Located just a few blocks from NYU at 72 University Place, Nix gets its unusual name from, of all things, an 1893 Supreme Court decision (specifically, Nix v. Hedden) that asserted tomatoes were subject to a particular import tax on account of their being vegetables and not fruit (this led to a lively table debate among us at one point - I can tell you that my position is not in agreement with that, but, sadly, I'm not a federal judge). This is the third NYC dining venture for head chef John Fraser, whose other restaurants (Dovetail, which is Michelin-starred, and Narcissa) also feature many vegetables in a starring role in lieu of relegating them to the side of the plate next to a slab of beef.
Although I haven't been to a ton of vegetarian places (I can remember eating something called Pablo corn pie at a macrobiotic joint in a Dallas strip mall, for one), Nix is definitely not just targeting yoga instructors and pet therapists. If there's raw food on the menu, it's been cleverly disguised so as not to put off your average carnivore. Take, for starters, the tandoor bread and crudite collection of carrots, cucumbers, and radishes served with some dynamite dipping sauces - we chose the house hummus with zataar, avocado/mint/curry (like an Indian guacamole), and labneh with marinated cucumbers.
After appetizers, the remainder of the menu is divided into sections called "lighter" and "bolder", and our server recommended we order 3-4 dishes to share from each group. Below are two of our lighter selections, a plate of charred heirloom cherry tomatoes with sunflower seeds/bitter herbs and (I found this one a little challenging) egg salad with a potent habanero cream sauce and an ample serving of fried potato "crispies". I was happy to let my companions dive into the egg salad while I indulged in just the crispies on top.
Our other two lighter dishes proved to be just as popular, including jicama ribbons marinated in blood orange juice and tossed with fresno chiles/cilantro (something that should be on all Thai restaurant menus if it's not already) and roasted baby carrots "en papillote" (i.e., in a paper bag) with cracked bulgur wheat, almonds, and a Moroccan spice blend (normally, you'd see a fish in the middle of such a prep, but the carrots were a fine stand-in for the protein here, although the whole thing was a bit oily for my tastes).
If you think you can't get full on an all-veggie menu, you'd be surprised. We began slowing down a little, but were undeterred and pressed onward into the "bolder" portion of the menu. A potato fry bread (far right side of the photo below) was "highly decorated" (their words, not mine) with radish slices and some sort of soft cheese (a burrata?). Gnarled and nearly-blackened cauliflower tempura was ethereal when placed on soft steamed buns with housemade pickles. Pasta that you would find in a traditional "cacio e pepe" was replaced with shiitake mushrooms and the noodles were not really missed (except in my case - I bravely nibbled on a shiitake, but declined in the end to continue). Lastly, charred asparagus mingled with morel mushrooms to tasty effect (again, at least the asparagus did).
At some point during the meal, a server will ask you if you would like to reserve the house special dessert (which takes 20 minutes to prepare) and you should say yes. If you do this, a tandoor-charred pineapple topped with vegan whipped cream, tamarind glaze, and toasted macadamia nuts will eventually arrive at your table and will be consumed in very short order, no matter how many vegetables you may have just eaten.
Yesterday, I read a positive restaurant review of another "modern vegetarian" (I'm not sure what other term to use for description) restaurant now open in NYC, so clearly there's a trend here that's catching on (at least here, that is - I don't think the local Applebee's in Topeka is in danger of being replaced anytime soon). Given our experience at Nix, this is one bandwagon I don't mind climbing onto - who knew that you should have listened to mom when she begged you to eat your veggies?