1350 W Randolph St,
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 733-1314 Website
Last year, Chicago’s West Loop welcomed the Danish-inspired restaurant, Elske. Located along W Randolph Street, this was a great addition to a neighborhood with a bustling dining scene. As one of the most awaited opening in 2016, the restaurant did not disappoint. It was voted number two in Bon Appetite Best New Restaurant in 2017, a three star review from Chicago Tribune, and most recent accolade, a Michelin star. The owners are husband and wife David and Anna Posey who both worked at the Michelin starred Blackbird in Chicago. Prior to opening Elske, David held the position of chef de cuisine at Blackbird while Anna was a pastry chef at Publican.
The restaurant’s expansive space seats about fifty guests, and has large store front windows that looks out to the street. The dining room has uncovered dark wooden communal tables, walls of exposed brick, and smooth concrete for floors. At the front is the bar area located next to the open kitchen. On a good day, an outdoor space with a fire place doubles up as an additional dining space.
Elske has an a la carte menu that is inexpensive. There are no plates over $24. In addition, an affordable $85 tasting menu is quite appealing to my pocket, which is what perpetuated my visit.
The tasting menu started with Tea of lightly smoked fruits and vegetables, which was a cup of tea infused with subtle smoked vegetables and fruits flavors. This was followed by Broccoli and amaranth fritter with spicy date jams. A single crunchy bite of grainy fritter boasts a dynamic duo of both sweet and spicy. Duck liver tart with salted ramp and buckwheat was next. The decadent tart teases nice hints of brininess with a touch of bitterness.
The meal continued with an interesting dish called, Chilled zucchini and buttermilk cream with braised pistachio, blueberries and elder, which were thinly sliced chilled zucchinis blanketed in thick cream. The cream has a mixture of sour, sweet, and nuttiness that worked superbly with the zucchini’s cold element. Roasted sturgeon with fried artichoke, caviar and lovage came afterwards. The sturgeon was roasted impeccably, it was tender and moist. The lovage sauce with caviar provided the saltiness, elevating the fish, while the fried artichoke makes fine accompaniment.
Grilled Vegas strip steak with braised dandelion greens, smoked beef and roasted marrow was the main course. The steak was scrumptious, packed with flavors, and has delightful presence of smokiness. Adding richness to the dish, was the roasted bone marrow consommé.
Frozen fennel jelly with mint followed the main dish. This concoction was a tongue soothing cube of jelly mint that helps rinse the palate off savory remnants. For dessert, Roasted peach sorbet, frozen yogurt, rose and bitter almonds was served. The peach sorbet went perfectly well with the yogurt, creating a pleasant blend of cold fruitiness and sourness. The garnished of dehydrated rose petal added texture.
Needless to say, this was quite the enjoyable meal. The dishes were creative and refined using cooking techniques that are evident of experienced chefs. The flavor combination was unique but made sense as it rightfully complemented each other. Though the restaurant served “New American” cuisine with Danish influence, I find that the flavor profile leans more towards Nordic. The wine pairing was also decently priced at $45, and comprised of five glasses. It was mostly European wines with the exception of the red wine paired with the steak, which came from California.
After dining at the three Michelin starred Grace the previous night, I wanted something informal and relaxing. Elske was the right place. I had an early dinner on this particular visit and was seated at the bar. The bartender that evening was genuinely friendly and conversant. When I started my meal there were a few tables occupied but as the night progressed, the dining room and bar filled up fairly quick. Despite the sudden influx of patrons at this time, the service did not falter.
There is a growing number of restaurants opening up in the past few years that offers quality food in strip down settings. From Paris to New York, this type of dining trend has been well received by the masses. In Chicago, such restaurant came in the form of Elske where I was treated with fine dining fare without the prentious atmosphere.
Having visited a handful of Michelin starred, World’s 50 Best and other top restaurants in Asia and Europe, 2016 was great dining year. My journey began at Hong Kong where I dined at Lung King Heen, the very first three Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in the world. Needless to say, it had an extremely high quality Cantonese food. The restaurants location on the fourth floor of the Four Season hotel boasts a panoramic view of Victoria Harbor. The two Michelin-starred Amber at Landmark Mandarin Oriental offers a terrific weekend wine lunch which consists of five courses paired with four glasses of wine. This was one of the best deals out there at 928 HKD for a restaurant at this caliber. Dinner at the L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (the only of the L’Ateliers with three Michelin stars) was also quite superb.
