I tend to avoid midtown-east restaurant establishments because I find them impersonal and fussy compared to my cozy West Village favorites. Ilili’s ambience didn’t necessarily prove me wrong, but the food was stellar. It’s pretty easy to win me over with complimentary freshly baked pita and crackers with herb marinated cheese, and the hummus, chicken skewers with crispy skin, pan seared tuna belly, fattoush salad and warm eggplant that followed were incredible.
Ilili is a great place for a corporate event – they have a few rooms on the second level that can accommodate large groups, or a post-work meal. It’s also a great place to bring parents or adult out of town visitors. Though the food is great, I wouldn’t head to this area on the weekends unless you’re looking to be with an older, more mature crowd.
Location: 236 5th Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets
It’s two for two for bad dinners in the past two days, and I’m starting to think I’ve lost my touch in selecting. Uptown to visit my sister at work, I decided to stop by this well known upscale Lebanese restaurant for some take-away. At around 4pm the place was empty – in fact, I think it was closed, but the owner was nice enough to take my disorganized order, which consisted of a hodge-podge of unfamiliar small plates and interesting sides. I then asked him to pick a few specialty dishes without meat.
the disappointing spread
I waited patiently to the tune of loud Middle Eastern music, and after about 20 minutes the man came to me with a large bag of Lebanese goodies. I couldn’t wait to try them all, and when my sister and I got back to her apartment we unleashed the spread. Unfortunately, the salad, pre-dressed, was incredibly soggy to the point that the pita chip croutons had transformed into white, slimy mush. The fatayer, pastry stuffed with spinach and walnut, was far too sweet. When I read “pastry,” I didn’t actually think it would be a sweet treat with spinach inside. The Arayess bil Jibneh, haloumi-cheese filled dumplings, were actually quite good but definitely not the type of thing that stays crispy and hot in a 30 minute subway ride home. And, despite my request for vegetarian items, somehow a lamb pie made it into the mix.
I don’t think I can fairly judge Al Bustan’s as a restaurant, but I can confidently say that you shouldn’t order takeout expecting to get the real Lebanese experience.
Location: 319 East 53rd between 1st and 2nd Ave