Tag Archives: cacio e pepe

Lilia’s new-school Italian in NYC

Italy

We have been traveling a lot this year: LA, Kansas City, New Orleans, Madison, Chicago, Columbus… and as a result, we have an ever-growing backlog of posts we have been meaning to write. So, we thought it was about time that we post about a restaurant we’ve been thinking of for a while: Lilia (567 Union Ave, Brooklyn, NY). We are famously finicky about Italian food, we always figure that we can make it better (and cheaper) at home, so, other than pizza, we rarely order Italian out. But sometimes a restaurant seems interesting and special enough to lure us out of our old habits, and that was the case with Lilia. Lilia is the brainchild of chef Missy Robbins, and was named as one of the best new restaurants in 2016 by the New York Times and Time Out New York.

Photo From Eater NYC

The restaurant is definitely scene-y, and we were certainly not cool enough to be there among New York’s buzziest. And I can’t say we were made to feel particularly welcome: even though we had a reservation early on a Thursday, we still had to wait about a half hour to sit, all the while waiting awkwardly in the vicinity of the bar, because the bar itself was completely full. Though in the meantime we did have time to explore the interesting space – which used to be an auto repair shop – and the menu. The menu was divided into small plates and entrees, but we opted for small plates to share. The pasta is all made by hand, and we heard only great things about the sorcery of Missy Robbins, who cut her teeth as Executive Chef at Chicago’s Italian icon Spiaggia from 2003-2008.

More precisely, the menu is divided into cocktail snacks, antipasti, “Little Fish,” Pasta, “Big Fish,” and Meat. The cocktail snacks are sort of like appetizers for your appetizers: Sicilian olives, prosciutto, house-made mozzarella or radishes with sea salt. Up one level in size are the antipasti, including many interesting veggie-forward combos: Red celery and fingerling potatoes; whole artichoke with mint; and cauliflower with spicy sopressata and pesto. I notice that now they have Bagna Cauda on the menu – which we certainly would have gotten! Our first chosen dish was roasted trumpet mushrooms with balsamic, arugula, and Sicilian almonds (above) – the mushrooms were woodsy, and almost meaty, and went well with the deep, aged balsamic. For a second “lighter” bite, we went with the fennel salad with oranges – one of our favorite dishes that we first tried in Siracusa, Sicily. There is something about the combination of fennel and oranges that is just perfect.

Next was the “Little Fish” menu which featured grilled scallops with walnut, yogurt and marjoram alongside mussels and sea salt. From this section of the menu, we started out with cured sardines with capers, butter and dill on top of fettunta (bread rubbed with garlic – above). This was our favorite bite of the night – salty, savory and a perfect flavor combination. Sardines have really been growing on us recently, and these were the salty, savory bite showcased on some excellent bread. The “Big Fish” and Meat sections of the menu had much larger entrees and included grilled swordfish with sweet/hot peppers and mint and grilled veal flank steak with hot peppers.

The pasta dishes are intended to be a starter course, as in Italy, but we basically ignored that advice. There were almost 10 pasta choices, and each sounded more delicious than the next: ricotta gnocchi with broccoli pesto, basil and pistachios; fettuccine with spicy lamb sausage; or potato-filled ravioli with crème fraîche, garlic and rosemary. From the pasta menu we chose the sheep-milk cheese agnolotti (mini, rectangular filled pasta pockets), topped with saffron, dried tomato and honey and Malfadine – flat pasta with wavy edges – with pink peppercorns and Parmesan. The malfadine dish was a great riff on cacio e pape. The simple Roman classic was elevated by the slightly thick, handmade pasta and high-quality Parmesan. The agnolotti was light and fresh, with a slight sheep’s-milk tang which shone through the light sauce. The handmade pasta was uniformly excellent. We finished off our meal with a seasonal apple galette with winter fruits- which was perfectly proportioned with flaky, crispy crust.

Flipping the script – Lilia is also known for their soft serve (we didn’t sample it this time, but maybe we will be back)! The Italian-only wine menu is quite extensive, and they have the widest selection of amari (after-dinner bitters) we have ever seen! In the morning, and for lunch, you can visit a more subdued Lilia for coffee, pastries and panini. Though you may have to cut through the hype a little bit to eat there, we really enjoyed our meal at Lilia. The small plates were all perfect and simple in an ingredient-forward way, spicing up traditional flavor combinations and dishes. Lilia lived up to our standards for Italian food, and that is saying something!

