For NYC Restaurant Week 2012, I made a vow to explore cuisines I have never tried before, including Russian food from Brasserie Pushkin. For my second stop, I decided to try Ilili, "a contemporary Lebanese restaurant offering inspired Mediterranean cuisine," in Flatiron.
When my friend and I arrived at 6, the restaurant was already packed with foodies taking advantage of the Restaurant Week. Shortly after being seated, the waiter brought us amuse-bouche of seasoned pita chips and yogurt & olive oil based dip with olives.
The pita chips were crispy and dusted with savory seasoning that I really enjoyed. The yogurt dip was a bit too thick, and the olive oil made it even richer.
Lebanese cuisine is pretty heavy on carb. The waiter brought three pieces of warm, freshly-baked pita bread. I wonder what made them puff like this...The inside of the bread was soft and chewy.
The restaurant week at Ilili offered two appetizers from the list. For my first appetizer, I chose Kibbe Naye, or steak tartare with onion, burghul, and mint on a shallow pool of olive oil.
The presentation of the dish was satisfactory. I personally love the scent of mint, so I thought the leaves on top was a nice touch to the steak tartare. When people think of steak tartare, most people think it is just raw meat. However, this dish had bites of grounded ginger, garlic, cloves, scallions, and other vegetables mixed into the meat itself. I couldn't really taste the burghul, but the pickled onions on top were quite refreshing.
My second appetizer was Chicken Livers with pomogranate molasses, lemon, and sumac. The dish had a huge portion! And to think that this was only the appetizer...The chicken livers were served in a hot iron skillet.
Livers have a distinct bitter aftertaste. The meat is also much denser and the texture is slightly grainy. The sauce used for the dish was similar to soy sauce except with the same stickiness of teriyaki sauce. It made for a great dipping sauce for the pita bread.
This is a Falafel dish with tahini sauce. Falafels that I have seen in the past are usually round balls of fried garbanzo beans, but these were cube shaped and made with fava beans. They were garnished with shreds of bell peppers and chives.
The waiter was kind enough to pace our meals so that our stomachs are somewhat digested by the time the next course came to the table. After we finished our grand appetizers, the waiter brought our entrees. He poured fermented aleppo nage over char-grilled Black Bass. FYI, a nage is a flavored liquid used for poaching delicate foods. The broth is usually flavored with white wine, vegetables, and herbs, and then reduced and thickened with cream or butter.
My friend said the dish was very light. Because I am lactose-intolerant and the sauce had butter/cream, my stomach probably would not have been happy had I consumed this dish.
Instead, I got the Lamb Chops with salsa verde and roasted tomatoes. Although the Restaurant Week prix fixe menus are $35, this entree required a $7 supplement. The plate was presented with two racks of lamb with fresh greens on top.
I must have been protein-deprived. Now that I look back, I have ordered all dishes super heavy in protein! From steak to chicken to lamb...well, I certainly am glowing in front of my lamb chops.
Unfortunately, right when I placed the knife over my lamb chops, I realized that the meat had been cooked medium! I am a rare/raw meat eater (see steak tartare above), so without even taking a bite, I asked the waiter if I could get it cooked rare instead.
The second plate of lamb chops cooked much faster. Sadly, the lamb chops were also smaller and much fattier. I had to navigate through so much fat that I am pretty sure the actual consumption of lamb meat was less than 4 oz. The lamb chops were also served over a bed of olive oil, which I thought was completely unnecessary. It is already loaded with fat, so there is no need to add more! Overall, the meat was just too heavy for my liking.
Ilili only offered one dessert: Chocolate Cake with vanilla ice cream and chocolate drizzle. It was by far the ugliest dessert I have ever seen at an upscale restaurant. On a round plate was a scoop of plain vanilla ice cream and a round chocolate cake. The server brought out a cauldron of chocolate sauce and poured it over the dessert. It just seemed too messy.
Since I can't have dairy, I got a trio of raspberry sorbet. It was a refreshing way to wrap up my otherwise extremely heavy dinner. The flavors of raspberry were very strong. Overall, my experience at Ilili peaked too high to begin with that it only had a downward path to go.