A request came in for a place to eat lunch during Restaurant Week for my work crew. We needed some place near Gramercy, so my last experience with Ilili instantly came to mind. Ilili still ranks as one of the very best Restaurant Week experiences I ever had. Amazing food selection that all tasted GREAT and in normal person portions. Could they repeat the awesome performance?
Beyond the food, I think the space is awesome. Boxes with old fashioned lightbulbs hanging behind panels. The ceilings are high, so I’m sure this place gets loud, but it’s lovely to look at.
They brought a basket of pita pillows to the table. I remember these being tasty last time, however, they were a bit bland and stale this time.
Their Restaurant Week menu is almost entirely changed from last time, however, it’s still a phenomenal deal. They let everyone order TWO items from the apps and then one entree and one dessert. SO many apps sounded great. I wound up going with the grape leaves (nothing special, but tasty).
I also ordered the Riz, which is Lebanese rice with toasted vermicelli and mixed nuts. It also has a lovely hint of cinnamon and herbs. This was probably the best rice I’ve ever eaten. I could eat this for days.
Other selections from the group included the lentil soup….
The “mouhamara” which is walnuts with sundried peppers and pomegranate molasses…
The Phoenician Fries with sumac, parsley and garlic whip (Yum!)…
And dandelion greens with pine nuts and caramelized onions (called Hindbeh)…
At this point in the meal, everyone was already saying how much they were enjoying their food. And the entrees were yet to come!
I was having a tough time deciding between a few options on the menu. A couple people at the table went with my alternate selection, the Lamb Dip. It was described as slow roasted leg of lamb on a house made bun with au jus and horseradish sauce. It was DELISH!
But the whole table shut down when we tried my choice, the braised lamb shank. One other coworker got it with the peppers.
Mine, obviously, was peppers-less. And this was a show stopper. It came with fried eggplant, labne, and mint. It was OHMYGODINEEDTOHAVETHISAGAINRIGHTNOW amazing. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. The lamb was perfectly gamey without being too overpowering, and it was tender in an amazing sauce. Wow. I want to flash back and eat this all over again.
Our dessert selections covered most of the dessert menu.
Two coworkers were adventurous and got the Ashta, which is traditional Lebanese clotted cream with orange blossom simple syrup and bananas. The clotted cream wasn’t bad, but I found the orange blossom syrup WAY too overpowering (like chewing on a plant) and the guys REALLY didn’t like it. It was definitely an interesting flavor, just not our speed.
One coworker got the Awaimat, which is a Lebanese beignet with orange blossom simple syrup. It was good, but I’m just not a fan of beignets unless they are from Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. Also, the orange blossom syrup in this was MUCH less overpowering, so it was much more enjoyable.
I was obviously on an ordering streak, as my Ilili Candy Bar (with chocolate kataifi crunch, pistachio and gif caramel, and chocolate ganache, which was poured over at the table) was FANTASTIC.
It was small but VERY rich. The coffee with it was an excellent pair.