ilili: share a bunch of mezza, veggies and skip the main

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Dear Food Diary:
It’s unusual for me to be praising vegetables, but at ilili, they do it so well, it’s hard for me to contain my excitement. Yes! for veggies, go figure! If I were to go vegetarian, they would be to blame (ok maybe, that’s pushing it, but you get the idea). And I guess if I ate lamb, I would probably rave about it as well, like the way my ChubbyFriends have.

As you will notice, the night went on, it got darker and my photos got blurrier and blurrier, sorry about that. Forgot my camera and the iPhone w/o flash wasn’t great.

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The girls and I  drank Lebanese wine and shared a bunch of mezza (small dishes).


MEZZA we shared: 

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The ramps that day were divine. Oniony with a chard/grilled aroma, nice and smoky. Crunchy almonds and a splash of lemon. Yum!

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The pita chips with yogurt dip were also great to share while chit chatting. Extra crunchy and complimentary.

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Their hot pita was warm and puffy. Airy pocket inside, ready to be dipped and stuffed in anything. It wasn’t too doughy. Just the right amount of chew.

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BRUSSEL SPROUTS with grapes, fig jam, walnuts, mint yogurt
As I read through the menu, I was a bit confused, how would this work?! but Ohhh!!! Before this I would only have a bite of brussel sprout with bacon, that combo was exclusive. But holy! What on earth was happening in this bite of heavenly delight!? Sweet, salty, crunchy and creamy. It just works so well together. The brussel sprouts are roasted, adding extra flavor. Instead of having a yogurt each afternoon, I would gladly replace it with a bowl of this.

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BATATA HARRA cubed potatoes, kouzbara, aleppo pepper
The potatoes are perfectly fried, crunchy exterior, oozing a warm smooth interior. The flavors of kouzbara aka coriander and the mild fruitiness of the aleppo pepper give it that extra umph. Cumin undertones. Seasoned so well, asking for ketchup would be an insult.

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GLAZED CARROT
I know what you’re thinking, what the hell! But I’m telling you, it is that good! We passed the side dish around the table, “ohhh” “hmmm” “ahhh” all around. And then the final question “What on earth did they do to make it so good”. It is the thick molasses evenly coated throughout? or that precise cooking method, the right balance between snap and mush?. Whatever it is, I think these might have been one of the best cooked carrots I’ve ever had (I don’t even like cooked carrots!).

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GRILLED SARDINES fennel salt, olive oil, lemon
I’ve been going through this faze of salty fish for a while now. These were ok. One too many bones, but that oily saltiness with that bright citrus works every time.

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GRILLED OCTOPUS cauliflower bi laban, pine nuts, micro fennel, chaiman
Meaty, light and refreshing. There were so many flavors and textures here. No 2 bite were alike. I loved the pine nuts and cauliflower together.

 

MAIN PLATES:

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BEEF KEBAB with bone marrow and shishito peppers
Was ok, good grilled flavor. But the bone marrow was lost and well, it was just ok. Nothing spectacular.

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CITRUS TROUT citrus cells, orange tahini, arugula, smoked almonds
This was also aight. Just down the block at Eataly, they make a much better whole fish. The skin here wasn’t crisp enough, plus the liquid from the citrus didn’t help.

 

DESSERT:

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BAKLAVA
I’m always afraid they are too sweet, but these were great. Puffy pastry, lots of nuts, dripping honey. Very traditional with just the write amount of sweetness.

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PISTACHIO FINANCIER banana ice cream, tahini fluff
Nice flavors. Nutty and creamy. Good but not very memorable.

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WARM DATE CAKE coconut sorbet, carob, chocolate
This one is not to be missed. If you’re only having one dessert, this is it. Sorry the crappy photo doesn’t do it justice. It’s oozing warm, fruity and sweet. Think chocolate lava cake, but with dates. Again, not too sweet and a nice chew, slightly like that of good bread putting. A bit of chocolate and that mild sweetness from carob. Very very enjoyable.

Overall the meal was pretty good and like I said, sharing mezza and wine with friends is the way to go here. The space is huge, great for large groups. Everyone tells me to try their lamb, they swear the gaminess is kept to a minimal with all the spices. I’ll have to try it next time. They could be right, in Turkey I had no problem eating lamb dishes that were heavily spices (in a good way) and grilled on open fire.

Plus, if you’re in the mood for more drinks and a million dollar view after dinner, 230 Fifth Rooftop is just a few steps away.

P.S. Chubby’s Rating: chubby rating 4
(I was debating between a 3.5-4 Chubby, but the brussel sprout and date cake sorta won me over)

www.ililinyc.com 
236 5th Ave
212.683.2929 

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