I waited in queue for hours at Tim Ho Wan in Sham Shui Po, which at that time was the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world (until that distinction was awarded to Singapore’s Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken in the summer of last year). The dim sum was tasty and I enjoyed every single dish that I had. Frog legs and chicken congee at Tasty Congee & Wuntun Noodle Shop in the IFC was nothing short of delicious. Even better was the chicken and fish congee at the concierge recommended Sang Kee Congee Shop in Sheung Wan. 208 Ducento Otto serves up wonderful cocktails while Angel Share Whisky Bar & Restaurant and its expansive list of whisky is a must-visit for enthusiast while in Hong Kong.
That same journey through Asia led me to Tokyo, Japan. I had my very first meal in this sprawling metropolis at RyuGin, Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s flagship restaurant which has three Michelin stars and ranked number 31 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant. The modern kaiseki that it serves is a reflection of the agricultural bounty of Japan. With each dish skillfully prepared, this was one of the best meals I’ve had. In Ginza, the Omakase at the three Michelin-starred Sushi Yoshitake did not disappoint. The fish and other seafood used in every single piece of Nagiris were extremely fresh. Sushi might be star of the show at this restaurant, but the cooked dishes were equally sublime. It was highlighted by the abalone liver sauce mixed with sushi rice which was a mind-blowing dish that still resonates in my memory.
Hideki Ishikawa is Japan’s most decorated chef/restaurateur with three restaurants under his belt totaling eight Michelin stars. He also has the distinction shared by the likes of the Robuchon’s , the Keller’s and the Ducasse’s to have two restaurants at the same with the maximum rating from the Michelin guide. At his eponymous Ishikawa, I was served a wonderful contemporary style kaiseki that shows simplicity with plenty of subtle flavors. I also visited Kohaku the other three star restaurant of Chef Ishikawa, which is located in the same area and within walking distance from each other. The kitchen is under Koji Koizumi a disciple of Chef Ishikawa. There are many of similarities between them, but the two are distinctly different at the same time. Kohaku is a more modern prepared kaiseki that incorporate foreign ingredients, which are not usually use in Japanese cuisine.
Japan is surprisingly home to one of the finest French restaurant outside of France. Others can argue that it might better than its home country due to the high quality of ingredients it uses produced by Japan. Many of the top French chefs has an outpost sprinkled throughout country, but a large number of them are concentrated in Tokyo. I had a superb tasting menu at Chef Pierre Gaganaire, Two restaurant Peirre Gagnaire Au Tokyo on the 35floor of the ANA Intercontinental, which was awarded two Michelin stars. Each plate were carefully crafted, using only the finest local ingredients. As a bonus, guests enjoyed the scenic view of the whole city as the backdrop while dining. In Roppongi Hills, I dined at Chef of the Century Joel Robochon L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Along with Paris, the Tokyo branch is one of the first L’Ateliers. Having previously gone to the Hong Kong location, these two Michelin starred restaurant are a lot more casual, yet the quality of food is equally top-notched.
Inside the train station in Ginza, resides a minuscule ramen shop called Kagari Echika, which has garnered a lot of following. They served me tasty bowl of ramen, with a broth that has a certain delightful creaminess. In Shinjuku, high above the mall of the train station is Tenichi, where I had some delicate fried tempura accompanied with fresh sashimi. While at Sushi Mamire, I was served with affordable yet enjoyable pieces of sushi and rolls. Pagliaccio Due in Shiba, is an Italian restaurant that serves pleasant dishes like the Seafood Rissotto, and the spaghetti with fish. Night caps in the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, were made lively with tunes from a funky jazz show. Soon after I feasted with the hotel famous weekend brunch. Finally, visiting Japan is not complete without trying the world famous Kobe beef. At Kobe Beef Kaiseki 511, I had a magical experience without breaking the bank. The beef was as good as advertised, and every bite was heavenly like cotton candy that melts in the mouth.
