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« Dinner at Periyali, 1/31/08 | Main | CLOSED: Dinner at Chinatown Brasserie, 1/28/08 »

Dinner at ilili, 1/30/08

After my nearly-perfect Restaurant Week meal at Chinatown Brasserie, I thought I was on a roll; however, I was two days away from finding out that my luck had stopped right then and there.

On Wednesday, a group of girls and I were off to take advantage of yet another Restaurant Week dinner. I chose ilili
because of my passion for Lebanese/Mediterranean food, its proximity to my apartment, and the fact that this new spot had just been reviewed by Frank Bruni of the New York Times.
In true Lunch Belle fashion, I arrived at the restaurant with my friend, Melissa, fifteen minutes early. From ilili's
signage on the outside of the building, one could easily pass it by and not even realize that a restaurant is housed within.

Once inside, Melissa and I advised the hostess of our arrival and made a bee line for the bar. After receiving my glass of Riesling, I took a moment to study the restaurant's vibe and atmosphere. ilili
has two long, rectangular rooms with what felt enveloped under a 50 foot ceiling. The warm gold tones and walnut colored wood were offset by dim candle light that playfully twinkled in the various oversized mirrors. My favorite interior touch was the caramel hardwood flooring outlined with jet black granite.

Once Emily, Lauren and Nora arrived, our party was complete and we were led to the dining room and seated, unfortunately next to the busboy station. We were each handed both regular and Restaurant Week dinner menus and served a lovely basket full of crispy golden pita chips, whole-fat yogurt drizzled with olive oil, and a small bowl of kalamata olives. While perusing my menu, I felt a gust of cold air and got an unpleasant whiff of cigarette smoke. I looked around the table to see if anyone else appeared annoyed. Not only were we seated next to the busboy station, but this was also the exit that led to an outdoor employee "smoke break" area. Knowing full well that I'd be sporadically slapped in the face by gusts of cold air, my jacket remained on my body throughout the entire meal.

The entire table each decided on one of the Restaurant Week menu variations and we promptly placed our orders. For my two appetizers, I chose the hamachi and the mussels and went with the chicken kebab for my entree. For dessert, which I later decided to forego, I ordered the trio of fresh sorbets.

One-hour later, our first appetizers arrived. The sliced hamachi was served alongside a scoop of wasabi mixed with smoked tahini and finished with sprinkled pomegranate kernels. The fish was buttery, firm and creamy but I felt that the combination of the wasabi and smoked tahini was too overpowering for the delicate hamachi.

Ten minutes later, our next appetizer arrived. My unshelled mussels were served in a small rectangular metal skillet and swam in a creamy bath of saffron and tomato. This dish was truly outstanding and better than any mussels I've eaten at Belgian restaurants claiming to serve the best preparations. I was almost tempted to order another!

Before our second appetizer plates could be cleared away, our entrees arrived. After hustling to remove the old and replace the new plates, I was happy to finally see my chicken kebab. Two wooden skewers held a generous amount of blackened poultry that was tender, juicy and flavorful. A couple of the girls had placed second drink orders when we received our first appetizer almost thirty minutes prior, and were upset that their glasses remained empty. When the waitress finally returned with the beverages, she explained that the restaurant had run out of chardonnay, and therefore brought Melissa a pinot grigio. Also, the cabernet sauvignon that Nora had asked for tasted a bit too much like pinot noir. By this point, our party had had enough of the shoddy service and asked to speak with the manager. We explained that we waited one-hour for our appetizers and were served incorrect beverages. The manager deeply apologized on behalf of her employee and told us that she'd take the items off of our bill.

The desserts looked lovely, but we weren't in the best of moods to fully enjoy them. In conclusion, I thought that ilili's food was good but maybe a tad over-confident. Sometimes it's best not to mess with tried and true recipes that have stood the test of time. Since the restaurant is relatively new, I have more compassion for the lackluster service and timing, both being some of the most horrific I've ever experienced. However, after we informed the manager of these issues, she took quite a large amount of money off of our bill in hopes that we'd give ilili a second shot. Will I be back? Perhaps.

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