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ilili - opinions?

Spending a spontaneous w/end in the city, with most meals pretty much planned: East Asian & moderately-to-cheap priced (a Sat lunch at Tang pavilion with some friendly NY hounds/bitches, dinner @Zaab Elee; roast pork & duck from Big Wong to take home Sunday "morning")

I've heard good things about ilili, and was wondering if I could get some feedback on the place & whether there are not to miss dishes. I'm a bit nervous about spending that kind of money on Middle Eastern food, as it is something I'm used to being on the cheaper side of things. Their mezze combos, for example, seem rather overpriced for what's included. Anyone have them?

I'm also not fixated on Middle Eastern -- Italian, Greek, Spanish.... really any good eats that would be at roughly $60 a pop before tip & tax would be just fine.

As usual, crashing in the Union Square area, ready & willing to eat anywhere in the 5 mile radius of the Strand bookstore.

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Ilili
236 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10001

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  1. Ilili has a nice electric vibe to it. Busy and noisy. It's a bit of a scene which may explain the prices. The food is good but the portions are small.
    There is better Middle Eastern that is more reasonable with larger portions, Al Bustan for one.

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    Al Bustan
    319 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

    Ilili
    236 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10001

    14 Replies
    1. re: Motosport

      Thanks for the input. As I said, I'm not tied to the idea of Middle Eastern. Also, E. 53rd is not quite the area I was considering? I'm more bound to head east/west/south from 12th St.

      (I know there are tons of restos right ON 12th, but not sure if there are any places one could just 'stop in', or even get a rez at this point).

      1. re: linguafood

        Have you considered Pylos, Snack or Snack Taverna, linguafood?

        If you're in the mood for Spanish, I've liked the tapas I've ordered at the Boqueria on W19th, esp their somewhat contemporary take on patatas bravas.

        Casa Mono & Bar Jamon are also located near Union Square.

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        Casa Mono
        52 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003

        Pylos
        128 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009

        Snack
        105 Thompson St, New York, NY 10012

        Snack Taverna
        63 Bedford St, New York, NY 10014

        Bar Jamon
        125 E 17th St, New York, NY 10003

        Boqueria
        53 W 19th St, New York, NY 10011

        Boqueria
        171 Spring St, New York, NY 10012

        1. re: prima

          Oooh! Pylos might be the ticket! My man just chimed claiming a hankering for Italian (we've previously liked Falai and Crispo, though would likely want to try a new place), but he's always up for Greek, as am I!

          Just had tapas recently @Tinto in Philly which was good, but.... not rocking my boat this weekend.

          Thanks, prima, for the Pylos tip, I'm gonna check it out!

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          Crispo
          240 W 14th St, New York, NY 10011

          Pylos
          128 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009

          1. re: linguafood

            Kali orexi, if you go ;-)

            BTW, here's another thread that you mind find helpful re: Greek restos in Manhattan: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/763788

            1. re: prima

              Evgaristó polí! Just snagged the last table for Friday night dinner -- a *great* table at that, according to the person on the phone '-)

              LOVE me some good Greek food. We get good stuff in Berlin, but in Central PA..... not so much, unless we make it ourselves.

              I guess Italian will be saved for the big 1-O in December. Or Ko. Or.... >sigh<

              1. re: linguafood

                How was Pylos, linguafood? Would you return?

                Where else did you end up dining? Hope it was a great weekend in the Big Apple!

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                Pylos
                128 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009

                1. re: prima

                  Hi prima. Pylos was very nice, although I'm not sure I'd return -- less of a reflection of the food than the fact that we return to very few places in the city... we're there only 3-4 times a year & there are just *so* many restaurants to try :-)

                  We had the pikilia (tarama, melitsano, tzatziki - the tarama being the best I ever had), meatballs (OK), patzaria napoleon with mint-feta-cream (very good), htapodi (lacking in lemon but otherwise delish), fried zucchini & eggplant (had better), and a dessert.

                  In the end, I regretted not trying at least one of the lamb dishes -- both the paidakia and the shank looked & smelled heavenly.

                  Other meals were at Zabb Elee (fab. I pretty much OD'd on crispy pork = deep-fried pork skin) and Tang Pavillion (Shanghainese place with some very interesting and unusal dishes).

