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Hi Eater. I’m looking for a place for me, my girlfriend, and my parents to go for my 30th birthday party — somewhere special where the food is exciting, maybe even mind-blowing. I’ve been looking at the two- and three-Michelin-star restaurants, but is there a restaurant that maybe doesn’t have the Michelin accolades, but can deliver on a knock-out meal?
— Michelin Renegade
First off, happy 30th! I’m about to hit that milestone and have been debating this very question.
Per your parameters, there are several restaurants that come to mind. I could recommend the outstanding and underrated kaiseki room at Uchu, but dinner there runs $200 per person (albeit service included), which at four people will get quite pricey. I could also send you to I Sodi for osteria-style Tuscan fare, but I have a feeling you want something a bit grander, and I Sodi is straight neighborhood charm.
So the winner today is Lilia, an acclaimed yet non-Michelin-starred Italian restaurant in Williamsburg from chef Missy Robbins where the pasta shines and everyone’s still clamoring to get in to eat it two years later. I’m going to let Eater critic Ryan Sutton sell you on what I think is the most important parameter you set: “where the food is exciting, maybe even mind-blowing.”
Of the agnolotti, Sutton writes:
This is a dish of breathtaking contrasts. The salt of the pasta acts as foil to the sweetness of the honey. The gentle tartness of the dried tomatoes cuts the fats of the cheese. And the aroma of saffron fully intoxicates the diner.
He delights in the cacio e pepe:
The dish — a simple Roman preparation of pasta with pecorino and black pepper — is at the pinnacle of trendiness right now, its increasingly infinite riffs and re-creations (go ahead, google the listicles) feeling less like a delicious study in thrift, and more like a slew of chefs pandering to an easy point of reference ... But then, at Lilia, Missy Robbins shows up and transforms the dish into a life-changing bite.
He waxes poetic over the electric veal steak:
Heat is also at the heart of Lilia's best main dish, a veal steak that's less about the intrinsic flavor of the young calf, and more about using the light, subtle meat as a delivery mechanism for the fresh salsa it's garnished with, a blend of serranos, lemon juice, and mint; the electric hum a diner might experience while consuming this is not unlike the joy of eating a yuzu kosho scallop at Sushi Nakazawa, except that at Lilia you get ten bites instead of one.
I think you catch the drift, Renegade, so now ride it. Happiest of birthdays.