Neighborhood Eats: Ilili Lebanese Cuisine

April 2, 2010 3:29:39 PM PDT
It's a more decadent spread, a fluffier pita, and pretty plating that you'll find at Ilili. It's a more decadent spread, a fluffier pita, and pretty plating that you'll find at Ilili.

Philippe Massoud and his brother Alex grew up in their family's hotels in Lebanon, so food and hospitality are their passions.

Ilili is a manifestation of those passions.

Ilili, the name of the restaurant means "tell me" in Lebanese.

The restaurant can be found just blocks south of the Empire State building.

The lower rent was a great incentive for the brothers to open in their current location.

Inside the restaurant, you will find a cubic puzzle of cedar wood.

The food is hardly typical.

The fatay for example, is usually made with chick peas.

However, this version is made with lamb that's stuffed with garlic, rubbed with spices and browned.

It's then braised with vegetables and stock for three hours.

When it's done, the meat peels right off the bone.

The meat is then layered over eggplant and topped with pita chips, warm yogurt, and several garnishes.

"They have high quality lamb, it's a pleasant experience," said one customer.

ilili Restaurant

Lamb Fatte (Fa Teh) for two

1 Large Lamb Shank (1 LB Approximately) Check Weight

Medium Dice:
1 Cup Spanish Onion
½ Cup peeled Carrots
¼ Cup celery

Shank Spice Mix:
½ Tsp of Ground All Spice
1/8 Tsp Cinnamon
1/8 Tsp Nutmeg

Shank Braising Spices
3 Each Cloves
2 Springs of Fresh Thyme
2 Bay Leaves

3 Tsp EVOO
½ Inch Cube of Unsalted Butter
16 Oz of Lamb or Veal Stock
8 Oz of Water
12 Oz of 6 Hour Strained Yogurt
1 Tsp of Minced Garlic

¼ Cup of Pita Chips cut diamond Shape and fried or toasted in the oven.
3 ea slices ¼ inch aubergines salted for 2 hours and then fried until dark brown
¼ Tsp of Aleppo Pepper
¼ Tsp of chiffonade of Fresh Mint
1 Tb of Pine Nuts

Lamb Shank

1. Rub the shank with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle all the mixed spices on it.

2. Poke the shank in three places where the meat is deep and insert the 3 cloves of garlic in each whole.

3. Sear the shank on high heat until all sides are brown, and remove from the pan.

4. Add a bit of olive oil and add the onions, carrots and celery, and sweat until semi-translucent.

5. Add the shank, bay leaves, thyme, water and stock on top of the vegetables.

6. Cover and cook for 3.5 hours in the oven 350 degrees.

7. Remove from the oven and remove lamb meet of the bone, reserve for service


1. Layer in a bowl: fried aubergines (optional), pulled lamb shank, toasted/fried pita. Sautee the pine nuts in butter while also gently heating the yogurt (stir constantly).

2. Once pine nuts are light/mocha brown, place the yogurt on top, and garnish with the butter and pine nuts, finish with the chiffonade of mint and Aleppo pepper.