I was dubious: There was so much hype. The menu is a bit pricey. It’s on University Place. But NIX—the latest, completely vegetarian restaurant from chef John Fraser of Dovetail and Narcissa fame—won me over from the first order of hot, soft tandoor bread with avocado and hummus dips.
There was another order of tandoor bread (there was dip left!); then I stopped myself because this meal was going to be long. It moved on to avocado a la plancha, cauliflower tempura with steamed buns, and yuba pockets stuffed with sweet potato before finishing with a slice of chocolate cake that, wonderfully, didn’t scream “vegan!” This wasn’t a meal for the faint of heart or small of stomach, as I was also drinking the bulk of bar manager Soraya Odishoo’s cocktail menu. It’s a thoughtful selection that they’re hoping makes the restaurant a draw not just for its food, which received two stars in the Times, but its bar as well.
Odishoo is a New York City native who began bartending at 19, “to make money and have access to a nightlife scene.” Eventually, it grew into more than just a job. “It became a way of life and second nature after a few years,” she says. “I also love interacting with people and creating dialogue through palate cleansing and tasting with customers. Once you know how to use your tools, like with any trade, that’s when you have a chance to really get creative, and I see the bar as that type of space for me.”
At NIX (named for the 1893 Supreme Court case that deemed tomatoes a vegetable), they’re working with almost exclusively house-made ingredients to make a mostly low-alcohol, super-flavorful list that can appeal to even the most virtuous veg-eaters. The Playa is a bright pink glass of watermelon juice, tequila and aquafaba-based Champagne foam. Aquafaba is a chickpea-water-based vegan egg-white replacer that’s become a new bar staple ingredient for its stability and clean flavor, and here it’s used to great effect—a touch acidic thanks to the Champagne, balancing the sweetness of watermelon and tequila as they pass through the foam. The Oakland is another stand-out, with smoked red wine, bitters and golden rum creating a richness you’ll want to warm up with come fall.
“The inspiration for NIX cocktails began as drinks that were very seasonal and fruit forward,” Oshidoo says. “Using fresh ingredients to blend with different liquors to not make the strongest cocktails, per se, but the most refreshing and interesting cocktails to pair with our food. We have grown a little more dynamic at this stage, and I’d say our menu currently has something for every type of drinker. We are not the type of bar that is trying to revamp classics by any stretch; we are interested in coming up with creative flavor profiles that aren’t too complex, but are still absolutely delicious.”
Her personal favorite on the menu is the Honey Bee, composed of sake, gin, clover honey, fresh lemon and Thai basil. “This drink is like an elixir to me,” she says. “Something you could drink that could keep you forever young or something like that. It has a green emerald color to it and that comes from the Thai basil. It has a medicinal quality as well, which I love incorporating into a cocktail—like, you can get healthy while you are getting drunk is the idea.”
That delicate balance between indulgence and restraint is at play throughout the whole of the NIX menu: You know you’re gorging, but it’s vegetarian—where’s the real harm? The answer is between you and your gut.