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New twists on Italian classics at Monteverde in Chicago

ItalyChef Sarah Grueneberg’s new pasta restaurant in Chicago, Monteverde (1020 W. Madison, Chicago, IL), has earned so many accolades in the past year that it is hard to keep up (check out some awards from Eater, Food and Wine and GQ for starters). That means it is also pretty hard to get a reservation now (and probably even harder with each passing day), so plan to book far in advance and aim for early tables if you have to (we booked 4:30-5 PM each time). We visited Monteverde once over the summer and once over Thanksgiving weekend – and both times we were completely blown away by our meals. The vibe inside the restaurant is friendly and casual, with a comfortable, rustic-chic interior. We were able to site outside in the summer but the inside seating is nice and cozy in winter, too.
monteverde The focus of the menu is the handmade pasta, which is divided into two categories – Pasta tipica (classics) and pasta atipica (less traditional riffs on classic dishes). Intriguing “atypical” selections included a duck egg ravioli with pork and a wok-fried arrabiata with gulf shrimp. More traditional pasta dishes included pumpkin-filled tortelloni. Appetizers, called “snacks,” included raw hamachi and octopus spiedini. Small plates included country ham with buffalo mozzarella and mushroom and polenta stuffed cabbage. Monteverde also has a good wine menu and some distinctive non-alcoholic drinks including Sicilian lemonade in the summer and spiced soda in the fall.

caciowheypepe

On each table there are homemade crunchy breadsticks/ grissini to much on, though at times we wished we had more substantial bread so that we could sop up all of the sauces. Everything comes out as it is prepared, so it is best to order and plan to share – we ordered one large plate, 2 small plates and an appetizer. From the pasta atipica side we chose the Cacio whey pepe – a new take on cacio e pepe with Mancini rigatoni, pecorino romano, ricotta whey and a four peppercorn blend ($14- above); as an appetizer – Proscuitto butter toast – topped with  with radishes, dill, and lemon ($6); and as a small plate – Burrata on thick slices of ciabatta, winter squash, balsamic, brown butter, roasted endive and pinenuts ($17). At the table, each one of us had a different favorite from the selections: the prosciutto butter toast was silky with a crunch; the cacio e pepe was toothsome and a little spicy; and the creamy burrata was perfectly complemented by the fresh bread and the roasted squash.  On our visit over the summer we also tried a few different small plates: the ‘Njuda arancini -rice fritters, tomato, olive oil poached tuna ($8 – below); and the Little Gem salad with avocado and crunchy vegetables ($13). The slightly-spicy ‘njuda filling was a great riff on the classic Sicilian snack, and while the salad was good, it was as original as other offerings.

arancinimonteverde

At each visit we ordered the piece de resistance, a higher priced and larger dish –  the Ragu alla Napoletana ($41 – below) – with fusilli rustico pasta, cacciatore sausage, soppressata meatballs, tomato braised pork shank and wild oregano. This a dish you definitely HAVE to share, since it is probably enough to serve 2-3 as main course, or 4-5 in addition to other plates. If you are ordering the Pasta alla Napoletana, we would recommend 1 extra pasta small plate and 2 other apps for 4 people (which will likely still give you leftovers). Though the description may make it sound like glorified pasta with red sauce and meatballs, it was way more complex than that. This amazing dish was our favorite of the night. The tender on-the-bone veal shank was our favorite meat preparation, and for once we actually enjoyed the “red sauce” at a restaurant! Completely delicious, hearty and homey, this dish was at once simple and sophisticated – a must-order!

raguallanapoletana

Each time, we managed to barely save room for desserts. We sampled the homemade Cannoli in the summer, which was delicious. In the fall we got to try the seasonally-appropriate apple crostata with cinnamon ice cream and caramel sauce. The crostata was particularly tasty and we appreciate that they make the desserts seasonally-appropriate. Beyond the mouth-watering food, the ambiance and service at Monteverde are also great. Everything was scrumptious, and provided a fresh little twist on an Italian classic. It is rare that we like everything we ordered equally, but Monteverde may be the exception to that rule – we can’t wait to go back and try more!

cannolimonteverde

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