Bekaa chateaux land in New York

During New York City’s Restaurant Week, a promotional event that begins July 12, diners entering Ilili on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan will be transported to the Bekaa Valley, the heart of Lebanon’s wine country. Restaurant owner Phillippe Massoud is launching a promotional initiative that for four weeks will showcase wines from Musar, Massaya, Kefraya and Ksara.
Each winery will set up a tasting room in the restaurant for one week, and wine experts will be available to help customers. The guests will also receive a list of retail stores that sell these wines in New York City. The first week will feature Massaya, followed by Musar, Kefraya, and Ksara. Massoud is also planning to later introduce some products from Domaine de Baal and Coteaux de Botris, two small organic wineries in Lebanon.
Restaurant Week in New York City started as a one-time celebration of dining to welcome the Democratic National Convention in 1992. Since then, it has become a semiannual event during which participating restaurants offer a prix-fixe lunch and dinner menu for $25 and $35 respectively, making the high-end dining experience accessible on a budget.
Massoud is hoping that complementing this year’s Restaurant Week at Ilili with the Lebanon Wine Country initiative will help promote Lebanese wines and cuisine.
Massoud’s commitment to being a cultural ambassador for his country through cuisine is not a coincidence. “I am a restaurateur by profession and a chef by osmosis, by genetic history,” he said, as, coming from a family of hoteliers in Lebanon, Massoud grew up with the kitchen as his playground.

Although New York is the home of his restaurant, Massoud hasn’t forgotten his roots: with business thriving, he has an eye on reaching out to his fellow countrymen by giving Lebanese producers an opportunity to expand into the US market.

Meanwhile, at Ilili, his challenge is to change perceptions about Lebanese food for customers whose only knowledge of it is falafel sandwiches and grocery-store tubs of hummus. With an Eastern Mediterranean menu inspired by Lebanese cuisine, Massoud is teaching Manhattan one bite at a time.  “With 1,500 people a week fed here, slowly but surely, you turn things around,” he said. “There is a lot of work to be done in educating people to understand the cuisine.”
And anyone who has tried knows how difficult it is to find an authentic tabbouleh at a restaurant, period, let alone in New York. But at Ilili, Massoud is adamant on serving tabbouleh that stands up to the homemade version. “There is no compromise for quality, it is our philosophy,” he said.
For his meat dishes, he only used grass-fed beef and free-range organic chicken. He designed the food production process to allow for labor-intensive tasks such as hand-roasting and hand-peeling eggplant and chopping parsley leaves (no stems allowed) for the tabbouleh. He also doesn’t take shortcuts like using citric salt, opting for real lemons instead, he explained. Massoud told of Lebanese customers thanking him for faithfully recreating traditional dishes that remind them of home.
It was Massoud’s unwavering quality standards that won Ilili the Best Mediterranean Restaurant prize on www.Opentable.com.
The restaurant seats about 300 guests in 10,000 square-foot dining room that was designed to create a cozy ambiance in spite of its large size. Eager to provide the best culinary experience for his customers, Massoud deliberately avoided overbearing and distracting décor. He opted for cedar wall paneling to make the dining room look like the inside of a Phoenician ship.
And the restaurant’s logo blends the old eastern art of calligraphy with the modern.
“The name search was the hardest because we wanted to capture the ethnicity of the concept in the graphic design of the logo,” said Massoud. The name was a result of an online conversation between the Lebanese architect Naser Nakib, Massoud and a friend. When the architect typed “ilili,” meaning “tell me” in Arabic, all three friends paused in cyberspace and realized that they had found the right name for the restaurant.
Promoting Lebanese wines and cuisine in Ilili is only one part of Massoud’s goals as a restaurateur. “I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I would like to do,” he said. “I am very focused on continuing my journey of exploration to help bring Lebanese cuisine to the level that it deserves.”

  • Beiruti

    this article is ridiculous - it reads like the restaurant owner wrote it himself! have some decency...

    July 29, 2009

  • Zaher

    ...Honest to God, this restaurant sits at the bottom of my list for good restaurants. Let's say you are really hungry and you go to Ilili to fill your stomach.... Well, should I say about $200 will do it! hmmmm, I am not even sure that would be enough. This restaurant is what I call a JOKE. Ok, so the food is not bad, but I tasted way better food in so many lebanese restaurants. and well, I don't know where the owner is from, but ilili!!!!! what the hell is that? there is a dialect in it, and I am not sure from ayya day3a that word comes from. Definitely not the city. maybe jroud 3akkar, but positively not so. Ta3a la illak, the food is exponentially overpriced. The service sux, well at least when a group of 8 us went there. They kept serving us water, and well the trick was, each bottle was $8.00!!! this was water, yes you got that right. I thought I was eating in an oscillating tower that oversees the Eiffel Tower

    July 28, 2009


    I'm lebanese living in NY, and last restaurant week, i wanted to try out Ilili, which i had heard had opened recently and had been hearing mixed reviews about. As a Lebanese person who has had alot of GOOD lebanese food throughout his life, i must say Ilili is over-rated and below-par (and such miniscule portions, it is laughable, and the americans i went with were left wondering about what to eat next!). Definitely not a place i would suggest to any lebanese out there, i would suggest to try some other place, granted that in NY, there are a few other places where you can get better eats. As for the wine, you can definitely find it out and about, although it is a bit more tricky to find around here, but at ilili it is ridiculously over-priced (as is the food). Just a word of advice if the people from Ilili are reading this, please shape up, non-lebanese may fall head-over-heels for the food (although complaining of teh portions) but lebanese patrons expect more and better quality and

    July 27, 2009

  • Miumiu

    Do you HA Party authority for this...!!!!!!!

    July 15, 2009

  • mona hariz

    i read what you wrote really dear dima, what you wrote is nice and interesting you should be an ambassader to lovely lebanon best wishes always to you and dear suha .keep going!

    July 15, 2009