Nix's Mate recently opened in the Financial District Hilton, replacing the forgettable Caliterra Bar and Grill. The former outdated space is rejuvenated by a 22 seat quartz bar, rustic walnut beams, pristine wood table tops and comfortable leather furniture. It's bright and sleek, with neutral earthy and gray tones, very of the moment. There's a minimalist touch with the decor points and a focused technique in the kitchen. Potted succulents, sepia toned photographs and stunning glass jar light fixtures accent gorgeous looking plates. Start with a Moscow Mule ($12) it's refreshing with a gingery kick served in a radiant copper mug; and then be sure to order the Fried Maine Lobster Caramel ($17). The sweet, fresh lobster meat - lightly crisped tail and claw play off the warm velvety caramel as it melts into creamy Vermont cheddar, highlighted with green onions and chilis. I'd love to know how the chef came up with this one, it's wildly creative.
I'm also particularly fond of the juicy, jam like blackberries in the Boston Bibb ($10) as they mingle with sturdy pecans, a creamy caramelized onion dressing and memorable cornbread croutons. Specials this evening also catch our eye, there's a large group of us and we're into trying a little of everything on the appetizers menu. Bacon Wrapped Scallop Skewers ($8) in maple butter come tightly wrapped and perfectly seared, dusted in fresh parsley. Fried Crab Cake Nuggets ($12) successfully accompany a summery salad of arugula, watermelon, roasted corn, thinly shaved beets, walnuts and a mustard aioli. Both specials, I have a feeling, would do well on the regular menu.
Spicy fried rock shrimp are an interesting match for salami, pepperoni, mozzarella, leeks and tomato gravy in The Harbor Island Flatbread ($14). Perhaps the cheese could have been more evenly dispersed and the crust slightly more firm and crispy, and while the rock shrimp on their own were good, they weren't very spicy as described. The Braised Veal Cheek "Pot au feu" ($14) is a mini interpretation of the classic French beef stew. I've never actually had pot au feu, regardless, the cheek was tender with a rich flavor thanks to the bone marrow broth, and baby roasted carrots and green beans brightened up the dish.Next, Polpete Vongole ($11) pairs tiny meatballs tossed in a red clam sauce with the briny clams themselves, overflowing from a large shell. Much like lobster and caramel, blackberry jam and bibb lettuce, ingredients are coupled that shouldn't work, yet do. I'm still not sold on fried shrimp and salami, though.
Some members of my party who weren't particularly impressed with the appetizers would advocate desserts ($8 each) are what they're doing best. Cocktails aren't always on point, and the wine list doesn't offer much variety, but the final course nails it each and every time. From the Strawberry Shortcake with a duo of buttermilk accompaniments - the biscuit and the panna cotta, to a decadent Chocolate Hazelnut Torte with olive oil, sea salt and Thacher farms cream, these creations are truly something special. The strawberry and vanilla Ice Cream Sandwiches with chocolate and caramel sauces cascading down homemade cookies are not to be missed, and if your sweet tooth is raging, the Banana's Foster Bread Pudding with toasted marshmallow over homemade brioche should do the trick.
Service was reliable, if not quiet and reserved, I have a feeling eight girls at a giant round table whipping out large cameras was somewhat intimidating! If nothing else, Nix's Mate is light years beyond its predecessor, it strives to impress with food that is inventive and approachable, and mostly succeeds.