I really do enjoy middle eastern food sans the garlic. Unfortunately garlic is part of the package unless you make it at home. I like the communal aspect to the dishes, the pita bread, the dips and the spices. The garlic kills me. If garlic isn’t part of your life and then you ingest more than your share, you feel off the next day. Alas.
We went to Ilili which is the latest addition to the restaurants cropping up in the 20s around 5th Avenue. A big space, lots of wood and light. Two separate rooms. One for the bar and small couch like chairs, the other for the restaurant. Very modern yet simple.
An extensive menu and specials too. I really liked where the entrees could come either large or small so you can share. We bumped into someone we knew there, who happens to be Lebanese, who thought the food was excellent.
Some plates really stood out where others were okay but as a whole, really good. We began with hummus which is rich, creamy with lots of olive oil. The baba ghannouj was tasty but I preferred the hummus. Chankleech is a feta dish. It comes out on a small plate with three different ingredients. Feta mixed with scallions and herbs, chopped tomatoes and chopped white onions. You mix them up and serve. Really delicious and the feta packs a good punch. The fattoush is a nice simple garden salad with sliced radishes, toasted bread crumbs and a lemon vinaigrette. It was a nice balance among the heavy dips.
Next out was Lebanese crudo. Amber Jack sliced thin with a babba ghannouj and thinly sliced radishes on the side. Fresh fish and an interesting concept. We also went with the sliced octopus which had been cooked, sliced thin in a hot pepper oil and a little bit of lemon. Also interesting. Both sort of got lost among the heartier food that we had but I liked it.
Kibbeh Naya was the steak tartar which was almost like a paste served with bulghur, onion and mint. A large bottle of olive oil is delivered to the table which you are supposed to drench the steak tartare with. I am a big fan of raw food including raw meat but the tartare did not live up. Too pasty. One of my favorites was the Lahmajeen. Grilled pita bread topped with lamb, onion and tomato. Think lamb pizza with no sauce. Ramps are in and are probably hitting up all the menus around town. They had four special dishes with ramps. We went with the dumplings. Sauteed ramps served with small plump dumplings oozing with cheese. It was really good. Their version of perogies but much better. Mekanek is a dish of spicy lamb sausages, the size of your finger, pan fried and served in a small iron skillet. Very spicy, tasty and a classic dish. We also had the mixed grill. Chicken shish kebab loaded with flavorful herbs grilled and served over a flat pita bread. Juicy, well cooked. I also liked the beef kebabs, served the same way but found the chicken much more flavorful. The last thing on the mixed grill was beef kafta, similar to the lamb sausage but beef. Spicy. We only went with one side which were the Batata Harra. Deep fried, really browned, rectangular fries served with a spicy red sauce. Really good fries and addicting. They also give you a big basket of pita bread which is puffed up. When you break into the bread, steam comes out. Delicious and light.
Of course, dessert. Roasted apricot cake that oozed when you stuck your fork in. Quite good and a nice ending to the meal. We also went with the special ilili bar which is layered and served like a candy bar on a plate. Chocolate, peanuts, caramel. Interesting and super heavy. Last but certainly not least was a deep fried noodle dessert with a dollop of cream in the middle. Very middle eastern and quite good.
I would definitely go back except for the garlic, I liked the food and of course the company.