Going for a work team dinner tomorrow night with 5 other people & the boss is paying (hooray!).
I know the brussels sprouts are supposed to be great. What else?
I'm adventurous but not everybody else may be. At least one person is a rabid carnivore. And one person has a shellfish allergy but I don't think it'll be an issue.
Had a great time last night. Nice energy & fun, trendy room. It looks like it would be a crappy big box restaurant but I did not find that to be the case. Definitely a bit loud but we were also a bit loud so that was fine. There seemed to be lots of big groups sharing plates last night -- business team dinners like us, probably. Median age looked to be 30s/40s, so perhaps influenced by Credit Suisse being nearby.
Excellent service: folding napkins when someone used the restroom, bringing fresh pita over multiple times, making sure we had clean share plates and silverware, good about refilling water glasses. Cocktails were decent, nothing to write home about and some were quite a bit too sweet. Size of the small plates varied greatly, which was a little odd. Some dishes ran a bit too sweet, which was unexpected to me. But I did really enjoy our meal!
Hummus with lamb - tasty but pretty standard and definitely on the small side as warned
Labne with pita chips amuse - also tasty, loved the spices & olives
Brussels sprouts with grapes, fig jam, yogurt - good but a little gloppy after a while, could have used additional textural contrast, the grapes were a nice touch but overall the dish was a bit sweet, so I tired of it quickly
Fattoush - too acidic, this was only OK, but we felt we needed an extra vegetable dish
Batata harra -- cubed and fried potatoes with spices - simple but excellent, generous portion, kind of like a nicer version of home fries
Phoenician fries - loved the spices and garlic whip dipping sauce, but afterwards realized two potato dishes was little much, as this was also a generous portion
Arnabeet mekle -- cauliflower with labne, chili, mint - excellent, didn't realize this was going to be battered and deep fried, but it was really good, a kind of small-ish portion however
Grilled Spanish octopus with lamb belly pastrami and grapefruit -- excellent as well, very flavorful and tender, but the lamb belly pastrami was almost too much. Very fatty. Although by this point I was getting extremely full.
Duck shawarma - the duck didn't seem that flavorful but everything else in the cone was pretty good, not my favorite of the night though others at the table loved it. We did 4 small cones as advised.
Lahmajeen - I actually thought this was awesome, very flavorful, nice contrast between the lamb and crispy pita, and a little spicy.
Kebab Kerez - Also really loved these meatballs served with thin, crispy shredded phyllo on top, and cherries
Rkaykat Bil Jibneh - crispy cheese rolls with mint, I loved the combination of these two ingredients. Very rich but small.
Would definitely eat a lot of these dishes again: fries, meatballs, cauliflower, cheese rolls, lahmajeen, octopus.
For dessert, the server really sold us on the sticky toffee pita bread, which was more like a cinnamon bun or sticky bun in texture. Cute that they have a piece of chocolate with their logo on top and pour on the caramel sauce tableside, but the dish itself didn't seem special. However! The candy bar was amazing! The white chocolate sesame sauce was very interesting, and contrasted nicely with the candy bar itself, as did the pistachio crumble and mint Lebanese ice cream. I've also come to the conclusion that I don't eat enough pistachio in my regular life.
The Beef Kibbeh stands out for me the most. It's excellent and I can't think of a better version elsewhere in NY.
All the flavors were very authentic, and faithful to the dishes even if they're fancied up, to the point of ridiculousness. I don't recall square falafel though...I'm not sure when those started up...maybe I just blocked it out...either way, I remember liking them.
Duck Schwarma was pretty laughable, but tasty at least.
Brussels Sprouts.... they're not crispy....not really restaurant quality, but I guess a lot of people aren't used to cooking with those flavors together. Portion was large, with a full bowl piled high but we got bored of these quickly.
Kathryn, I've been to Illili several times and we have ordered most everything and it's all been excellent. I know that was not much help, sorry.
Be aware that the portions are small especially for the appetizers.
Also, Illili is fairly noisy but trendy.
We actually prefer Byblos which is close by. Much quieter and the food is more authentic Syrian/Lebanese.
The kibbeh nayeh and shanklish are among my favorite starters, but portioned small. I would recommend rounding it out with an order of the mekanek, chicken livers or duck shawarma. The mekanek would be a treat for the carnivore; I don't see them often on menus in New York whether in Manhattan or in the Middle Eastern neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
For mains, everyone goes for kebab, but don't overlook the fish. Lamb chops are also a nice balance of flavors.
Highly recommend the brussel sprouts but you've already read about them. They have a nice smokiness, slight bitterness and saltiness, sweetness of fig jam and grapes, crunch of walnuts and sourness from the yogurt and herbaceous freshness of mint.
The duck shawarma is excellent. Make sure you specify because they make large and small sizes. The smaller size is better for sharing but I prefer the larger size. Pairs really nicely with the garlic whip.
Get the garlic whip, I like to mix it with the baba ganoush.
The manti are excellent and not to be missed.
The octopus is pretty good, really enjoy the lamb belly.
The falafel are ok, but a little dry for me. The square shape and crunch appeals to people though and they're very tasty wrapped in pita with some of their labne or garlic whip.
I haven't had anything at Ilili that's bad but I've liked the starters better than the actual mains. The chicken is prepared well, moist and flavorful. The lamb chops are prepared medium rare and well executed. The fishes have been moist and delicious. After multiple meals, not a single dish has been bad.
Hommus is good but the portion is tiny. You will need to order several for a large group. I really like the falafel. Unusual shape in they come as squares. Get the Phoenician Fries. The octopus is ok, but I actually like the lamb pastrami that comes with it better. They should serve that on its own. Kibbeh and Lahmajeen are nothing exciting but they would be safe for picky eaters. Duck shawarma is really good. Meat dishes I found to be fine but nothing I crave. If the boss is paying and you have a carnivore, get the mixed grill platter as there is a bit of everything. I thought the brussel sprouts were a little too over the top. The just seemed gloppy to me with all the stuff they pile on.