"Editors occasionally follow their instincts right out the window," wrote New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells in his July, 2016 review of the all-vegetable NYC restaurant, NIX. I laugh every time I read that line. We've all done it, even the most excellent and godliest.
Wells was referring to the choice of NIX's name, which came from an 1893 case, NIX v. HEDDEN. In it, the Supreme Court held that the tomato should be classified as a vegetable rather than a fruit. I, for one, am so glad that the tomato, botanically a fruit, was free to be a vegetable if it wanted to be.
NIX co-owner James Truman, a restaurant trend guru and former editorial director of Conde Nast Magazines, also liked the way the name looked. "The blessing of the name is that it's all straight lines," he told NYT reporter Jeff Gordinier. "I'm fond of the N, the I and the X, because they're all strong letters. They are very strong letters which we want to make soft."
Making strong letters soft is cool; it's a little like turning hard cauliflower into soft, pungent tempura, or making morels deliciously creamy, which NIX's michelin-starred chef John Fraser does regularly at this downtown restaurant with creativity and excellence.
So the guys went with their gut instincts.
But there's one big negative, or dare I say, a reason to nix the name. Nix is also a well-known head lice treatment containing permethrin, dreaded by parents. Permethrin has an EPA classification as a potential carcinogen. Google the restaurant's name, to say, find its phone number or location, and you'll see an ad for Nix Lice-Killing Cream Rinse pop up above its critical details. Hmmm, lice, chemicals, and super tasty vegetables?
Even so, NIX is one of my favorite new NYC restaurants. Everyone I know is now eating more vegetables, or only vegetables, so they are all thrilled to go there. Above, the super tasty Peach & Love, a fresh peach, vodka, and anise hyssop cocktail that NIX's friendly and efficient bartenders made for me on my last visit. I could feel the Love. The vodka, too.
But what's up with Nix trending? Because now there's the new novel, "The Nix," by Nathan Hill, which has gotten great critical reviews. Publishers Weekly called it a "rich, lively take on American social conflict, real and invented, over the last half-century" and a NYT headline declared "The Nix Is the Love Child of Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace."
That's one crazy-ass metaphor.
Hill's novel takes its name from a shape-shifting Norse water spirit, a Nix, who can steal children. It's not too dissimilar from the myth of Iceland's hidden people (see posts below).
In "Romeo and Juliet," the doomed Juliet argued that it just didn't matter if her love was called Montague. The creative clientele and NYU locals packing NIX every night might agree. So might devoted readers of the Pynchon-Wallace love child. Next time I go to NIX, I think I'll bring "The Nix" and read it at the bar.