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Lilia in Williamsburg
Lilia in Williamsburg
Nick Solares

Eaters' Journal 3/3/16: Lilia, MáLà Project, Pasquale Jones, Llama Inn, Oasis, and More

Field notes from Eater editors about recent meals around New York City

Lilia: As a Williamsburg booster who was anticipating this opening for awhile, I was primed to like Lilia. That said, I've been three times in two weeks and will probably go three more times in the next two weeks because I like it that much. Not everything is perfect, but most of the food is good to great, and what's great — the cacio e pepe fritelle, the acorn squash, the squid, the malfadini if you like al dente pasta — is very great and casually addictive. I love the effort they put into the design, the amount of space diners get at each table, and the not too painful pricing and portion sizes. Plus there's a breakfast cafe with pastries. — Kludt

Bunk: Awesome sandwiches. They're not crazy, they're just really good, and the debris fries alone are worth the trip. Because it's a Portland restaurant that expanded to Brooklyn, I was expecting some cool kid attitude or aloofness, but everyone was really friendly and helpful. — Morabito

Photo by Nick Solares

MáLà Project: So I'm a night guy. I get up late; I go to bed late; I eat late; and I write even later. And while my profession dictates that I conduct my review meals at respectable hours – my primary audience isn't post-shift hospitality workers – I rarely dine, on my nights off, before 10:00 p.m. In fact, if your restaurant doesn't take walk-ins after 10:30 p.m. on a Tuesday or Wednesday, you probably won't see me there outside of the formal critiquing process. And so this is how a buddy and I ended up at MáLà project, a Sichuan hot pot restaurant in the East Village, last Thursday. Another place I was reviewing was about to shutter up; Biang! was already closed, and we weren't in the mood for Ssäm Bar, so Mala won by default.

Robert Sietsema eloquently talks about the history of hot pots in his first look writeup so I'll stay on Sutton brand and rap about cost: A full meal, with two appetizers (jelly noodles with chile sauce, scallion pancakes), a dry hot pot (chicken wings, tofu, cumin lamb, crab stick, mushrooms), beer, and wine, only ran $92 after tax and tip. And when I say "full" meal I don't mean a collection of dainty small plates, I mean enough caloric nourishment to sate me after a hard fought 10K run (if anything can be legitimately called hard fought on a chic gym treadmill with built in fans). No, the numbing sensation of the Sichuan peppercorns at MáLà wasn't as clean and intense at at, say, Mission Chinese Food or Cafe China, but under $100 for two is a pretty incredible value on this increasingly expensive stretch of First Avenue (and the wait is much shorter than MCF’s). Equally importantly, the restaurant was reasonably bustling (if not quite full) and seating multiple parties closer to 11 p.m. So if you show up late, you won’t be the only two top closing the place down. Ill be back.— Sutton

Spaghetti Incident: After my friends and I were quoted a two-and-a-half hour wait at The Lucky Bee on Friday, we headed slightly north to Spaghetti Incident, which is kind of a perfect casual restaurant. It's cute, the spaghettis taste delightful and cost less than $12, and you can get a perfectly drinkable liter of wine for $23. The dessert is even surprisingly good, including a lemon meringue pie with a shortbread cookie crust. The man who answered the phone actually laughed when I asked how long the wait was. It was about ten minutes, and for the first time ever in my life, the restaurant took down my name so that we could be seated when we arrived. Bless you, Spaghetti Incident. — Dai

Oasis Greenpoint: For nearly a decade, Oasis has perched above the Bedford stop on the L, enjoying the distinction of being one of the cheapest and one of the best restaurants in Williamsburg. By legend it was started by Palestinians who resented another falafel joint that had opened nearby on Bedford Avenue, which simply wasn’t very good. Heaped with fresh and lightly pickled vegetables and squirted with tahini, Oasis’ falafel sandwich became a beacon for vegetarians, while its kebabs provided huge quantities of flesh at bargain prices, either in sandwiches or in platters mounded with salad and a rice-vermicelli mixture.