                  AND I got 3 new (vintage) dresses at Cheap Jack's. I'd say the w/end was a success :-D

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                  Pylos
                  128 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009

                  Tang Pavilion
                  65 W 55th St, New York, NY 10019

                  Zabb Elee
                  75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                  1. re: linguafood

                    Glad that Pylos was nice. I hear ya completely on not being sure about returning when there are so many to try. Over my last few visits to NYC, I haven't visited too many restaurants twice, although I have made time for a Doughnut Plant donut (usually from Dean & Deluca or Joe the Art of Coffee ) on most of the recent trips.

                    Haven't visited Zabb Elee or Tang Pavilion (...or Cheap Jack's) yet. Hopefully on the next visit!

                    Which were your favourite dishes at Tang Pavilion?

                    1. re: prima

                      My absolute favorite dish, hands down, was the tofu sheets with edamame beans and pork. The sheets were cut like really wide pappardelle & and had the consistency of pasta. Fantastic.

                      I also liked the gourd with bamboo fungus. It was probably the most unusual dish (ingredient-wise, the flavor was pretty mellow) I have had in a long time.

                      Other faves were a pickled turnip appetizer, soup dumplings (tho I've had better at Joe's Shanghai), shrimp with water spinach, and the lion's head meatballs.

                      Another place to which I probably wouldn't return, tho. I'm partial to Sichuan food, and even tho I can get some pretty awesome stuff back home, I wouldn't mind trying some of the NYC places.

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                      Joe's Shanghai
                      9 Pell St, New York, NY 10013

                      Tang Pavilion
                      65 W 55th St, New York, NY 10019

                      1. re: linguafood

                        Next time try some Sichuan, you chowbitch, you.

                        1. re: buttertart

                          "Chowbitch" is officially my favorite word of the night. Thank you, linguafood and buttertart. Chowbitches.

                      2. re: linguafood

                        I had to comment on "friendly NY hounds/bitches" - made me laugh!

                        And yay for new dresses!

          2. re: Motosport

            Noodle Bar on Carmine and Montien Thai in the East Village are two of our favorites. Both low key and inexpensive.

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            Noodle Bar
            26 Carmine St, New York, NY 10014

          3. it can get loud at night so i recommend their brunch. great deal and delicious

            1. Ate at Ilili this past Saturday night. Had no problem getting reservation on OpenTable -- we ate early (6) as we had a show afterward to get to.

              Really liked the space, waiter was very good, asking what kinds of things we like, then recommending things that would be "safe" or "a bit of a reach, but you'll like". Described their dishes as like Tapas -- 2 of us would easily eat 5 items. We ordered a couple safe dishes and a few reaches and really enjoyed all of them.

              And then were blown away by the desserts.

              Very reasonably priced, too, for the ultimate quantity and the quality of food.

              9 Replies
              1. re: L2k

                What was particularly exciting about the desserts? I've been thinking about this place for a while.

                1. re: buttertart

                  The pear sorbet was the most delicate thing I've eaten in a long time, and their 'candy bar' was a great combination of chocolate, caramel, and fig paste (IIRC).

                2. re: L2k

                  I have to chime in an agreement with this. My wife and I think Illili is one of the most underrated restos in NYC, especially when you consider the general response is to suggest alternatives when asked for opinions on the place (see above!)

                  It's a very smart and well executed updating on Middle Eastern food. The Shankleesh, Kibbe Naya, and the Bone Marrow are home runs IMO. And I agree that the desserts are fantastic, especially the Lebanese ice cream.

                  Love this place!

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                  Ilili
                  236 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10001

                  1. re: razini

                    Agreed, they also have some odd things in the kitchen, if you ask for an unusual Lebanese dish, it just might be back there.

                    1. re: razini

                      I agree it's woefully underrated. I think serious eaters have trouble getting past ilili's big-box, Meatpacking-style name, look, feel, and sound. Overall, the atmosphere belies some serious cooking.

                      1. re: D...DF

                        We ate there late lunch today and were blown away. Starting from perfect mouhamara, through amazing brussel sprouts (a must) and fish, we were so impressed we actually went for desserts which we don't usually do and no disappointment there either. On top of that nice interior, presentation, great service and background music. A very refreshing experience after a recent Gramercy Tarvern failure, proving yet again Michelin stars are mostly useless. To compare with others, neither Tanoreen nor Wafa were anywhere close. Will surely return to try more from the menu.

                          1. re: buttertart

                            We like Illili. Good food and a nice vibe.
                            If you are looking for more authentic Lebanese dishes check out Byblos which just reopened on Madison Ave & 28??? after their fire @ the 38 St location.

                            1. re: Motosport

                              Thanks, I will. Loved the food at the old stand.

                  2. Their manti is phenomenal.