as you can probably tell from my blog roll at the side, i'm big into food and eating. i actually have a physical list of places i want to eat at that i take out whenever my friends ask where we should go eat/drink. it probably makes me look really weird, but i like to think of it as "adorkable."
because of the above, i'm a big fan of Restaurant Week. and i don't just go to any place. i spend careful time researching options, looking at menus on-line, and narrowing down the search to usually some 20-odd candidates. then i send out the links to all my friends and let them choose the final choices.
this year, RW celebrated its 20 year anniversary. as such, the event was longer than it's usual 2 week period and instead spanned from January 16, 2012-February 10, 2012 (so 4 weeks). this made for a lot more eating options.
kicking off the food adventure was ilili, a lebanese restaurant in the flatiron district. and i have to say, there couldn't have been a better start to RW 2012. ilili offered one of the more generous RW menus i've seen: the choice of 2 mezes, an entree, and a dessert. there was also a multitude of options, which is always a good sign. i hate when a restaurant offers 2 appetizers, 3 entrees (always a chicken/beef, a fish, and a vegetarian option), and 2 desserts. it's just not as fun.
as tradition has it, i always do at least 1 RW dinner with Bubby and Kiks, and sharing the one at ilili was the best option. with the 3 of us, we could really explore the entire menu and since we always share, we could each get a little taste of everything.
the night was already starting off well when we were served a pre-meal courtesy cocktail by our waitress. something with alcohol, pomegranate, and soda. it was definitely refreshing and helped whet our appetites.
don't let the name "mezes" fool you. these appetizers are a generous portion. when our appetizers arrived, our entire table was full of food! we were mightily impressed the generous portions. for mezes we ordered the following:
Tuna Belly (avocado puree/barberry chutney/radish/beet): meh. the description of this dish is more interesting than the actual execution. it was definitely moist and good, but nothing spectacular. very standard typical fare.
Grilled Sardines (fennel salt/olive oil/lemon): if you like sardines then this is an option to try. it was very crispy on the outside with a nice crunch and a slightly salty bite. great as a mezes. although it did have bones, so it can be a little cumbersome.
Chicken Livers (pomegranate/lemon/butter): holy chicken liver! very liver-y taste but since i like it (i also like liverwurst-'nuff said), i really liked this dish. the more offal-y taste was counteracted by the sweetness of the pomegranate lemon butter. it's very heavy though, and would have been too much for me if i didn't have Bubby and Kiks to share it with.
Kebab Kerez (lamb and beef meatballs/cherry sauce/kataifi): this was one of the superstars of the night. the meatballs were perfectly moist and flavorful and the cherry sauce was surprisingly not as sweet as i would have thought, keeping the dish balanced in the "savory" category.
Arnabeet Mekle (cauliflower/red finger chili/mint/labne tahini): the other superstar of the night. this was just absolutely amazing. and perfect for dipping the pita pillows they give you.
Hummus (chickpea puree/lebanese tahini/lemon/olive oil): i was pretty overwhelmed with the food we already had on the table so i didn't really partake of it too much. after all, i had to save room for the rest of the meal, and hummus was at the bottom of my list in terms of standing room in my stomach.
after our smorgasbord of mezes, i was already starting to feel a bit full. i ordered the Roasted Lamb Leg (citrus/beets/mint/walnut/labne) while Kiks and Bubby went for the extra supplement options Abalone Mushroom (moscatel onion/pomegranate/lychee/herbs) [$5 supplement] and Poussain (crispy fried half chicken/garlic whip/lettuce cups/pickles/markook) [$7 supplement]. the lamb was as lamb should be: tender, fork-ready (no knife needed), and was well complemented by the accompanying sauce. however, the better options were Kik's and Bubby's. the abalone mushroom was extremely light and refreshing, with a tart yet soothing juice. if i remember correctly, the entree comes out cold, which is probably better for summer, but didn't detract from the lightness of the dish, which was a welcome relief from the large amount of food we'd already eaten. the chicken was a fun activity-entree in that it is best eaten with your hands, ripping apart pieces of chicken and then wrapping it with the lettuce cups and other accoutrements. the chicken was also perfectly cooked: tender and juicy meat with a crispy skin.
both Bubby and i got the remainder of our meal wrapped up in a doggy bag because we were so full. but of course, RW is a prix fixe and comes with dessert: we got everything except for the ice cream. the Labne Cheesecake (cherry/hibiscus/rose berry) is the type of cheesecake for people who don't like theirs cloyingly sweet but with only a faint, cheesecake-y aftertaste. since it was light, but still creamy and dessert-like, this was my favorite. Kik's favorite (and no surprise here) was the ilili Candy Bar (chocolate ganache/fig caramel/pistachio)which pretty much lives up to its name. it should be the go-to dessert for chocolate lovers and has a creamy texture with a bit of crunch. the most interesting dessert choice, and Bubby's favorite, was the Ashta (traditional lebanese clotted cream w/orange blossom simple syrup/strawberry). this one's a little hard to describe. it's creamy and pudding-like in texture and is definitely light and not overly sweet. while i puzzled over what word to describe its flavor, Kiks came up with the appropriate description: it tastes like hand lotion. in a good way. and it's completely true! i'm sure it's because of the smell, which is a very flowery scent (think $50/oz hand lotion vs. Bath & Body Works), and the color and texture are definitely akin to lotion. even with this odd correlation, the dessert was still really good.
as the kick-off to RW Winter 2012, ilili definitely definitely set the bar high.