When you see the large wooden doors from the congested Village Gate parking lot, Nox already has a distinct feel that is markedly different from other cocktail bars in the Rochester area. As a self-proclaimed "nerd pub," the names of the drinks, food, and even the name of the business come from different literary and film references. I found that to be charming (cue the Harry Potter references) and it doesn't stop with the names either. The seating and tables are eclectic and the bar has what I would consider the most comfortable stools I've ever found — seriously, it's hard to go back to the normal, more rigid versions once you've spent time in Nox's chairs in front of the wall of bottles.
It is important to say that although Nox does have a food menu, it is a cocktail bar first and foremost. The drink menu currently has 17 options to choose from, but if one of your favorites isn't there anymore, there are at least 55 on the "secret" menu that can be available if you cast the right spell. During my visits, I sampled four different cocktails, all based on different liquors. I ended up making my first visit during the launch event of Soltado Tequila — a Serrano and cinnamon infused aged liquor — so I went with one of the specials that focused on it.
The Russian's Cat ($10) was a twist on the Margarita with tandem blood orange and lime liqueurs, lemon bitters, and smoked salt that played the heat of the pepper against the sweetness nicely. Damn tasty and a smart idea although it could have used a touch of acidity. The Yellow Wallpaper ($12) ran over my palate in waves, transitioning from the citrusy lemon and the aromatics from the gin to the floral and piney finish of the lavender. A smooth, easy drink considering how much alcohol was in it.
Speaking of higher test drinks, the Cylon #7 ($11), featuring 100-proof Rittenhouse rye, Cynar aperitif, blood orange purée, and Q tonic water, was tasty as well: each of the ingredients served to round the others out and the dry tonic finish was notably pleasant. Although the Hufflepuff ($10) was a hard worker and loyal, the peach liqueur and blueberries dominated the palate and didn't offer much balance. A stronger influence from ginger or lemon would have been beneficial.
Hanging out at the bar is an engaging experience and is highly recommend if you're less familiar with craft cocktails. I spent some time talking with owner James Black about the flavor profiles of more obscure ingredients; he was quite knowledgeable and informative. I know drinks with five or six contributors can be confusing, but I've found that breaking down each part helps to understand how each item helps build a complete story.
The cromulent food portion of the menu plays in the comfort food sandbox which to me is a smart choice for the relaxed vibe of the place. Although almost all the dishes made sense conceptually, the consistency of execution was the biggest issue that we had. On the positive side of things, the Criminally Addictive Chickpeas ($4) embiggened my spirit with a lightly spicy, crispy exterior and just right amount of salt to keep you coming back bite after bite. Law and Order: KFC ($9) was a (DUN DUN) rock solid fried chicken sandwich on an interesting, flattened biscuit. The chicken breast remained moist beneath the crunchy, craggy breading and the Thousand Island dressing brought both creaminess and needed acidity. I loved the flatbread thin biscuits that had all the buttery goodness of a biscuit, but didn't fall apart as easily.
A grilled Caesar salad, the Et Tu, Bruté? ($7), balanced the smokiness from the sear of the lettuce and the bacon against the richness of the dressing, cheese, and croutons. It was one of the better twists on the classic I've had recently. The Approximately Heaven ($8) fell a bit short of that high praise, but was a safe choice as a BLT dressed up with avocado and an added egg.
Despite Admiral Ackbar's warning, I tried It's a Trap ($7), a smoked gouda sauce and bacon over fries creation. I enjoyed the light smoke and cheesiness of the sauce, but it was mostly left solidified on top of the textbook fries which just weren't acceptable. Calvin's Mac ($9) had plenty of imagination with the seared Zweigle's Red Hot pieces and Red Hot chips, but the seized up cheddar sauce lacked salt and any notable flavor.
For dessert, the Moons of Kronos ($4) and the Lembas Balls ($4) were wildly different desserts, but equally tasty. If you want heavier and sweeter, go for the chocolate covered peanut butter balls, or you could go for the salt and honey covered fried pretzel balls for a relatively lighter finish to your meal.
Walking away from my visits, I felt confident about the drinks and the environment, and optimistic about the comfort food concept. A little more attention to detail will help to improve the execution issues with the food that otherwise I have no problem recommending.
You can read more from Chris Lindstrom or listen to his podcast on his food blog, Foodabouttown.com. Share any dining tips with him on Twitter and Instagram @stromie.