No restaurant in New York City is hotter than Lilia in Williamsburg at the moment. Headed by star chef Missy Robbins, who was last seen at A Voce in Columbus Circle and Flatiron, Lilia has so many things you would love if you’re looking for a great neighborhood place. I think the restaurant’s vision of itself has changed over time following glowing reviews; while it probably intended to be more of a neighborhood favorite for Brooklynites, it has become a destination dining place for people from all over the city, including Manhattan. I mean, you can’t blame them. With a chic and inviting décor that screams a hang-out place for all the cool kids in the city, plus celebrity chef’s comeback, it just sounds too good to be true.
After making multiple futile efforts to get reservations, I just decided to try for walk-ins and hope for the best. When my dining party of four arrived at slightly after 6 p.m., we were quoted a wait time of 1.5-2 hours, and at the bar area (not at one of the tables since they were all fully booked). Since all of us had late lunches, we were fine with waiting at a nearby café and killing time. After showing up 2 hours later, we were stuck in the bar adjacent to the dining space, patiently waiting for our turn. We finally got seated slightly before 9 p.m.! I think Lilia probably set my all-time records for a restaurant wait. They’d better be worth it and be as good as what all the critics are saying, I thought to myself, while looking across the table where chef Robbins was standing at the kitchen directly all the staffs there.
I haven’t been to A Voce before, so I really didn’t know what to expect from chef Robbins’ kitchen. I’m all for a rich and flavorful Italian meal, but I also try to avoid heavy salt intake. Overall, I felt the food from Lilia could’ve toned down a little in the seasoning department, starting with cacao e pepe frittelle (yes, think cacao e pepe in fried donuts), which could’ve been a marvelous snack had the flavor been not too aggressive. On the other hand, I loved the fresh verdure crude, warm anchovy and garlic salad with bagna cauda that was an excellent start to the meal. There are some small seafood appetizers at Lilia, and you should definitely try at least a dish or two. I was a fan of cured sardines with capers and dill that had the right amount of salt in it, and grilled clams with Calabrian chilies and breadcrumbs were also quite delicious.
I had the highest expectations for chef Robbins’ pastas, which are nothing fancy like at other places like Marea but seem to really emphasize the quality of ingredients and simple elegance. All the dishes that I had tried were good, but again this is where I wished the seasoning were slightly moderated. I enjoyed the rustic touch of mafaldini with pink pepper corn and parmigiano reggiano, and the aromatic flavor of sheeps milk filled agnolotti with saffron, dried tomato and honey was also something to remember. Both dishes, however, felt a little too aggressive in seasoning and had I not shared each with three other dining companion, I wasn’t sure if I could’ve finished each by myself. Surprisingly, ricotta gnocchi with broccoli pesto and basil (I’m not a fan of gnocchi in general) had more balance in flavor.
Of the entrée dishes, we shared grilled branzino with salsa verde, and I really liked the simple touch of well-cooked branzino that worked quite harmoniously with salsa verde.
For desserts, olive oil cake with blood oranges, grappas and whipped cream seems to be the safe choice, but I also really liked the soft serves, particularly the vanilla one that had lemony walnuts, arametti cookies, sprinkles and chocolate stracci for toppings. It could’ve been a perfect antidote if you had dined at the restaurant on a hot summer day.
As mentioned above, getting a reservation at Lilia is going to be a Herculean task. The best way is to just get there when the restaurant opens up at 5:30 p.m. and hope for the best on walk-in spaces, including outdoor tables that the restaurant has set aside and will be perfect once the summer hits (in that regard, showing up in smaller groups would certainly help). The restaurant has a full bar, and I really enjoyed some of the Italian wine selections that I had by the glass. You will love the atmosphere of the restaurant, which has a cozy vibe that makes you feel you belong in the place where all the handsome people hang out. I will say this: Lilia would have probably been one of the best neighborhood restaurants; in the overall ranking of Italian restaurants in the city, however, I will have to see how it evolves over time to match other great Italian dining destinations.
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 7.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
Address: 567 Union Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
Telephone: (718) 576-3095