From Izakaya’s, to noodle shops, to high end kaiseki, sushi (as well as low end), and to fine French restaurants, I had the greatest time dining in Tokyo. The uncompromising use of quality ingredients in this city restaurant makes Tokyo the gastronomic capital of the world. The two weeks I spent there was simply not enough.
The next stop in my search and passion for fine dining was a short trip to Basel, Switzerland. I had the opportunity to dine at the three Michelin star, Cheval Blanc. The restaurant is located in one of Europe’s oldest hotel Le Trois Rois. Bavarian chef Pete Knogl, is in charge of the kitchen and under his leadership Cheval Blanc was elevated to culinary stardom. The tasting menu has global influences and shows the precision cooking technique of Chef Knogl. Each dish was light and has a fantastic complex combination of flavors and textures.
I couldn’t end 2016 without grazing the home front for some great eats. After all, no one can beat New York City in anything, (at least to a New Yorker that is). I had very good meals at the Upper East Side’s, The NUAA. This beautifully decorated restaurant serves refined Thai fare that’s geared towards the Western palate. Last year, I saw an onslaught of new eateries opening up in the Financial District improving the neighborhood’s restaurants scene. Among them is Eataly Downtown which opened to the public last summer. Much smaller than its older siblings in the Flatiron, this mega food market brought a slew of dining options that includes another outlet of the seafood haven, Il Pesce. The restaurant offers appetizing sustainable seafood prepared in the simplest form. As the last stop of my 2016 journey, West Village Carma Asian Tapas, served an unmatchable creative Far Eastern fare in small plate format. I enjoyed the way the kitchen recreated classic Chinese dishes, as well as using other Western ingredients that aren’t usually found in Asian cooking.
Though 2016 didn’t boast much of my hometown’s variety of eateries, it was a star studded year of dining in the international level. Overall, I would say it was great and successful year of eating. I’m looking forward to an even better 2017 where I plan to focus on New York City, its outer boroughs and state side. Hopefully, I can sprinkle few international trips here and there.
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7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato
+81 3-3423-8006 Official Site
It is the uncompromising standard of the Japanese culture of using only the finest ingredients in their culinary master pieces that has produced world renowned restaurants biggest names in the culinary world. Japan is booming with multitudes of up and coming places to wine and dine. Tokyo, the capital, is not only the gastronomic epicenter of the nation, but also in the world. The city has more Michelin stars than anywhere else on this planet, and holds the record with thirteen restaurants awarded the three-star status. One particular three star restaurant that piqued my interest was RyuGin in Roppongi.
The restaurant opened in 2003 by a very talented chef, Seiji Yamamoto, who previously spent eleven years at the ultra-traditional Aoyagi in Tokyo. RyuGin received two stars in 2009 from the Tokyo’s Michelin guides inaugural edition and then the third star in 2010 which it has maintained since. Regarded among the top dining destination the restaurant is constantly included in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and in Asia’s 50 Best.
Japanese restaurants require guests to be on time when it comes to their reservation and many do not have a waiting area for those arriving early. RyuGin is different, when I arrived about ten minutes early I was escorted to a second floor waiting area, also known as their tea room. The cozy room had a live owl enclosed behind the bar. When my table was ready the hostess led me to a quiet dining room with no windows. The atmosphere was nothing short of serene. A thick black cloth covered the table and chairs with wooden backrests were surprisingly comfortable. The space is small, with only eighteen seats, and has a separate private room with its own sliding door. Like many Japanese three Michelin starred restaurants in Tokyo, this lacks the opulence interior that their western counterparts have. Only open during dinner service, RyuGin offers a keiseki menu at YEN 27000(a shorter version for YEN 21000 also available only after 9 pm).
“Beginning with a variety of Sensation. Seasonality, Aroma, Temperature, Texture and Assemblage” was the appetizer course which started the meal. It came in two parts, first was the Cod Milt, Turnip Yuzu. This bowl of Japanese delicacy had an interesting custard like texture. The milt’s richness was complemented well by the yuzu tea zest that serves as the broth. The second was a salad, Surf Clams, Assorted Vegetables and Dried Sea Cucumber. The mildness of the clams where fittingly mixed with wonderful vegetables. Dried sea cucumbers were added to give the dish some crunch.
