On our Fridays, we typically plan a post-work dinner somewhere. Throughout the week, we eat at home a very basic chicken and vegetables dinner, and we use our end of weeks to eat out. This time around, my partner had picked Ilili because it had been on their list for quite some time. I looked online and noticed that they charge $50 if you cancel a reservation, so we decided to risk doing a walk-in right at 5:30 PM. It was not a problem.
Ambiance & Service
The interior decor felt roomy, dark, and modernistic. This interior had plenty of rosewood colored walls all over the place. We were seated in a table for 4 in the middle section of the restaurant. It was roomy and not too loud. As we approached prime dinner time around 6:30 PM, we started to notice more tables were getting filled, but there was still plenty of tables opened. It looked like a lot of people were here for various celebrations or post work rituals. There appeared to be many distinct seating sections: a bar, a lower-middle area with smaller tables, a lower lighted booth area, and an upper seating area.
The service was quite fast and attentive. It was easy to catch the attention of the wait staff. When it comes to payments, they use a mobile device where you insert your card in. They calculate the tip pre-tax.
The Aurora Borealis ($17 - left) came with del amigo mezcal, deadwood rye, suze, nixta corn liqueur, Bitterman’s xocalatl mole, and cocoa nibs. This was very smooth and rather small portion size in my opinion. You can taste a little of that pepper and smoke from the mezcal, but there’s also some subtle sweetness to it as well. I did not really care for the cocoa nibs at all though they did give it some texture when you bite into it.
The Passion Project ($19 - right) came with Grainger’s deluxe vodka, passion fruit, custom maraschino blend, and citrus. This was really smooth and had a some fizz to it. It was not too sweet, and not surprisingly, vodka seems to go well with most fruits.
The Hummus ($13) came with chickpea puree, tahini, lemon, and olive oil. The hummus was very good and plentiful to share. We also received 4 pillowy pita breads that were a nice vessel to scoop the hummus.
The Lamb Shawarma ($22) came with roasted lamb & beef, oven baked tomatoes, sumac parsley onion, and a side of tahini sauce. This came with 4 triangle pieces, and it was quite good. I don’t know if it’s truly worth the price we paid for just 2 people, but if we were in a larger party, it would’ve been easy to try different things.
The Black Cod Siyadieh ($34) came with onion rice, cumin fume, crispy onions, and tahini tajen. The skin was perfectly crispy, and the cod was tasty. The rice was good too. Overall, this is a pretty solid plate as expected and desired.
The Warak Enab Cocotte ($33) came with rice stuffed grape leaves, lamb confit, and served with a side of mint yogurt. I ordered this expecting there to be more lamb chunks. It turns out that the grape leaves were warm (which was surprising to me), and it sat on a bed of ground lamb. Because it was dark, I was not sure what oil it was soaking in. The grape leaves were very good (and temperature hot - so be careful), and I thought they were great combined with the ground lamb. The only caveat here was that the ground lamb was definitely on the salty side of things where you wish you had some bread to accompany. The mint yogurt does complement well, but you definitely need some starch in this entree.
Ilili is a decent Mediterranean tapas place for (corporate) gatherings to try and share all sorts of foods together. It is a little pricey for smaller parties, but I can see ourselves coming back if we have guests in town near Flatiron. It is located fairly close to Madison Park, so if you’re in the area and desire this cuisine, don’t hesitate to check it out.
The indoor ambience is just a bit funky, the amount glass and gold feels really gaudy - like want to be royal French but with a modern aethestic. It just awkwardly felt distracting a really quality and authentic meal.
The easy solution here is to just focus on the food.
If you want a good intro to Lebanese food and the Lebanese culture of eating family-style around the table with your hands (according to our AMAZING waiter, Alex), this is the place to do it.
There’s no way I would be able to eat my lamb confit with my hands. Regardless, there is very subtle differences between Lebanese food and its neighbors. Fork is perfectly fine.
- Jan 20, 2022 - Initial revision.