236 Fifth Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets
around $125 for 4, with drinks, with tip
After thirteen days eating fresh seafood and vegetables in Dominica for both lunch and dinner, all I wanted to eat upon returning to New York was a bloody steak. It was godsend that Miriam was still in the city the morning my stomach started asking for red meat and I was glad to meet up with her at ilili before she had to go back to London.
ilili, a spacious restaurant specializing in Lebanese, Turkish and Mediterranean dishes, looks like a hotel restaurant and is apparently a party scene at night. When we stopped by for lunch though, the place was quite serene with only the soft buzz of quiet business meetings. It was, of course, the Monday after the blizzard, but I thought New Yorkers will be back on their feet eating after the New Year holiday. I was okay that most people stayed in.
The restaurant’s $20 lunch prix fixe is one of the best deals in the city and includes a main dish and a side. I was set to order their lamb burger until our waiter announced that the day’s special was lamb porterhouse with stuffed eggplants. It sounded too heavy for lunch, but it was hard to say no after Miriam promised that I may have a bite of her burger.
Their grape leaves were just what I needed to start–that Mediterranean taste was the only thing missing in the Caribbean and it was like something new in my mouth. The shared plate of warm pita bread and hummus sealed the deal for me. Miriam’s lamb burger was perfectly cooked and made light by the spicy arugula leaves. The fries were to die for, thick slivers but light and crunchy. The porterhouse was perfectly seasoned with a pistachio crumb on top. The stuffed eggplant was pillowy and bursted with harissa after each bite. They reminded me so much of the vegetables I ate in Tunisia and brought back so many good travel memories.
I guessed that the pistachio ice cream included either lavender or rose water since it gave me that soapy aftertaste, but otherwise creamy and tasty. It may have not been as creamy as their clotted cream in simple syrup with bananas, but what more can you ask for when all you originally wanted was red meat? I can’t wait to return for dinner.
Tunisia road trip travel journal