Review: Nox Kitchen feels retro, tastes fresh

2014-06-26T00:00:00Z 2014-07-03T10:20:32Z Review: Nox Kitchen feels retro, tastes freshBy Johanna Willett Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Nox Kitchen + Cocktails is the kind of place where you can pretend to be someone glamorous.

Not that pretentious, nose-in-the-air sort of glamorous, but the interesting kind — the kind that jabs typewriter keys in the wee hours of the morning and regales friends with tales of exotic travels.

That’s a little of the flavor you get at Nox. The restaurant opened in February and is tucked into the former Jasper Neighborhood Restaurant and Bar space at the southeast corner of Campbell Avenue and Skyline Drive.

Drawing inspiration from the writings and travels of Ernest Hemingway, Nox poses as a nostalgic, hidy-hole for those who want to wine, dine and slow down a bit.

Under Ryan Feldman, the chef de cuisine, Nox’s summer menu features Latin and occasionally Asian twists to its upscale American choices.

Think tacos, sandwiches, seafood and salads, all with a snazzy flair.

For a moment, escape with us.

Your getaway spot

With several high-backed, cozy booths facing the wraparound bar and a handful of smaller tables with chairs and booth seating, Nox is nothing if not intimate.

Inside, there are plenty of treasures to look at — if you can peel your eyes away from the anachronistic flat screens mounted above the bar.

The dark, wood paneling in the rest of the restaurant enhances that romantic, getaway feeling. At dinner the lighting was dim, and tea light candles flickered on our table.

A wall full of framed photographs and another of shelves stuffed with books, glassware and other knickknacks allude to stories of adventure.

The covered patio outside is a breath of fresh air.

Cushy chairs and benches invite you to settle in and take in the view of the Catalina Mountains. The bar opens onto the patio, and a perimeter of misters and ceiling fans made it bearable even on a Sunday afternoon in June. We imagine the fireplace would do the same for cooler nights.

Into the night

We would call this fancy food, meaning that even your house burger comes on a pretzel bun.

For a dinner appetizer, we started off with the lamb lollipops ($13) served with a yogurt sauce and a grilled lemon. New with this summer menu, the four, juicy hunks of meat at the end of each bone are bathed in an herb marinade that gives them enough flavor that you can skip the yogurt and the squeeze of lemon. We were told that the flavor in the yogurt comes from a chile sauce, but we thought it tasted more like sour cream. Not bad, but not spicy. Don’t worry about keeping up proper pretenses with this one — it would be a shame to leave any meat on those bones.

The seared ahi salad ($14) brought the Asian flair to this meal.

The sweet, miso ginger dressing keeps at bay any bitterness from the mixed greens. Slivers of carrots, cucumbers and radishes are tossed in with chunks of avocado. The crown jewel of this salad is the bright pink tuna. Drizzled with eel sauce and speckled with sesame seeds, the sushi-grade fish is not too mushy.

We accompanied the salad with the 11-ounce New York steak ($32). The most expensive thing on the new summer menu, this steak is served with a butternut squash puree and roasted mushrooms and cauliflower. The sweet squash flavor seeps into everything, but in a good way. It goes well with the brown butter sage sauce on the meat. We think it’s a more delicate palate cleanser between bites, than, say, potatoes. We ordered it medium, and the tender meat came out just right, though we aren’t sure the flavor says $32 when there are other memorable finds on the menu.

For dessert, we went with the flourless chocolate cake ($5), one of the more standard items on the restaurant’s rotating dessert menu. Two small but decadent layers of cake sandwich a mound of whipped cream. Another fluffy dollop on top, a raspberry, a blackberry and a sprig of mint make this classic treat dinner’s sweetest finale.

Rise and shine

For Nox’s Sunday brunch, we wanted to go sweet and savory. The menu offers breakfast favorites as well as some items from the usual lunch menu.

We started with a more traditional choice — the Nox French toast ($9). Two slabs of soft ciabatta bread (who knew?) are slathered with raspberry and mango compote and sprinkled with granola. Butter is swapped out for a generous scoop of mascarpone, and though the dish comes with maple syrup, you hardly need it. The flavors are enough, as is.

But if you want to talk flavor, order the chilaquiles ($12), a stack of three, fried corn tortillas smothered in a tomato-guajillo salsa and your choice of chicken or chorizo. We went for the chorizo. An additional $2 will get you a fried egg on top. Pair that with the hidden pockets of mozzarella and queso fresco cheeses and the garnishing of avocado and refried beans, and even the wimpiest taste buds can handle the slight kick.

Finally, we added a side of Brandon’s Mom’s banana bread ($3). Yep, that light and moist banana bread with the chewy walnuts mixed in and a dusting of brown sugar comes from a real mom. General manager Brandon Katz grew up on the bread and filched the recipe from his own mom, who came in to demonstrate the first batch. He says the Nox version isn’t exact, but it’s close.

The service

We almost didn’t make it to brunch. We called earlier in the week to make sure the restaurant still served the meal on both Saturday and Sunday and were told it did. A follow-up call to make reservations on Saturday informed us that several weeks ago, Nox moved its brunch to Sundays only.

We did make it Sunday for brunch, and service was leisurely. A meal for two took about one hour, not bad and not rushed. At dinner, though, time between courses seemed to lag, especially after we finished our main course. Still, the restaurant was busier at dinner, and the servers remained cheerful and generally attentive at both meals.

Nox really isn’t the kind of place you want to rush out of anyways. It beckons you to sit down, eat up and stay a while.

Contact reporter Johanna Willett at jwillett@azstarnet.com or 573-4357.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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