First Bite at Nix’s Mate
You’d think that the new restaurant at the Hilton in the Financial District would have enough obstacles without a name that tumbles clumsily off the tongue. There’s its location on a dead leg of Broad Street, for one thing. The fact that it’s in a comfortable yet unglamorous hotel, for another. Or the fact that its predecessor, Caliterra, existed for more than a decade without anyone (other than hotel guests) noticing.
But no, Nix’s Mate (a reference to one of the Harbor Islands) is the eatery’s moniker, and the experience of dining there is just as much of a head-scratcher. There’s incredible potential: Executive chef David Nevins has serious Boston cred — he opened Neptune Oyster and worked at Olives before that. And the space is gorgeous, with tufted gray banquettes, raw wood, and a shell chandelier that jangles quietly above the private dining room. A few dishes showed serious polish, such as the “lobster caramel” appetizer ($17), a few flash-fried hunks of tail and claw meat over a Vermont cheddar cream with wilted spring onions and smoky chilies. The seared loup de mer ($22, pictured above) was a wonderfully prepared fillet with crisp skin. Despite too-tough meatballs and a meager two clams, the polpette vongole starter ($11) was saved by a voluptuous red sauce featuring healthy shards of garlic; it tasted of shellfish and the sea. (Too bad there was no bread with which to sop it up.)
Then there was the not so good. Knowing Nevins’s raw-bar background, we ordered the Wellfleet oysters. “We’re out of oysters,” our server sheepishly reported. A Boston Bibb salad with blackberries and cornbread croutons ($10), meanwhile, was absurdly heavy, with gobs of berry mush and a far-too-thick caramelized-onion dressing. Otherwise-great spicy fried rock shrimp and slices of pepperoni and salami proved too greasy when combined atop the “Harbor Island” flatbread ($14).
Courses and cocktails were slow to arrive, even when the dining room was empty, but there were apologies and smiles aplenty. Will friendly staffers and a few star dishes be enough to carry Nix’s Mate? Probably. As Caliterra proved, you don’t have to stand out to stay afloat.
89 Broad St., Boston, 617-348-1234, nixsmate.com.