The latest wave of buzzy New York City restaurants aren’t just vegetarian—they’re vegetarian in the bring-your-meat-loving-BFF way. As a plant-eating New Yorker with a passion for the city’s restaurant scene, I’ve stood in line at By Chloe and Superiority Burger to chomp into their inventive, meat-free takes on the burger and nabbed a table at 00+Co. to taste what pizza from a raw food revolutionary tastes like.
But the latest in the “I can’t believe this is vegetarian!” category is Nix, the Union Square restaurant that lets you abide by Michael Pollan’s famed motto (you know the one: “Eat food. Not too much…”) while serving up plants in inventive, addictive, indulgently delicious ways, be it tempura-style, transformed into funnel cake, or drizzled with brown butter.
Nix (named after the Supreme Court Case that classified the tomato as a vegetable—remember that one?) is the brainchild of Michelin-starred chef John Fraser, whose New York culinary landmarks include the formidable Dovetail and Narcissi. Although Dovetail does Meatless Monday every week, both spots have a dedicated following of diners who, yes, enjoy a steak. “I switched to a vegetable-based diet in 2011 and that had a huge impact on my style of cooking and greatly influenced the menus at both Dovetail and Narcissa,” says Fraser. “The response [of our regular diners] has been really great.”
His dimly-lit and romantic new space, complete with cozy Mad Men-esque booths and an earthy color scheme, is perfect for date night with your favorite carnivore and GNO with your plant-loving bestie. The menu, which includes a full array of dishes in vegan versions, will certainly woo both types. (And if they need a little bit of liquid courage, the cocktail list—filled with creative combinations like almond milk-rose-water-sake—will do the trick.)
So instead of an en papillote preparation revealing a piece of white fish, at Nix you’ll find impeccably spiced baby carrots tucked inside the folded parchment paper, with slivered almonds providing a satisfying crunch. (They went so quickly, I almost had to fork-battle with my dinner-mates.) Or the Asian-inspired buns, which, instead of being filled with pork, came with tangy cauliflower tempura bites cooked to perfection (think crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside).
That the vegetables are all incredibly fresh is no surprise, considering Nix is just a few blocks from the Union Square Farmers’ Market (where the restaurant sources most of its produce). “It’s just steps away from the restaurant, and I’ve always wanted to have the luxury of being that close to such a great source for inspiration and produce,” says Fraser.
But, if Instagram is your guide, then the real star here is the funnel cake, er, Yukon fry bread, which is about the size of my head and comes topped with sour cream, cheddar cheese, scallions, broccoli, and radishes. “It’s a riff on traditional fry breads from Eastern Europe—we essentially take the ingredients of a steakhouse potato,” says Fraser of his genre-busting creation. Healthy? Maybe not entirely—but it tastes heavenly, and will make a vegetarian convert out of even the biggest rib-eye fan.
If you’re not mid-detox, run there—fast. The dishes change by season so they won’t be there forever (while your clean-as-heck kale juice will always be waiting for you). Just be sure to make a reservation—even nabbing a seat at the bar on a weeknight is tough—and, even better, try inviting your most un-vegetarian friend. If anyone can convince them that vegetarian food is delicious, it’s Nix.
Nix, 72 University Place, New York, NY, 10003, 212-498-9393, www.nixny.com