Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New York Restaurants: Lincoln, Maialino (brunch;dinner), Hill Country Fried Chicken, Casa Mono and Ilili

Lincoln, Lincoln Centre

Walking into the restaurant, up the stairs, one is greeted by a very large, long open kitchen, apparently well organized and truly bustling. The room is quite fabulous, open and airy with floor to ceiling windows, cozy dark booths and open tables.

Opening the menu, I was not overly inspired by the selections of this former executive chef of Per Se restaurant, Jonathan Benno. We are offered house made, crispy grissini with chili flakes and rosemary; crispy thin flatbread (carte da musica) with sesame seeds, oregano, rosemary, sea salt and olive oil. A very nice beginning and both selections were very good. House made bread with lardo was also offered with chick pea puree and crisp agnolotti filled with braised greens, mushrooms and fontina cheese. The agnolotti had a tasty, flakey crust, but the filling flavour was muddled and the only obvious flavour was mushroom. 

An inspiring presentation of roasted beet salad with Sicilian pistachios, red watercress, cucumber slices and mint on a smeared bed of thick yogurt like labneh, with dill. A beautifully presented dish of lovely flavours was much enhanced by the roasted crunchy texture and flavour of the pistachios.

Linguine with peeky toed crab, Maine sea urchin, meyer lemon and green onion was very pleasant but for me I would have preferred more sea urchin in the somewhat bland sauce.

Orchiette with duck and pork ragu, with parsnips and savoy cabbage, was a dish with earthy flavours, the parsnip providing some sweetness, but the dish was a touch over salted.

Octopus and pork belly terrine with marinated veg and caramelized lemon vinaigrette came with shaved carrots, curly endive and shaved radish. Great flavours and the fat of the belly a good complement for the octopus but I found it's strong flavour slightly overwhelming.  The citrus vinaigrette helped to balance all of the flavours.

Capellini came with ruby red shrimp scampi. The scampi were barely cooked and had an absolutely perfect texture, one that made me want to eat more, the taste redolent of sweet butter and the sea. The pasta was properly cooked as well and had a nice springy trexture.

A side of sauteed spinach with oil, garlic and lemon arrived perfectly cooked, but a touch over salted.

A completely uninteresting dessert menu was presented, so I actually did not order dessert.


Maialino has a very informal, rustic decor in keeping with the theme of the menu. 

We began with fried artichokes accompanied by an anchovy bread sauce. The pieces of artichoke were a bit too greasy and not crispy enough. Anchovy sauce a bit overwhelmed the flavour of the artichokes, but was terrific with bread for dipping

Next, tonnarelli with pecorino and black pepper (cacio et pepe). The pasta was good but there was not quite enough cheese for me and the sauce seemed to lack the creaminess that I remembered from my  recent visit to Rome.

Stracciatella alla romana followed, chicken broth egg and grano. This soup had a wonderful intense chicken stock flavour with just the right complement of lemon. I very highly reccommend this dish. Perhaps the best version of this dish that I have ever tasted.

"Maialino" roast suckling pig, accompanied by roasted potatoes, was my main. It was very tasty, with great crackling (!!) but the meat was a bit dry.

A side of stewed beans and pig skin with the juice from the pig had wonderful flavours well absorbed by the beans. Loved this dish.

My dessert was olive oil cake with vanilla bean mascarpone. The cake was very moist, with a complementary orange flavour that was well rounded off by the rich, thick, creamy
vanilla mascarpone.

I enjoyed sides of gellato. The pear gelato was perfect, a creamy textured, intense pear flavour.

Brunch at Maialino

My main was tripe in a mildly spicy tomato sauce, topped with a fried egg. What a wonderful combination of textures and flavours for me, although one must acquire a taste for tripe.

I also ordered sides of sauteed potatoes, which were rather non-descript and really not worth ordering; bacon, which arrived as a thick slab, nicely cooked, slightly crisp but what a wonderful addictive flavour; sausage which most of us at the table thought was the hit of the meal, very juicy, with wonderfully complex flavours and an enjoyable coarse texture . It seemed to have been either steamed or poached and then finished in the oven; a very nice side of slices of suckling pig.

I enjoyed this hearty brunch very much.

Hill Country Fried Chicken

I heard a lot about this well known spot and chose to go for lunch.

Fries have a crunchy skin, soft interior and are remarkably ungreasy and quite tasty. It seemed like they were baked not fried, but they were fried.

A side of a biscuit was classic, buttery, crumbly melt in the mouth with good texture.