The next course was “Longing for The Moment, Winter Story. Bathing Hotpot”Matsuba Crab and Seiko Crab. This was a flavorful hot pot with two delicious type of crab meat. Served on a separate plate was a crab claw with exposed meat, I was instructed by my server to dip it in the hot pot for the meat to absorb the crab infused broth.Extremely fresh bonito, red rock fish and squid sashimi makes up the “Sashimi: A Message from the Coast of Japan. Richness of the Sea, Tidal Current” Ocean Delicacy Displayed in 3 Plates. This seafood pleasure had an assortment of features, like the vibrant reddish meat of the bonito which has a unique taste while the red rock fish was full of beautiful fatty flavors. The squid on the other hand had a slight sweetness that went along with the rubbery textures.
That was followed by “Binchotan- A Powerful Scent of Charcoal grill” Grilled Sea Pech Seasoned with Assortment of Chilli Powder and Sprinkled Chestnut . The sea perch was grilled elegantly maintaining its delicateness. Chestnuts and other herbs not only gave the fish an additional crust, but also exuded an appealing fragrance. Giving this course a different aspect was shark fin fried tempura style with shiso leaf and uni, a terrific crispiness which had excellent flavors that included some slight herbal notes.
Then came “What’s inside once you open the lid… A sense of relaxation” “Goemon Tofu” “Sprinkled Chestnut”. The attributes were very much akin to tofu, but more refined and of greater quality. Chestnuts added texture and also provided the tofu its distinct sweetness.
The meal continued on with the “Grace of the Hometown as Ambassador of Kagawa’s Heritage” Famous Sanuki Olive Beef with small balls, a tribute to the prefecture of Kagawa, home to olives and high quality beef called sanuki that had been fed part of olives. This outstanding dish was prepared by smoking the beef in olives, giving the gorgeous meat an extra touch of smoky olive flavor. There was a side of olive salt which was interesting and quail eggs which was unexpectedly good when eaten with the beef.A rice dish towards the end followed by a soup was the typical order in a keiseki meal. It was combined in “The land of Rice plant. Pleasure of eatingoff the same trencher “New Rice”.Sea urchin Rice. National Flower of Japan “Chrysanthemum” Soup. Served on a round wooden tray was a rice bowl topped with decadent Hokkaido sea urchin and a bowl of miso soup. The soup had a clear and clean taste. For visual appeal and aesthetic, in the soup was a piece of tofu that was methodically cut in a shape of chrysanthemum, homage to Japan’s national flower.
Moving on, the pre desert course was a mouthful to read off the menu, but did not disappoint. The “Lusciousness. Coolness, Warmth, Playful Spirits, Nostalgia and Temptation” Sunshine Filtering through Foliage, Mandarin Sanshou definitely lived up to its name. On the plate was a perfectly peeled mandarin with black tea ice cream and sprinkled with sanshou. It has a nice contrast of spiciness and sour sweet the small cubes of Japanese cheese were spread throughout balancing the sweetness of the sauce made from wasanbon. This was a simple dish but with a lot of complexity. For dessert, Oryzae “National Fungus” Pride of Japan. Hot Sake and Cold Sake Sweet Flavors . An inventive method in creating a soufflé made from sake. The soufflé had an airy texture was served warm where the sake could be profoundly recognized, the same can be said about the ice cream. There was a good sweetness in both while also having a slight bitterness. Chef Yamamoto showcased the versatility of sake by using sake as the main component of a sweet dish was a stroke of genius. Finally ending the meal was a fantastic bowl of matcha tea.
Every plate of each course in this kaiseki menu is chef’s Yamamoto reflection of the agricultural richness of Japan. The flavor profiles are strictly Japanese, subtle and minimalist but prepared with modern techniques. There was a high standard of cooking and creativity shown. The quality of ingredients is second to none as they only use the finest seasonal ingredients that were sourced locally and throughout Japan. From the food preparation to kitchenware all the way to the sequences of dishes that follows the traditional kaiseki there were many intricate details that were executed with precision. Accompanying beverage pairing, consisting of eight glasses of European wines and sakes were paired brilliantly. Each drink brought a different dimension of taste at the end of every bite.
