When walking down Fifth Avenue by Madison Square Park there is a plethora of amazing eats. How will you ever choose? I can help aid in this huge life decision by suggesting ilili. What? Yes ilili, a contemporary Lebanese restaurant harmonized with the best of Mediterranean cuisine. Located just above the park and an active participator in the foodie haven that is Madison Square Eats, ilili stands out among the fierce competition. They bring Lebanese food to an accessible level while still maintaining the traditions of owner Philippe Massoud's roots. This establishment is taste test approved and has been said to bring Lebanese people to swoon over the authenticity of their dishes, saying, "It's better than my grandma used to make." Now if that's not a reason to get out of your chair and head to ilili then let's talk food.
Do not walk out of this restaurant without trying the hommus, you will be happy with any one of the delightful additions or just au naturale. The pita bread that comes along side it is unlike any other, the warm, airy texture is ideal for involving in all aspects of the meal. Rip off a piece, grab with a hummus or tabbouleh, put in mouth, repeat until gone. The brussels sprouts, kibeh nayeh, and just ask for a side of the garlic whip, you will not regret it. This menu is so refined and well thought out, I would be hard-pressed to find a dish that I didn't appreciate.
I would have bet that my server was from Lebanon because she was so helpful and knowledgeable about the menu and the region in general. She was just as excited to talk about the food as I was to eat it. In my first discovery of ilili I ate there twice in one week. The modern interior is the perfect setting for a business lunch or a nice way to treat yourself during the week or their fabulous weekend brunches. The massive ceilings and large round tables make this perfect for entertaining large groups and the shared plate style adds to the fun. I love taking friends to ilili for the first time because it the perfect place to find comfort food while introducing new and exciting experiences.
Three years in the works has led up the the recent opening of ilili's sister spot, ililiBox. The most heavenly real estate in the whole area, ililiBox is in the Flatiron Public Plaza North, by Fifth Avenue at 25th street, north of the Flatiron Building. I had an absolutely wonderful lunch there this week. IliliBox seamlessly brings the quality of ilili to a casual lunch spot. Of course, I had to get the brussels sprouts (recipe below), and the duck shawarma was to die. Sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and nice dollop of garlic fig whip made this a new lunch staple. The smells luring passers by into this new fast food paradise in Madison Square Park will prove that ililiBox will keep you coming back for more.
ilili Brussels Sprouts
1 ¼ lb Brussels sprouts
½ teaspoon salt
sherry vinegar - to taste
1 cup mint yogurt
4 tablespoons fig puree
¼ cup toasted walnut, crumbled
½ cup sliced seedless green grapes
8 leaves fresh mint, chopped finely
1 cup water
1 cup fig jam
bring to boil then puree in blender.
4 cups yogurt
4 tablespoons mint, minced
1 tablespoons salt
Deep fry the Brussels sprouts or sear the cut side in a pan until well browned,
almost burnt, or you can toss with oil and roast in the oven at 500 degrees until
The Brussels sprouts should still be green with browned outer leaves when
cooked. It should not be completely browned otherwise it will be bitter and overly
laden with fry oil. The sprouts should then be salted and tossed with the sherry
The two sauces should go on next in lattices. Be sure not to over sauce. You can
always add more if you like. Garnish with walnuts, grapes and fresh mint.
You'll know you've perfected the seasoning when you get the perfect bite - a
balance between bitter, salty, sweet, and sour and the umami.
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