NYCReview

Lilia review image
9.0

Lilia

$$$$(718) 576-3095
Hours:WED
5:30PM-11PM

Lilia’s host once informed us that the surest way to book a prime time reservation is to call 30 days in advance at 10am sharp. This was upsetting to hear, obviously, since we don’t even schedule vacations a month in advance.

Years have passed and not much has changed. Lilia is still hard to get into, and people still plan visits to this Williamsburg restaurant the way art dealers collect Basquiats or crypto-bros accumulate NFTs. 

Coming here grants you access to a special society: those who have eaten at the city’s most exclusive Italian restaurants. Once you sit down, though, Lilia’s industrial-looking space feels nothing like a glitzy club where diners hope they get blue Instagram checks with dessert. The only real reason to fuss over getting a table at Lilia is their simple, perfect pasta. 

Lilia review image

Lilia has mastered the art of editing themselves silly. They tune out all the Trendy Italian Restaurant bullsh*t, so all that’s left is necessary, carbohydrate gold. Somewhere else, a diavolo sauce might come with mussels or squid to provide some heft. But Lilia’s simplified version focuses on ribbed rigatoni curls, each of which absorbs the sauce made from chili flakes and San Marzano tomatoes. The noodles are chewy and dramatically large, and they look more like balloon animals than rigatoni you’ve seen elsewhere. Why cover that up with anything but a light layer of sauce, grated pecorino, and fresh oregano leaves? 

Lilia’s grilled vegetables and seafood take a similar no-nonsense approach. The restaurant always offers a couple seasonal vegetables roasted in the wood-fired oven, although you’d really be missing the point if you came to Lilia and built your meal around those non-pasta dishes. “The Italian Job” gelato, on the other hand, tastes like a makeout session between jugs of heavy cream and high-quality olive oil. We encourage you to sit with this imagery while you enjoy Lilia’s very good gelato.

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Consider Lilia’s paired-back approach a gift, since your New York City life is convoluted enough already. Sure, the lore around Lilia makes going to this restaurant feel more like a circus than it needs to, but it isn’t too hard to finagle a bar seat by showing up ready to wait or by calling on the early side of the day you'd like to go. (And we firmly believe the bar area is the most romantic spot in the house anyway). Whether you choose to talk about your visits to Lilia like someone tweeting about their non-fungible tokens, well, that’s between you and your rigatoni.

Food Rundown

Cacio E Pepe Fritelle

Imagine if three empowered donut holes at Dunkin banded together to become a super munchkin, and then rolled themselves in cheese as a publicity stunt. That’s the gist here. Each one has a gooey, macaroni-and-cheese adjacent center. They’re intense, but quite obviously delicious.

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Vegetables

Lilia’s vegetables rotate regularly. In the past we’ve had some memorable wood-fired squash and a dish made with cardoons (which have the same firm-fibrous thing going on as celery) in a tart anchovy dressing. Get at least one vegetable, ideally whatever sounds most seasonal at the moment.

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Grilled Clams

We enjoy these bivalves and think you will too. But you should know the clams are mostly working as a textural element, rather than exerting a ton of flavor over the breadcrumbs and Calabrian chiles. A stunning development we can’t explain: put one of these bad boys into a bite of your vegetable dish, and their clamminess somehow comes through stronger.

Lilia review image

Sheeps Milk Cheese Filled Agnolotti

Meet Lilia’s Nobel Pasta Prize. It’s the dish most people order, and there's a good reason why. Glossy tubes are filled to the gills with uniformly smooth sheep’s milk, all sitting in a honey-saffron butter sauce made so expertly it couldn’t break even if it wanted to. The whole thing tastes earthy somehow. Consider this the glamping of pastas.

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Rigatoni Diavola

Straightforward and perfectly seasoned, these full bodied rigatoni ringlets aren’t very spicy. That’s good news, since the mild tomato-based sauce lets the quality of the pasta get the spotlight. Eat this alone. Eat it with a frenemy, if you must. Just eat it.

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Malfadini With Pink Peppercorns

Pink peppercorns (more accurately identified as berries, for the nerds keeping score at home) have a much fruitier taste than black peppercorns. So if you’re thinking this dish will taste like your run-of-the-mill cacio e pepe, we’re sorry but that’s not what’s happening. The fractured pink peppercorns add a sharp, bright flavor to the squiggly-shaped noodles, which are all coated in a parmesan sauce. Long live extra-wide malfadini. (In a scenario where we were choosing one pasta, we’d still go for agnolotti or rigatoni over this).

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Gelato

No matter which pasta route you take, every meal at Lilia should end the same way: gelato. We especially like the “Italian Job” gelato, which is made with fennel pollen and a couple hearty glugs of olive oil. Chocolate will never be a bad choice, though.

Lilia review image

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