Throughout my meal I was served by an English speaking staff who also handled a large majority of foreign guests that were dining during my visit. Its Japanese counterpart was equally pleasant and tried their best to communicate at a rare time when they were the ones that brought my food. Service was focused yet at the same time approachable with a willingness to engage in quick conversation without taking too much of the guests time. On my way out I was handed a parting gift, a bottle containing water from Mount Fuji. Before reaching the exit Chef Yamamoto came out hurriedly to say his goodbye, thanking me and to see me out the door. The chef and the staff at RyuGin exemplify the humbleness of Japanese hospitality.
Many self-proclaimed amazing restaurants rely on their aesthetics for measure, but the great ones will always rely on the food they serve. Authentic gems such as New York’s Eleven Madison Park, Peru’s Central and Italy’s Osteria Francescana, all serve muti-course menus that tell tales of their roots. Chef Yamamoto’s creations are grounded by his culture, and yet his ability to embrace the modernity that surrounds him, and express this fusion into his ingredients, has garnered him many praises. His accomplishments throughout the years created a mini restaurant empire that includes the two Michelin starred Tenku RyuGin in Hong Kong and Syoun RyuGin in Taipei. His devolution still lies in Tokyo where he continues to run the kitchen. With a plethora of great places to eat in Tokyo it was very difficult to choose one, but without the journey of trying many other places, I wouldn’t have experience the magic of RyuGin. It has left an incredible impression on me, and will consider my dining experience there one of the most unique and unforgettable.
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Am Heuemarkt 2A/im Stadtpark
A-1030 Vienna, Austria
+43 713 31 68 Official Site
Austria’s capital city of Vienna is the cultural center of the nation. It is the birthplace of Viennese cuisine and the epicenter of Austrian gastronomy. There are nine venues awarded a Michelin star including Steirereck, the country’s most decorated restaurant and is considered among the very best in the world. Set along the River Wein in Stadpark, it has two Michelin stars, a score of 19/20 from Gault Millau and ranked number 15 in the San Pelligrino’s 50 Best Restaurant the Worlds list for 2015. The man responsible for its global ascension is Chef Heinz Reitbauer. He perfected his skills cooking under some of Europe’s greatest chefs like Anton Mosimann, Alain Chapel and Joel Robuchon before taking over Steirereck from his parents’ back 2005 when the restaurant was relocated to the capital.
In 2014 Steirereck was expanded adding more space that also houses another restaurant called Meierei Stadpark which faces more towards the river. The façade was given modern futuristic aspect, built with metals that reflect the lush greenery of the park. After entering the restaurant, guests are drawn to the kitchen next to the hostess desk where Chef Reitbauer directs his brigade. The swerved layout of the dining room provided a personal space with unformed round tables with ample distance from one another. Grey herringbone chairs gave a clean contrast to the white ceilings, blonde wood paneled walls and ivory mosaic tiled floorings while the large windows had the park as its back drop setting the tone for an intimate dining space.
Serving modern Austrian cuisine, Steirereck offers a six, seven course tasting menu and a la carte for both lunch and dinner. Additionally, there is a shorter five course option available for lunch only. The seven-course EUR 142 was the choice on my visit. I was served a made to order refreshing non-alcoholic aperitif prior to starting the meal. Then came a parade of small bites made from fish, sea food, vegetables, and eggs. Afterwards a cart of an assortment of freshly baked bread was rolled in-front of me.
The first course, CARROTS-Young Carrots with Fennel, Coconut & ‘Reinanke’, glazed in its own juice, ginger and lemon, yielding the carrots with some citric spiciness. “Reinanke” or white fish was just another facet to this dish that went well with all the other elements. Served two ways was the second course of CRAYFISH- Crayfish with eggplant, hemp & fennel pollen. A whole roasted crayfish cut in half was a bit messy and out of place for a fine dining considering that using both hands to crack shells in order to get to the meat but never the less the crayfish was very good. The other was with eggplant; it had very good textures with some lime undertones. Then came the third course, TENCH- Tench with Cauliflower, Spelt Sprout and Isabella Grapes. The tench was confit in brown butter which added some richness to the muddy essence of the fish.
