Thursday, July 21, 2011

Restaurant Week #1: ilili

Have I ever mentioned how much I love New York City?

My love for the big apple is really more than words can say. I just love exploring and having a variety of things to do, and this beloved city offers it all. One of the best events, in my foodie-minded opinion, is Restaurant Week. Three-course dinner at a swanky, shiny restaurant for just $35? Umm sign me up!

So I made a reservation with five of my friends at ilili, a Lebanese restaurant in the Flatiron district. It was a really  nice place, dimly lit with high ceilings and upbeat music, giving it modern and almost "hip" ambiance. 

The menu offered more options than typical RW places. We got to choose two starters, a main dish, and a dessert. It took us a ridiculously long amount of time to deliberate between the dozen different appetizers, and I settled on the warm eggplant and tuna belly. 

warm eggplant with tomato, tamarind molasses, scallions

tuna belly on avocado puree with barberry chutney and radish/beet

The warm eggplant was served with tomato, tamarind sauce, and scallions. It was so flavorful, with a slight tang from the tamarind molasses, and went perfectly with the puffed pita bread the waiters brought along with our appetizers. My only gripe is that some of the crispy outer pieces were overly greasy, but aside from that it was a wonderful way to start off the meal. 

While the tuna belly itself wasn't anything too special, the garnishes is what made this starter worthwhile. Each of the three pieces were laid atop an avocado puree, and sprinkled with radishes and barberry chutney. The fish was melt-in-my-mouth tender. The middle of the tuna pieces, however, had this jelly-like substance (which I'm guessing is the "belly" part), that I was not a huge fan of.

For my main dish, I ordered the duck leg & chermoula. 

dug leg & chermoula with saffron pepper relish,
fresh fig and fennel salad
Never really found out what chermoula is, but the duck was excellent, served with saffron relish, fennel, and fig. I almost expected it to be primarily composed of fat, as duck is typically a fatty entree, but was fortunately mistaken to find that there was a substantial amount of meat.

It was perfectly juicy and seasoned to perfection. The fennel salad was fresh and aromatic; the half fig on the side added a nice touch.

I already felt a food baby formed in my stomach when it was time for dessert. When the plate came though, I took one look at what was on it and knew that once I took a bite, there would be no turning back. 

ilili candy bar - chocolate kataifi crunch, chocolate ganache,
pistachio and fig caramel
This was truly decadent. The ilili candy bar is, by far, the best chocolate concoction I'd ever tasted. A creamy fudge-like piece of heaven, it had bits of crunchy flakes within and drowned in a warm chocolate ganache. The plate was garnished with pistachio and fig caramel, and I greedily scooped them up along with each bite of chocolate. Though small, this dish was very, very rich. And very, very satisfying.

What an incredible experience. Even the bathrooms were fancy - there were people who handed out towels to people upon their entrance into big individual stalls. I definitely felt much richer than the poor college student I actually am.

Ilili was a definite win for summer Restaurant Week 2011. The food, company, and atmosphere made the night one to remember. Highly recommended to all, whether it is RW or not. If my family ever comes into the city, I will definitely suggest a trip to to ilili. Partially because I'd welcome any opportunity for myself to pay another visit to this amazing Lebanese gem ;)

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