Pete Wells on Lilia in Williamsburg: The Pasta is “A Direct Route to Happiness”
The main thing you need to know about Lilia, a new restaurant in Williamsburg housed in a former auto body shop, according to New York Times food critic Pete Wells, is that “Missy Robbins is cooking pasta again.” Robbins’ pasta, says Wells, is “a direct route to happiness that has been shut off to New Yorkers since she left the two A Voce restaurants in 2013.”
Don’t miss the veal bolognese. “Shiny with just enough herb-flecked sauce that one noodle peels away from the rest as you lift, they are rolled so thin that they’re almost weightless.” Of the agnolotto, he says, “bring a parcel of sheeps’ milk ricotta and feta in gorgeously supple yellow dough to your mouth. It’s been rolled in melted butter with honey and saffron threads. The perfume is subtle but insistent, and when it threatens to be too much, you bite into a soft dried tomato. Why did everybody turn against dried tomatoes? At the right time, they’re wonderful, and this is one of those times.” The ricotta gnocchi and malfadini are excellent too. “There is no badly made pasta at Lilia.”
The restaurant resembles Barbuto, according to Wells, both in looks (Barbuto is also in a former garage) and in style. Robbins’ food is “confident and coursing with energy. The intent of every dish seems to be making you glad you’re there…She has the assurance of a chef who has been at it long enough that Barack Obama was a fan of her cooking at Spiaggia in Chicago before he was the president.”
If you’re gluten-free or carb free or for some other reason can’t eat pasta, grilled seafood would be your best bet. The black bass, sardines, and grilled baby squid are excellent, while scallops “got lost” on the plate in too much dip. The “smoky chicken leg” dish was also a winner, and the veal flank steak made Wells “wish more restaurants would find veal of this quality and cook it so simply and well.”
Though the antipasti “don’t always look like anti-pasti,” don’t skip them. These dishes will make you “shake your head a little at how smart Ms. Robbins is about augmenting classic Italian flavors without stepping all over them.”
Dessert was also excellent. There was a “luxuriously rich” olive oil cake, an “excellent” apple tart, and soft-serve gelato. Service was professional.
This is the first restaurant owned and operated by Robbins, and clearly she’s doing an awesome job. Overall? Three stars from Wells.
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