After all the sea food courses were finished, the tasting proceeded with the next two courses consisting of land proteins. PHEASANT-Pheasant with Salted Lemon-braised Onions, Chard & Ground cherry,a confit of lean pheasant breast and legs that was soft and scrumptious. It was enriched with sauce from potato with Peperoncini, baby leeks, and salted lemon. The main course was the MILK FED VEAL-Milk-Fed Veal with Young Cabbage, Turnip & Bone Marrow, the veal was cooked to perfection, juicy, and tender. The vegetables that were braised and grilled was a great addition to a flavorful veal. There was also a hint of buttery context on the plate lurking in the background of every bite.
Instead of having the traditional cheese course I had the FRESH CHEESE–Sweetened Vanilla, Fresh Cheese, with Physalis and Cereal. The dish was prepared on my table, one at a time the server slowly put together all the components while explaining about the dish. A more savory sweet course that has different types of fresh cheese, one was frozen darkened by black sesame seed and with hint of coconut the other was with unpasteurized vanilla. It also had dried Physalis for added textures and cherry sweetness. The dessert course was ROTER MOND- Roter mond apple and preserved walnut with spiced Amaranth, this was a Russian apple that has a distinct redness. Though sweet it also has some tartness, sour cream was added to balance the fruity nature. There were traces of gingery taste and preserved walnuts were for additional crunchy textures. Then finally the sweet petites course of chocolates and small pastries rounds up the tasting.
This seven course tasting menu was with a wine pairing for additional EUR 89. The pairing consisted of all Austrian wines which I applauded as Austria makes excellent wines. Most of my meals in Europe the wine pairing usually included a French wine but the sommelier at Steirereck fittingly enough paired it with beautiful local wines that not only enhanced each dish but was also enjoyable on its own. Even the one cocktail, Limoncello , that was paired with the cheese course had a pleasing alcoholic zest to go with it.
Lasting three hours, the tasting menu allowed Chef Reitbauer to display his cooking repertoire to his guests. His attention to detail and creativity to develop a plate with a complexity that involves putting together different elements produces interesting flavor combinations. He put a lot of emphasis on vegetables as all the savory courses included different root and leafy veggies. The ingredients are quality and was sourced from the chefs own farm and other local farmers.
While Chef Reitbauer is responsible for the kitchen, the dining room is under the guidance of his wife Brigit Reitbauer. She was handling the multinational guest at the dining room from the beginning, in the middle of the meal, all the way to the end with assurance that each guest will have an excellent dining experienced. The staff was efficient, cordial and well trained. Service was flawless and is expected from a restaurant of this stature.
At Steirereck, Chef Reitbauer was able to provide a dining experience that is unique to Vienna. He is redefining Austrian cuisine and recreating classic Viennese fare while showcasing local ingredients. With this, he sets the restaurant apart from the handful of Michelin starred places in Vienna as it sits on the pinnacle of the dining echelon. Steirereck has been “THE” dining destination in the country for some time now and will continue to be in years to come.
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Lebanese cuisine is rarely mentioned in the same sentence as high-end dining in New York City. It’s mostly associated with small falafel shops and food carts. Up to this day there are still only a handful of venues, such as Al Bustan and Almayass. So in 2007, when Lebanese born chef, Phillipe Massoud opened the restaurant Ilili steps away from Madison Square Park, in the Flatirion District, it was an ambitious undertaking that was eventually followed by success and consequently was embraced by the dining public.
Visible along Fifth Avenue passerby’s can’t help but notice the bustling dining room of Ilili, occupying a huge space that can seat at least 200 diners. Guests are greeted by a spacious lounge with wood panel walls, suede benches, and long bar in back with a thick stone top. The main dining room is designed with an abundance of wood and dominated by uncovered large round tables with cherry red armless chairs. The room’s high ceilings create an echo that can get loud on busy nights but that’s what gives Ilili its fun atmosphere. Tucked in the corner of the room is chamber that has more of an intimate settings and much quieter compared to the main dining room, the tables are covered in white cloth are setup for two people.
