Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Bring on the Veggies: Luxe Vegetarian at Nix

A winner: the shaved brussels sprouts
The beginning of the year is often a time of asceticism: after over-induluging at the holidays, people exercise more, go on a diet, drink less. So it was easy to convince my carnivore friends to try out the vegetarian Nix in Greenwich Village. This is not abstemious dining by any stretch (and there are wonderful, inventive cocktails) but they were trying to eat less meat and since it was my birthday, I got to choose the place.

Nix is owned by the same team behind Dovetail, but it's less formal and strictly meat-free. What it isn't is less expensive, because the sharing plates add up and before you know it, you've accumulated a hefty bill.

Michelin star

Nix was just awarded a Michelin star, which means reservations could be harder to come by. We made one four weeks before, but late January isn't really a big dining out time in New York.

This broccoli dish is off the menu

Dipping in

We started with the delicious tandoor bread and a couple of dips. The flatbread is delicious, but $6 for one is a bit steep. The labneh and red pepper walnut dip (Muhammara) were both quite tasty, but each dip is $5; 2 breads and 2 dips and you're already $22 in.


Sunchoke salad, a lighter dish
Most of the cocktails are $14. We had a Nix martini, with vodka and thyme, the Honey Bee, with gin, sake, and Thai basil and the Albion, another gin drink on the rocks, with blackberries. All had just the right proportions and it was easy to order a second round. Wines start at $50 a bottle and quickly go up.

If you are avoiding alcohol entirely, there are homemade sodas: Pear & cardamom; Blackberry & juniper; and Mango & paprika.

The sharing economy

Shiitake cacio e pepe
Our server told us that 'chef recommends' 3-4 'lighter' sharing plates for a party of four, and 3-4 'bolder' plates. In other words, an appetizer and an entree per person. The lighter plates are $13-15 and the older are $16-30. We followed the numbers and while the flavors were exceptional, the portions were not really sharing size, and we joked that chef recommended you have a sandwich before coming. 

The only dish we didn't love was tofu-skin pockets filled with sweet potato and a tomatillo pepito salsa. But maybe we were just annoyed that the dish comes with three, so we were up-sold to a fourth. If the plates are for sharing, how many tables have three people? On the night we were there, not a single one.

But the roasted sunchokes with living greens were outstanding, as was a broccoli, cheese and peanut dish that is no longer on the menu.  We also had the jicama salad with blood orange. Our favorite lighter dish was the shaved brussels sprouts with almonds and cheese.

Service snafus

Artichokes with broccoli rabe
The plate sharing, unlike the sharing economy, leads to table overload; we got a glut of dishes all at once and were overwhelmed with dishes, our own plates, and serving spoons. But once we had each taken a little bit, busboys kept trying to whisk the half filled plates away. If you are the first person taking food from a sharing dish, you want to make sure everyone has, so you don't take enough, and then the next person takes even less; you need to go around a second time to finish the dish. But we felt we had to fight off the busboys and keep our plates.

The same thing happened with our $6 bread. We had one, ordered another and before we could finish it, someone had grabbed the plate away, along with our dips.

Swoon-worthy vegetarian food

On the other hand, we swooned over the shiitake cacce e pepe with polenta and the intoxicating braised cabbage with potato puree and truffles. I guarded these closely so we could savor every scrap.

If you are vegan, there is a separate menu. Some of the dishes,  like the 'bolder' Artichoke and broccoli rabe sauté, with preserved tomatoes, show up on both menus, but there are few extras on the vegan one. Since you rarely see broccoli rabe on a menu, we had to get it, and the bitterness of the greens played off the sweetness of the tomatoes. Plus, we got to ask my husband, Rob, "more broccoli, Rob?"

Because I loved so much of the food, I would definitely eat here again. I'd just make sure I had a hearty lunch beforehand.

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