Lilia serves phenomenal, award-winning food. Missy Robbins, formerly of Chicago’s Spiaggia and New York’s A Voce (which sadly declined after Robbins left in 2013 and closed its final location in 2017 after a 10+ year run), won a James Beard for Best Chef in NYC for Lilia in 2018. It’s the kind of restaurant for which you stay up until midnight and click furiously on the Resy platform thirty days before you want to dine there, if you want a shot at a decent reservation time on a weekend night. I’ve done it before, I did it for Lilia, and I’ll do it again; it’s all part of the game if you don’t have elite restaurant connections and still want prime time reservations at the best in the city, and that’s OK. Frankly, I don’t mind going out of my way for these reservations, I just wish the staff were a little friendlier once we were there.
Restaurants are machines, with many moving parts, and sometimes there’s nothing a restaurant can do about parties showing up late, or guests wanting to savor coffee at the end of a meal and holding up subsequent seatings. While I generally don’t love the idea of waiting past my reservation time, I know that it happens, and all I ask for is a little courtesy when it does. I didn’t appreciate being hurriedly shooed to the coffee shop waiting room in the back without an estimate as to how long it would be before they came to seat us. You can order snacks and drinks while there, but we weren’t sure if the wait might be only a couple minutes, in which case it would have been silly to order. It ended up being half an hour before I felt the need to ask the hostess about our table and we were finally seated, but I was both surprised and aggravated she didn’t so much as acknowledge the wait, much less utter a simple apology.
Once seated, our server was reasonably attentive and polite (as was the sommelier), and the food was, as expected, superb. We strategically wanted to try as many of the famed pastas as we could, so we went light with the appetizers and avoided the entrees. My suggestion is to skip the Cacio e Pepe Fritelle, which were tasty but nothing special, and get an extra order of the delicious Grilled Clams. Since there were only two of us, three pasta dishes were as many as we felt we could order without judging ourselves, and we went with the Rigatoni Diavola, Mafaldini with Pink Peppercorn, and Sheeps Milk Cheese Filled Agnolotti, which I expected to favor in that order. Interestingly, the agnolotti was the star for us, with the mafaldini a close second and the rigatoni earning bronze. Two tips: 1) the portions are not small, and we needed a doggy bag, but still did not regret ordering as many different pastas as we could and were very happy with our awesome leftovers the next day, and 2) the widely acclaimed mafaldini won’t disappoint, but is very rich, and, in my opinion, best when shared (a large bowl of peppercorns and Parmesan is a touch overwhelming). We finished the meal with Lilia’s solid rendition of olive oil cake, which may be my second favorite in NYC (nothing has yet come close to L’Artusi‘s olive oil cake with raisin marmellata and crème fraîche – speaking of, I need to publish a L’Artusi review ASAP).
All in all, Lilia was delicious, but I’d be lying if I said the beginning of our night didn’t taint our experience a bit. The food was great, and Lilia is known to have much more than pasta to offer, so I’m sure we will visit at least once more before offering a final verdict. However, we live on the west side of Manhattan, and if I’m going to play the Resy game a month in advance and head out to Brooklyn for a meal, I’d prefer to be treated with just a bit more grace, especially when L’Artusi and quite a few other Italian standouts are right in my backyard.
- Rating: 3.5/4 Stars
- Pricing: $$$ (Zagat)
- Food: Italian
- Dress Code: Casual
- Neighborhood: Williamsburg
- Website: www.lilianewyork.com
- Instagram: @lilianewyork