Tag Archives: Lebanese

ilili

Wedged between Flatiron and Koreatown near Madison Square,  ilili, which is billed both specifically as Lebanese and generally as Mediterranean, turns out seriously delicious tapas-sized plates.

Atmosphere
Warm, calm, softly modern and for NYC, quite spacious. Good spot for conversation without screaming.

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Food
I won’t drone on about each of the 10 dishes but the highlights for me were …

Strawberry Aleppo Margarita:  I love fruit and pepper in the same glass. Fruit from the muddled strawberry blends and is electrified by the tequila and Aleppo pepper; contrasting salt rim adds dimension.

Beef Kibbeh: Different prep than I’ve found in the middle east. This is more a dumpling; spiced beef with hints of onion, garlic and pine nuts stuffed into a casing of what tasted like finely ground kasha, fried greaselessly then served with a cooling yogurt sauce.

Lamb Meatballs: Gorgeous sumac-spiked tomato sauce infused the dense lamb spheres, which should only be picked up with the fresh baked pita.

Service
Unassuming, knowledgeable, good judges of pace.

Price
Reasonable. 10 plates, 4 drinks, $160

ilili’s heavy use of sumac and aleppo may cause some people to think Syrian origins while others may think Lebanese. Culinary distinctions are difficult to partition into countries when talking about the middle east but this does not detract from ilili’s net effect – a good dining experience.

Lunch: 28 Sept 2013

ilili | 236 5th Ave | NYC 10001

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Phoenicia

IMG_1072Several friends simultaneously recommended Phoenicia to me. Not that Phoenicia is new to Houston, it isn’t, but the location downtown is relatively new and they said it was HUGE. Typically I avoid the eastern edge of downtown, it is dense with sports arenas and the prospect of running into herds of drunk Texans pissed off because their team lost, doesn’t appeal. But a HUGE grocery specializing in middle eastern fare, I’m there.

I’ve been test driving Phoenicia downtown for a few months now and I have to say, its impressive. It is HUGE, two stories and its not just a grocery, its also a restaurant and bar and apparently live music often plays on a small stage near the back. If you want to explore before its gets busy, try a Saturday around 9a.

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As a grocery, it is full service; meat counter with a good selection of halal items, limited but fresh produce, rows of off-topic legumes, spices labeled in Arabic, stacks of fresh baked breads, cheeses galore and even a decent set of Le Cruset cookware. However, for me, the standouts are

  • Deli Counter : Hummus, baba ganoush, falafel and other mid-east salads you wont find anywhere near downtown. Definitely snag a container of basil chicken salad to stuff into your fresh baked pita!
  • Dessert Counter: Freshly made baklava, halva and other desserts I could not pronounce even if I could remember my Arabic.
  • Wine: Upstairs you find what is quite possibly the oddest selection of wine in town. Standard products from France, California, Argentina and Australia exist but notice the options from Armenia, Jordan, Lebanon and Croatia.
  • Condiments: Also upstairs, the largest selection of non-Italian olive oils I’ve seen as well as a good selection of tahini. I use loads of olive oil and tahini but other ethic stores only offer them in industrial sizes; Phoenicia has smaller sizes for those who are not feeding a family of 12.
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Phoenicia is now a staple for my weekly acquisitions and I’m thrilled that the owners, one from Armenia, the other from Lebanon have brought authentic mid-east fare into the downtown area!

Phoenicia | 1001 Austin | Houston, TX 77010