Now Oasis has reproduced itself, and aficionados are scratching their heads at the new location. Nowhere near any subway line, it set down on the wrong side of McGuinness (try crossing the thoroughfare at rush hour!) next to a parking lot for a mattress factory in one of Greenpoint’s few ungentrified corners. Though adjacent to a fabric showroom that caters to tailors of bespoke suits, the high-ceilinged premises manages to look entirely Third World.

Fortunately, the food is as good as ever, and maybe better. Shawarma is available from a pair of twirling cylinders, one for chicken, the other for a lamb-beef mixture, which manages to taste like neither animal. Falafel is still the heart of the menu, but there are a wealth of new vegetarian salads available, including yogurt, chickpea, Arabic, beet, and the Middle Eastern answer to Italian panzanella – fatoush. Meat lovers will find the mixed grill a bargain at $15.Sietsema

Uncle Boons: In an honest attempt to eat at all of New York's great restaurants, I am not big on repeating places. Yet any time someone suggests Uncle Boons, the "been there, done that" argument is just stupid. This past Sunday was my third visit and easily the best one yet. I loved dipping roti into the boneless beef rib curry. I loved that betel leaves were available (they weren't on my second visit). I seriously loved the sweetbread and crispy noodle salad. And our server was even easier to love. Since I haven't had the coconut sundae yet (I may need to start looking for better dinner guests who will help me with dessert), I guess I'll have to go back. — Diez

Mable's Smokehouse: The brisket still needs some work, but I love everything else at Mable's, especially the collards and the pulled pork. I recently visited during lunch on Friday when the bar was full of people getting an early start to the weekend. This place is always fun. Morabito

Photo by Nick Solares

Pasquale Jones: Three big things I admire about Pasquale Jones: reservation confirmations via text (through Resy), they'll sell you any bottle off the "seasonal" wine list as a half bottle, no tipping. Plus the pizza's on point, the music is fun and not as loud as Charlie Bird (at least when I was there), and the actual wood of the dining bar (a giant, smooth slab) is something to behold. — Kludt

Llama Inn: The food on my visit was okay. But they did the thing that annoys me the most — give you the shittiest seating option in a completely empty restaurant. We had a baby with us, and it was 11:08 a.m., when the place had just opened for brunch. There was a sea of empty tables but we were offered the stools at the bar or the stools at the window. And it was expensive and the wine was served in stemless old fashioned glasses. Woof. I've heard great things about this restaurant from a number of trusted eaters, so I plan to give it another shot, perhaps sans baby. —Morabito

Parm: I finally tried Parm. The food really is quite good, though I felt squished between the tourists and models with the tables so close together. The eggplant parm sandwich is hearty and flavorful, and the strawberry ice cream on the classic ice cream cake has a really nice tartness. I found service to be just a tad slow, but my dining companion found our waiter attractive so demanded that we tip extra. At one point, Gawker founder Nick Denton and his husband showed up but ultimately decided not to eat there. I did not say hi. — Dai

St. Anselm: In case you were wondering, St. Anselm is still fucking fantastic. If you time it right (I was lucky on a recent rainy Tuesday at 7 p.m.) you might not even have to wait two hours. — Kludt

Photo by Daniel Krieger

Babu Ji: On a recent visit to Babu Ji my friend and I did the chef's table menu. First up: The gol gappe amuse which, after failing to properly eat (read: I ignored the drop-line and bit into it instead of eating it whole), my server insisted on bringing me a brand new one. What followed that perfect little bite was one crazy tasty dish after another. Yes, the cauliflower dish is as good as everyone says it is. What's even better: the kulfi dessert. It's nuts, pistachios to be exact, and currently my favorite dessert out there. I'm hoping this will convince the Singhs to start selling pints of it to-go. Diez

Top photo: Lilia by Nick Solares

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