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Jan 26, 2011 05:43 PM
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Ilili - Eastern Mediterranean near Mad Sq Pk

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.

Entrées:

-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.

Desserts:

-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!

www.ililinyc.com

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Ilili
236 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10001

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  1. agreed. they do a great brunch too.

    i am looking forward to dinner there this weekend.

    3 Replies
      1. re: Curlz

        check out the brunch menu on the website.

        the veal bacon was a winner!

        1. re: Curlz

          Their brunch is incredible, definitely one of my top 5 in the city. Great deal, to boot!

      2. Funny as it may seem, the most memorable dish there was their falafel. It was outstanding

        1. I was also very surprised by just how well they do fish. Most places that aren't seafood restaurants don't handle fish quite this well. And I also really, really like that warm eggplant appetizer.

          Nice review! Thanks for reminding me I need to get back there to try the octopus.