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January 29, 2012

review: ilili.

ilili. allylic. a milli a milli.

ilili is the restaurant my aunt & I went to for NYC Restaurant Week Winter 2012. It's turned into a tradition, ever since the first time we went two years ago, for my aunt to take me out for my birthday dinner during Restaurant Week. Two years ago we went to Spice Kitchen, which was absolutely amazing. I loved every single thing I ate there .. and it was a good seven or eight course meal.

We went to ilili this past Friday night for dinner. Say that name out loud .. doesn't it sound like allylic? Writing it reminds me of A Milli, too.

Speaking of Lil Tune, I would recommend against looking up the meaning of rap lyrics. They might simultaneously surprise and disgust you.

I like the name of this restaurant though, especially the way it's spelled.

For those of you that don't know, Restaurant Week is a period of time (usually there's one in winter & summer) when these high class, sometimes famous restaurants in big cities (there are weeks in Philly & Boston, too) offer a prix fixe, or fixed menu for a fixed price. And the price is much cheaper than the restaurant would typically be.

We were offered a three course menu at ilili, starting with our choice of two appetizers, one entree, and one dessert.

While waiting at the bar to be seated, my aunt ordered a Fresh Meadow. I read ilili reviews beforehand that praised this drink. I tasted it, and despite disliking cucumber, I liked it! That could also be because anything is better than Skol & appletini mix .. possibly even those disgusting concoctions that always seem to be made at the dining hall. The ones with like half a sip of OJ, ketchup, salt, pepper, and sriracha. I mean, I guess they're totally comparable to a "Phoenician Lemonade" too.

The appetizers:

Chicken Livers, with pomegranate molasses, lemon, and butter 

To be honest ... I didn't like the livers. I've never had them before, but I usually like .. everything, so I thought it'd be fine. But I don't like the taste of dark meat, and they tasted very strongly of that. The flavors turned me off, too. Hopefully I got some iron from the two pieces I ate. I always have too low hemoglobin to donate blood, and it really bothers me a lot. A LOT.

Arnabeet Mekle - panfried cauliflower with red finger chili, mint,
and labne tahini

This dish was okay. Although there was no mention of lemon on the menu, the labne (thick yogurt) tahini was super lemony. I like extra lemon juice on things, and this still had too much citrus for me. That red ring around the tahini in the picture? It was spicy and soo good. I kept dipping the pita bread (freshly baked! it was wonderful) in it. Too spicy for my aunt.

Tuna Belly, served with barberry chutney, radish, and beets atop
avocado puree

This was good. The top part, where the barberry chutney was arranged, was seared. The tuna itself was a little bland and lacking in acid ... so I just ate it with the tahini from the above picture, which had too much lemon. It worked perfectly! The radish and beets in this dish (there were a good amount, you just can't see them) were also good.

Grilled Sardines, prepared with fennel salt, olive oil, and lemon

My aunt has a friend who's obsessed with sardines and introduced them to her. These sardines were HUGE, but good! I personally don't know how much I like sardines, but I think if I did, I would have loved these. They were salty, as expected. It took us a while to figure out how to remove the meat cleanly from the bones ... it sounds like we were boning some huge fish ... that came out wrong. Just look at the next picture for explanation.

Look at the bones that came out of the giant sardines!

And then the entrees!

Steamed Tile Fish, in a base of almond milk and fermented aleppo pepper,
topped with apple, salsify, and pea shoots

This was really interesting. They made some base with almond milk and again, more spicy pepper oil that was good because I like spicy. The salsify and apple matchsticks on top were really refreshing and lightened the dish. The fish was well cooked, although I didn't care much for the pea shoots.

Semolina Gnocchi, with yogurt, pines nuts, orange zest,
& orange blossom ; topped with microgreens

Yum. The gnocchi were kind of heavy, but I loved the yogurt foam on top. The toasted pine nuts were a good contrast to the softness of everything else. Pine nuts are always good. The microgreens were there for health purposes in contrast to all the butter-ried gnocchi. Because, you know, what would you do without those two teaspoons of greens?

And dessert was amazing.

Labne Cheese Cake, roseberry, hibiscus, and cherry

The crust was more crumble than actual uniform crust ... which I much preferred. That little pink ball was a round of hibiscus foam that was delicious. The teeny gelee cubs on top were the roseberry part I think, and there was some thick sauce on the other side that tasted like cherry. The cheese cake was made from labne, so essentially yogurt. It was good.

ILILI Candy Bar - chocolate kataifi crunch, ganache, pistachios

f;nsf;;gsnrgskj. The bottom, lighter brown portion is made from kataifi. It had a toffee-like, toasty flavor that went well with what I am assuming is chocolate mousse. There were also roughly chopped pistachios sprinkled on top .. kudos to the chef for using salted pistachios. There was a swipe of dark chocolate ganache down the center of the plate for presentation points.

Tasine du Berger tea + brown / white sugar cubes

We got some floral French tea to finish off the meal.

It was a great experience, and the atmosphere was pleasing, overall. The bathrooms were nice, too. They gave you real cloth napkins with which to dry your hands. I judge places partly by their bathrooms.

I want to go to more Restaurant Weeks in different places! I have a friend in Boston. Foo needs to invite me over. 

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