There are two general schools of thought when it comes to "theming" restaurants and menus. Either you decide on a defined theme, say, Korean-Mexican fusion, and you build a solid collection of dishes around that idea. Or you select your ideal clientele—casual, upscale, super-fancy, etc.—and build a menu around price points, borrowing from different cuisines. Both can work, and both can fail, but at the core of each is the restaurant's ability to execute an exceptional experience: food, service and ambiance at the appropriate price point.
Nox Kitchen & Cocktails, on the southeast corner of Skyline Drive and Campbell Avenue, has a good handle on its clientele—mostly foothills folks and visitors who may have wandered away from La Encantada—and it has put together an eclectic, tasty, mostly well-executed menu for just that crowd. By the way, Nox's official theme is "New American cuisine with Latin and Asian influences." Nox is owned by Jason Anderson of the former Umi Star farther south on Campbell.
The Nox lunch and dinner menus are quite similar, with a few slow-cooking dishes available only at dinner, and the addition of "Nox Boxes" (mini-entrées served alongside a salad or soup) for lunch. The price points are reasonable and competitive for the neighborhood, ranging from $8 to about $15 for appetizers and $13 to $25 for entrées, with a few inexpensive small-plate options as well. Portion sizes are fair but not overbearing, and on both occasions we found the service to be prompt and friendly, even during a very busy rush with some large parties.
Of the dishes that we tried, there was a lot of good (really good), just a little bad and, thankfully, no ugly. The only disappointment was the duck confit fries appetizer ($8), which was a huge pile of french fries topped with a handful of duck confit and finely grated Parmesan. The fries were quite soggy and, in a few instances, still cold and raw in the middle. The dish lacked seasoning, though the duck had a decent flavor and was melt-in-your-mouth tender, as a proper confit should be.
However, everything else was excellent, if not exceptional. The ahi tuna poke ($12) was a huge heap of fresh, cold ahi cubes just ever-so-lightly marinated in a nice soy-based sauce, topped with sliced avocado and accompanied by a heap of potato chips for scooping. The freshness and flavors were spot on. Other appetizers were excellent as well—the mussels ($12) were fat and plump, accompanied by a spicy chorizo and sweet corn-spiked broth, and the fried calamari were tender and hot, served with two opposing sauces, a slightly sweet tomato marmalade and a definitively kicky aioli.
Entrées were also delectable—the salmon ($21) was grilled to a beautiful medium-rare, served atop soft butternut chunks and nutty, toasted Brussels sprouts halves. The braised short ribs ($17) were sweet but not too sweet, falling off the bone and served with potatoes, roasted baby carrots and squash. The menu mentioned almonds, but they were undetectable, though the dish didn't suffer for it. The chicken papardelle pasta ($16) was a nice al dente, and had a great pasta-to-other ingredients ratio. It was chock full of mushrooms, chicken strips, creamy mascarpone and garlic. The burger ($13) was executed to perfection, juicy and medium-rare, topped with caramelized onions, bacon and cheddar. And this time, the fries weren't undercooked.
Nox also features a creative cocktail menu, though it tends a bit toward the sweet. Crafted cocktails range from $8 to $13, depending upon your poison of choice. The Mexican Fire Drill ($9) and Marche on Kentucky ($10) were particularly tasty. Nox also has a limited selection of wines by the glass—a scant dozen or so of both red and white, ranging from $6 to $11. A half-dozen draft beers are on tap, with another six or so available by the can or bottle, many of them brewed locally.
Though Nox doesn't have a concrete concept, that seems to be working well for the restaurant, allowing it to be flexible with offerings. Judging from the number of patrons during both of our visits, it's clearly working. The food, service and ambiance exceeded expectations
Although it may not be within everyone's price points for an impromptu evening out, it works well in the neighborhood.