Digging Into Dishes at NIXS Hartford

By Kelly Vaughan / Photography By Kelly Vaughan | July 27, 2017
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Tuna tartare tacos
Tuna tartare tacos.

After moving throughout different locations in New England, NIXS has finally found a home on Front Street, a recently developed area in downtown Hartford offering live music, decadent dining, and a welcoming atmosphere. Known for their American small plates, innovative craft cocktails, and lively ambiance, NIXS Hartford is pumping up the volume in the capital city. NIXS Hartford’s Chef Phil Parise and general manager Tony Guerrera have all been in the restaurant industry for decades and are sharing this expertise with native Nutmeggers.

Chef Parise welcomed Edible Nutmeg to a taste of that expertise with four distinct appetizers, each vibrant in color and flavor. His beet and goat cheese salad is plated on a long wooden cutting board. The beets are poached for two minutes and then immediately put in an ice bath which preserves the deep purple color and makes them delicate and tender. Gone is the grittiness so often associated with the root vegetable, which here instead makes a bright, sweet addition to mixed greens that is balanced by the acidity of balsamic vinegar, carefully drizzled over the salad.

Chef Parise loves to bring seasonal foods to the table, including a cold lobster and corn salad over Boston Bibb Lettuce. Dressed in a simple lemon and olive oil vinaigrette, the large pieces of lobster are flavorful and briny. The corn is cut straight from the cob and large pieces are generously tossed throughout the rest of the salad, which includes sliced avocado and cherry tomatoes.

Beet and goat cheese salad served on a wooden cutting board.
cold lobster and corn salad over Boston Bibb Lettuce
Photo 1: Beet and goat cheese salad.
Photo 2: Cold lobster and corn salad over Boston Bibb Lettuce.

Tuna tartare tacos continue the theme of fresh, seasonal specials with large pieces of yellowfin tuna packed into taco shells. The shells are made from large wonton wrappers and deep fried until crispy, drizzled with a spicy orange sauce, and garnished with sesame seeds. Finally, Chef Parise presented classic, creamy Italian arancini balls (rice balls, breaded and deep-fried). One order comes with four, which are sizeable but small enough to be eaten without spoiling the diner’s appetite for the entrée.

Tuna tartare tacos garnished with sesame seeds and a spicy orange sauce.
Photo 1: Tuna tartare tacos garnished with sesame seeds and a spicy orange sauce.
Photo 2: Creamy Italian arancini balls.

Even though NIXS does not identify itself as a barbecue spot, their short ribs were a stand out entree. Cooked low and slow between 325 and 350 degrees, the meat cuts like room temperature butter and is sweetened slightly by a light sauce that coated the ribs. However, the sauce was not sticky, as is traditionally the case, and instead acts as a light gravy to both the meat and the house-made mashed potatoes that are plated alongside. Steamed broccoli adds color and balance to the dish. Despite what was on the plate, this does not feel like an average American “meat and potato” dinner; the tenderness of the meat coupled with the creamy and rich potatoes elevate a familiar Sunday night special.

Short ribs, mashed potatoes, and steamed broccoli.
Short ribs, mashed potatoes, and steamed broccoli.

NIXS is committed to serving food in the classic style — fresh ingredients with no shortcuts. This is made clear in their light and refreshing pesto sauce, made with fresh basil and pignoli nuts (aka pine nuts). It is neither overly creamy nor overdone, lending the perfect textural complement to the rigatoni noodles, without drenching them. A few roasted red peppers add a pop of color and blackened chicken enriches the heartiness of this dish.

While dessert is usually a bonus to the dining experience, at NIXS, it is a necessity. Their Key Lime Cheesecake employs a delicate, light mousse to carry its fresh lime flavor. The use of real key limes lends the dessert a pale-yellow color – rather than the artificially neon green that is so often the dessert’s calling card – and the palate is light and fresh, rather than overly tart. 

Photo 1: Fresh basil pesto on rigatoni noodles with blackened chicken.
Photo 2: Key lime pie.

Classic Italian Zeppole balls are another favorite at NIXS. These airy Italian doughnuts are rolled in a generous topping of cinnamon sugar and accompanied with three sauces: dark chocolate, caramel, and crème brulée.

NIXS also carries an extended cocktail selection, and since it is the middle of summer, no dinner would be complete without sangria – a drink NIXS prides themselves on. The red sangria is full-bodied and a bit tart, but lightened with a small amount of pineapple juice; the white is refreshing and fruity, pairing well with the vibrant pesto pasta and key lime cheesecake.

NIXS Hartford's red sangria.

The portions of all NIXS’s dishes are generous without being overwhelming and well worth their value (appetizers range from $6-$13; entrees range from $12-$27; desserts are $9; cocktails are $11-$14). For those working in the downtown Hartford area or looking for a new date night spot to try, NIXS should be added to the rotation of Hartford-area favorites. And if you happen to be a Traveler’s employee, NIXS offers 50% off lunch on Tuesdays for employees of the Hartford-based insurance firm. But regardless of your day job, NIXS’s delectable menu selection is sure to demand the attention of your off-hours.

Article from Edible Nutmeg at http://ediblenutmeg.ediblecommunities.com/eat/digging-dishes-nixs-hartford
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