad, vegetables, potatoes or rice. And that's a bargain. At those prices you need not share an order, and, indeed, Maxine won't let you without a penalty: $2 for split orders.
Anyone who needs to redirect a diet toward fish because it is lower in total calories, fat and cholesterol than meat or chicken, will find the fish menu especially rich and varied. The soups offered are Manhattan and New England clam chowders. The appetizers include oysters on the half shell, fried clams, ceviche tostada, mussels, steamed and baked clams, sauteed Yucatecan shrimp, scampi, garlicky scallops and scallops baked with Gruyere. Mussels appear among the dinner specials along with grilled shark, baked halibut Provencale made with eggplant, mushrooms and low-fat Mozzarella. There is swordfish with 20 cloves of garlic and sea bass with a goat cheese topping. A California cioppino is a huge bowl filled with shellfish and seafood cooked in a hearty tomato wine sauce.
If you want to keep the calories down and the diet simple, the mesquite grill will provide you with simply cooked mahi mahi, snapper, shark, trout, kebabs, orange roughy, sea bass, halibut, swordfish and salmon. Maxine has added Australian lobster tail for $17.95. She also has thoughtfully added a few side dishes, such as stir-fried vegetables, steamed broccoli, sliced tomatoes and a delicious corn pudding for pennies extra.
The desserts tended to be the run-of-the-mill from the standard restaurant caterers--nothing special, which one might wish. The assorted cakes looked excessively plastic, more like sterile waxworks you find in Japanese restaurants than enticing stuff you find at bakery shops. They may be delicious, but I was not tempted. The coffee was blase, and, come to think of it, so was the bread. But do we expect the world?
Maxine's Seafood Cafe, 6775 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 461-5644. Reservations taken. Visa, MasterCard and American Express welcome. No checks. Takeout and catering available. Minimum table service $3.50 per person; split orders $2. Average entree $10.