Leading the kitchen at Ilili is Chef Massoud. He left Beirut for New York at a young age to escape the civil war and after college; his love for Lebanese cuisine led him back to Lebanon cooking with some of the country’s best chefs. He returned to the US in the late 90’s to head the kitchen at Neyla in Washington D.C. before settling in New York.
Ilili offers a la carte lunch and dinner menu to go along with their $25 lunch pre fixe special and the lounge offers small bites and drinks. Small plates or Mezzes are separated in hot and cold. For the hot mezzes I had an excellent Octopus-lamb bacon, Piquillo peppers, garbanzo beans, eggplant. Firm but tender octopus meat was flavored beautifully with the intensity of the lamb bacon. Meanwhile the grapes gave it a touch of sweetness along with the vegetables creating a balanced dish. The Riz-Lebanese rice, toasted vermicelli, mixed nuts was more of an accompaniment with the main dish and exuded wonderful aromas. Cold mezzes to dip Ilili’s freshly baked warm pita bread were the Mouhamara- walnuts, sundried peppers, pomegranate molasses and the Hommus-chickpea puree, tahini, lemon and olive oil. The Mouhamara’s has a complexity that includes some tanginess and sweetness while the hommus was slightly refined than a regular one. Presented neatly before being mix by the server the Chankleesh –feta cheese, onions, tomato and zaatar . The assortment of spices and herbs, tomato and onions had the character of a salsa and with the addition of the feta cheese giving it another dimension.
Some of the entrée that I’ve had were the Mixed Grill-chicken shish taok, beef kebab, kafta lamb chops, garlic whip trio, seasonal grilled vegetables, a carnivore delight for two. It’s a plate of nothing but perfectly grilled meats. With both beef kebab and lamb chops that are extremely moist and flavorful and the chicken and lamb sausage was terrific.Chicken Taouk Duo-chicken breast & thigh, sumac, tender juicy chicken skewered and grilled with aromatics seasonings.
Served as a whole from head to tail, Citrus Trout-citrus cells, orange tahini, arugula, smoked almonds, was grilled perfectly and placed on top of a light cream citrus sauce. The orange and grapefruit cells added another level of acidity that went well with the trout. The lone non-meat entrée was the Semolina Gnocchi-yogurt, pine nut, orange zest. It had an excellent hint of orange that paired delightfully with the sourness and thickness of the yogurt used to blanket the gnocchi. A garnish of pine nuts was added for extra texture.
Warm Date Cake with coconut sorbet, carob, chocolate was the one sweet plate that highlighted the dessert. The duo of warm and sweet with refreshing cool sorbet played on the palate in both temperature and flavors without being muddled. Pieces of carob and melted chocolate were brushed on the plate where the cake and sorbet sat on top and added some sweetness.
Chef Massoud reinterpreted classic Lebanese cuisine using non-traditional ingredients and incorporating his creative approach with a Mediterranean twist while keeping the flavor profile. Cooking contains a lot of grilling and searing, yogurt, fruits and vegetables appeared constantly on the plate. Paired wines and drinks are tailor fitted with Ilili’s food. It’s vast list was curated with wines from different parts of the globe while also focusing on local Lebanese wines and “Arak” traditional spirits in the Middle East. Its cocktail program is another strong point. The drinks are creative, one of my all-time favorites “From Beirut with Passion” a refreshing fruitiness that also can be dangerous if you don’t take note on how many you’ve had.
Visiting to dine or to have drinks Ilili’s staff shares an enthusiastic approach to each guest. The front of the house greets everyone that comes through the door with a huge smile while the dining room personnel provides service that is efficient and personable without being too patronizing. With a packed dining room that can get a bit loud, confusion and not being on the same page can occur but the staff is able to handle this without any issues.
This restaurant had polished a humble cuisine with sophistication and with a price tag to go along with it that New Yorkers are willing to pay. For the past eight years they have created a following of locals and celebrities alike. Its kitchens cooking techniques, mixologists artistic libations draw inspiration from Lebanon and the restaurants urbane atmosphere make Ilili one of the finest in the city for haute Lebanese dining places.
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