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Restaurant Reviews

The Nexxt Best Thing

Suppose you've got a foursome from out of town here on a visit, and you're taking them on the obligatory stroll of Lincoln Road. It is getting near lunchtime, so you're at the right spot -- there are approximately 800 restaurants to choose from, or so it would seem from...
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Suppose you've got a foursome from out of town here on a visit, and you're taking them on the obligatory stroll of Lincoln Road. It is getting near lunchtime, so you're at the right spot -- there are approximately 800 restaurants to choose from, or so it would seem from all the outdoor tables and chairs blocking your path as you try maneuvering from one end of the mall to the other (it may interest you to know that many of these tables are illegal).

Bob suggests sushi, but Carol says forget it. Ted proposes Tex-Mex, but Alice says, no way José. Cuban and Chinese get voted down, as do fusion and French. A couple of places seem amenable to all, but Ted grumbles when he sees the prices posted outside. At last they approach a unanimous vote on Italian -- until Alice alleges an acute allergy to garlic and tomatoes. Enter Nexxt Café.

The indoor section of the restaurant, fronted by glass cases of glistening pastries, seats about a hundred, but your visitors will probably prefer sitting in the midst of twice that many people jamming the expanse of umbrella-shaded tables outside (which are packed as tightly together as peanut butter and jelly -- pretty much communal dining). The sheer voluminousness of Nexxt's menu should quell any more bickering. There are 17 pages and close to 200 items to choose from (plus 7 additional pages of beverage selections). There is not, I was politely informed, a Cliffs Notes version.

The menu is broken down into readily accessible sections: Appetizers. Small salads. Pizzas. Nexxt Specialties. Pasta specialties. Chicken specialties. Grilled steaks. Seafood. Burgers and sandwiches. Large salads. Eggs and omelets. Desserts. Ice cream desserts. But wait -- let's start with something to drink. Shall we have water, juice, soda, lemonade (with raspberry or strawberry), iced tea, iced coffee, iced smoothie, specialty drink, margarita, martini, beer, cocktail, white or red wine? If you don't mind, we'll skip the assortment of hot beverages.

I don't know why the waiter even bothered to come by after five minutes to see if we were ready to order -- that's like handing somebody War and Peace and asking them an hour later what they thought of the ending.

A rundown of half the 28 appetizers should illustrate the scope of selections: bruschetta, quesadilla, buffalo chicken taquitos, crispy avocado won tons, firecracker hung pao rolls, popcorn shrimp, mini-hamburgers, edamame-steamed mussels, Mediterranean platter, satay Chinese chicken wrap, crabcakes, onion rings, soup of the day.

We started with a plate of five pot stickers the size of large ravioli, pan-fried and plumped with savory chicken and sassily assisted by a spicy-sweet ginger-garlic sauce. A moderate portion of "popcorn" battered rock shrimp was likewise gratifying, the crisply fried crawfishlike crustaceans accompanied by ramekins of cocktail and tartar sauces.

If Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice happen to be members of a CNN film crew, ignore what was written in the first paragraph of this review and do not take them to Nexxt! Just think how the hungry people of the planet would react to beamed images of salads the size of haystacks, omelets resembling couch pillows, and sandwiches that are almost as large as Third World shacks. I bet if they saw the amount of leftovers thrown away at the end of each day it would really get their, well, goat.

Still Americans love the concept of big food. "The more the merrier" we are apt to say, which explains the constant crowd of people clustered by the restaurant entrance, waiting for the Nexxt table turnover. How large are the portions here? When my salad arrived, I yelled, "Waiter! There's a stretch of hilly English countryside on my plate!" I kid the salads, but I found them to be the most rewarding items on the menu -- none more so than the chunky fried chicken concoction of breaded breast tossed in ranch dressing with corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, red onions, glazed peanuts, and romaine lettuce. Other chicken-based salads are offered in the style of Cajun, Chinese, Balinese, or barbecue, and while I could take issue with a few of the combinations found within (does the fresh mozzarella cheese in "border salad" really go with spicy peanut-lime vinaigrette?), most make sense in a globally-mixed-up-new-world sort of way and are packed with pleasantly potent flavors.

Didn't care much for the Cobb on account of the chicken breast, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, hard-boiled eggs, bacon, and blue cheese being minced into tiny pieces, but if you enjoy your food bit-sized this will hit the spot -- and you'll likely relish the Venetian chopped salad as well, a finely diced blend of roasted turkey, avocado, tomato, mozzarella, hard-cooked egg, prosciutto crisps, asparagus, greens, Gorgonzola cheese, and citrus vinaigrette.

Burgers are fat and meaty, pizzas thin-crusted and not bad at all, and a "crispy buffalo chicken sandwich" with battered strips of breast bathed in very spicy buffalo sauce, melted provolone cheese, slices of avocado, and garlic mayo was as delicious as it was messy to eat.

Dinner entrées also passed muster. Double boneless charbroiled chicken breasts, smoky and succulent, arrived glazed with a "Thai barbecue" sauce that tasted just like regular barbecue sauce from a jar, though a cup of red chili dip and another of thin soy-based sauce added the advertised Asian accents. A mountain of white rice, cooked frozen peas and corn (not baby corn as the menu claims), and raw, julienned carrots were disappointing accompaniments. Same rice and improved vegetables sided a moderately portioned salmon filet glazed with teriyaki sauce. Mango salsa and a toothless but refreshing wasabi cucumber salad made apt warm-weather companions for the fish.

Cajun ribeye steak, like the cucumber salad too timidly seasoned, was cooked medium rare as requested. Routine French fries and a lump of limp, undressed watercress sided the meat; greasy onion strings lay on top. A trio of fluffily coated veal cutlets constituted a solid Wiener schnitzel, which the menu, evidently in need of some filler, tells us is "the most popular dish of Austria." Sweet-glazed carrots, very sweet braised red cabbage, and a mash of yukon gold potatoes, skins and all, came on the side with a gooseneck of bland white sauce that neither the waiter, the kitchen crew, nor the manager could identify.

Pasta dishes showcase the usual crowd-pleasing combos, be it angel hair with tomato and basil, penne with five cheeses, farfalle with spicy sausage, spaghetti with clams, or pappardelle with chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, and mushrooms. One of the more creative pastas featured two types of linguine, egg and spinach, tangled with spicy chicken sausage, broccoli, peas, and bits of pancetta in a robust roasted-garlic cream sauce.

The Nexxt waitstaff works under less-than-optimum conditions -- not only do they have to serve large numbers of people a wide variety of foods, but they also spend a good part of their shift squeezing through tables as if practicing some contortionist ballet. All things considered they do a hectically competent job of fulfilling their tasks, though that's not to say the service is good, or that you will feel pampered. No one says "hello," or "bye," or "thanks for coming." The food and drink come. The food and drink go. The check comes, gratuity included. You pay, you leave. The only noteworthy aspect to the service at all is that Nexxt's food runners possess an uncanny knack for carrying meals to the wrong table, though to their credit they generally come close enough for the proper recipients to recognize their order and lay claim.

Desserts are a choice between prissy, individually crafted tartelettes, cream puffs, eclairs, cheesecakes, and the like, or gargantuan gooey sundaes with lots of whipped cream and fudge. Then again you might want to head to the gelateria next door and indulge in a superior brand of ice cream.

Which brings us to the central questions regarding the context of Nexxt: Is the seafood here comparable to that at Pacific Time? Are the steaks of the same quality as those at Touch? Can the service compete with Jeffrey's? No, no, and no. But if your interest is not in formally dining out, but relaxing over a satisfying, relatively inexpensive meal, this is the Nexxt best thing.

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