"Hill country classic fried chicken" is brined in buttermilk and fresh herbs, double coated in seasoned flour and finished with a dusting of the signature shake (the proprietary mix of dried spices). The chicken perfectly cooked, juicy, with minimal, thin batter. The skin and coating were moderately crispy and coated with a mix of the proprietary mixed spice seasoning. This crust was not quite as enjoyable as classic fried chicken when cooked properly. But overall I still rated this fried chicken as "good".

A nice selection of pies (6) were available, but I did not indulge despite their seductive appearance! One must watch calories somewhere!

Casa Mono

Casa Mono is a very small resto, with 14 counter seats and only 7 tables and by virtue of it’s size quite noisy.

I began with crispy, corn meal breaded, deep fried, Chopitos (baby squids) with melted onions and baby bok choy in a squid ink vinaigrette. The squids were terrific, a great snack or starter, but the accompaniments seemed extraneous and really added nothing to the dish.

My next dish was fideos (a very thin vermicelli like noodle) with chopped chorizo and clams. The mildly spicy, broken fideos completely covered the clams. The smoky chorizo and lots of thin slices of garlic gave a great flavour punch to this dish.

Duck hearts with fabada (beans) followed. Spanish guandilla peppers, sliced garlic and horseradish provided lively contrasting flavours much needed with the beans and duck hearts.

We kept going: Cod cheeks pil pil (slices of mildly hot peppers) with striped bass.  This dish was perhaps my favourite, perfectly cooked, melt in mouth tender fish with sauce of butter and garlic and I love the texture of the cod cheeks.

Next, bone marrow arrived with tomato rubbed toast (Spanish style) with chopped tomato and salt and pickled radishes. This dish was way over salted, but the concept was a terrific.

The following course was oxtail stuffed pequillo peppers. The very rich sauce, went well with the sharp taste for the peppers and lots of sliced garlic.

Finally, we enjoyed chick peas and tripe with house made blood sausage, smoky spicy chorizo and croutons. This was a very hearty dish and tied for my fave.

Dessert was almond cake with apples and cinnamon whipped cream.  The cake had an orange flavour, but was a bit dry, very crunchy and firm, not at all what I expected.

Ilili Lebanese Restaurant

When we were seated we were immediately served labneh with crispy flatbread and olives.

We began with the old standard, babaganoush with tahini and olive oil. This dish was disappointing. Not enough smokiness and it was too tart.

Next, fattoush garden salad with mint, parsely, chopped lettuce, cucumber, red and green pepper, cherry tomatoes, radish, toasted pita pieces with sumac and lemon vinaigrette, This dish had wonderful textures and the light vinaigrette was a perfect complement for the veg flavours.

Kibbeh, steak tartar, followed. This was made with bhurgul (cracked wheat), and was accompanied by chopped onion, mint and sliced hot peppers. The tartar had a very good flavour but, as typically, the texture was a bit pasty.

A very disappointing, very soft flat bread covered with finely ground lamb was tasted but mostly left over.

Next we enjoyed crisp, tasty falafel balls made with chick peas and fava beans. This was sided with a dish of tahini.

A surprise was duck shawarma, rotisserie duck breast, fig puree, green onion, and whipped garlic all wrapped in a thin pita. This was the best dish of all. Tender, flavourful, juicy duck with some crispy skin, all in all, so much better than any boring beef or lamb shawarma.

We then enjoyed bone marrow, sour cherry tabbouleh with pita pillows. This was also a favorite dish. The combo of the tabbouleh and cherries with the marrow was amazingly perfect, the tartness breaking the fatty marrow.

Next, Freekeh ( a grain) risotto (style) with winter veg, mushrooms and parmesan cheese, nice and creamy. Another terrific dish and I may prefer the grainy quality of the freekeh over rice.

Finally, desserts: warm ground pistachio filled cookie with licorice rose water flavoured soft marshmallow, dusted with cinnamon. This was addictive if you love warm, slightly molten marshmallow.

Our other dessert was napoleon of kataifi (like warm crisp shredded wheat but better) and ashta (lebanese clotted cream) topped with simple rose water flavoured orange blossom syrup. Both desserts terrific.

Lincoln at Lincoln Center
142 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023
(212) 359-6500
Maialino (at Gramercy Park)
2 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10010-5405
(212) 777-2410
Hill Country Fried Chicken 
Ste 1116, 1123 Broadway
New York, NY 10010-2156

(646) 398-9027

Casa Mono
125 E 17th St # 1
New York, NY 10003-3447
(212) 253-2773
Ilili Restaurant
236 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10001
(212) 683-2929

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