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Restaurants & Bars 6

Ilili - Eastern Mediterranean near Mad Sq Pk

Curlz | Jan 26, 201105:43 PM

Since I'm still thinking about the terrific dinner we had on Sunday and was surprised that Ilili didn't have its own thread, I'm happy to start one. I was there for a friend's birthday, and we unknowingly arrived on the first night of Restaurant Week, which was a lovely bonus. In short, I can't wait to get back here!

First, a group of 7 had drinks/mezze in the (lovely) lounge area. They have a creative list of cocktails, although I have to admit that I didn't go for anything too wild, as I knew I'd be driving home. Next time I’d try the Lebanese American, which was Bourbon, Arak (think cloudy ouzo), ginger, and mint. A few folks had the gin/St. Germain/mint/cucumber and loved it.

We shared a few mezze: Tabbouleh (for something green/bright), Warm eggplant (certainly in top 3 dishes of the night, maybe even #1)—it’s in tamarind molasses and one guy said they taste like Kettle BBQ potato chips. In the best way possible. Caramely disks of joy! Brussels Sprouts w/yogurt, fig puree, walnuts, and grapes. This sounds REALLY weird but it was fantastic. CRAAAAAAAAAZY good. Creamy. Warm. And lovely, warm pita pillows. Bill: $150ish, including tip.

Four of us stayed for dinner; we did the RW prix fixe, which imo was a phenomenal value. $35/pp for 2 mezze EACH + an entrée + dessert. Mezze and entrées were smaller than they would be a la carte, but I thought they were very generous anyway. And I (seriously) could have been done after the mezze and still would have loved it. We had:

-Veal bacon in a ‘bun’ of the lightest crepe-like but silver dollar pancake-sized pancakes EVER. 3 of these sliders, with some jalapeno (? can't remember for sure--but just a little bit of kick) on them. WOW.
-Tuna belly (cooked) w/radishes and scallions
-Shrimp w/harissa, tomatoes, and almonds x2
-Green lentils w/crispy onions (delicious, but served a tad too COLD, imo)
-Warm eggplant (yes, it was so good on round 1 that we ordered it AGAIN!)
-Lamb sausages (the 2 words other than veal bacon that stuck with me)...small links with cinnamon/nutmegish flavor. OMG.
-Octopus/calamari salad w/cucumbers, pepper puree, and pomegranate (SO bright but still smoky goodness)

That was just the mezze, people. Just the mezze.


-Skate w/white bean puree and a brunoise of winter vegs w/ (I think) wood-ear mushrooms+ salsify. The fish was pan-fried and cooked perfectly. I was honestly surprised by how good it all was!

-Date-braised beef over a cashew ‘couscous’ x2. Think Lebanese brisket over a full bed of chopped nuts and herbs + I don’t remember what else but don’t care. I had the leftovers the next day for dinner and was quite happy to have it again.

-Chicken Touk-This was the only disappointment of the night, and sadly, it was the b’day boy who ordered it. He said it was just generally boring and a bit dry, ‘tho when he got to where there was some ‘sauce,’ he was happier. Basically just a chicken shisk kabob over a crunchy ½ of a pita, with arugula.


-Beignets in orange blossom + rose water. x2. CRAZY light, but the syrup had a bit too much rose water for all of us.

-Clotted cream w/a dusting of pistachios on top in even heavier/more rosy syrup. Least favorite.

-The Ilili Candy Bar--a small chocolate crunch/ganache cake w/pistachio and fig caramel, finished w/warm choc sauce. The person who ordered it wiped his plate clean w/o offering a taste, but assured us it was delicious.

There you have it! Insane value, and one of the most interesting meals I’ve had in a very long time. Definitely high on my “going back soon” list! I think they normally have a $42pp prix fixe a few nights a week, but even a la carte, it's a great value just for mezze and drinks!

236 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10001

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