March 13, 2017 | BITE: My Journal

Lilia: Missy Robbins Does Brooklyn 

Sardines with capers and a lace of dill on rustic Italian toast are listed under pesce piccolo on the menu.

          Friends and I had stopped by Lilia one evening after a deeply dissatisfying dinner not far away. All the tables were filled, as they usually are at Lilia past 6 pm, but we managed to find three seats at the counter. We found comfort in sharing a rustic ginger apple crostata and our firm commitment to return for dinner.

We share a comforting apple crostata at the counter one evening after a desultory dinner elsewhere.

          I’d read in a New York interview that Missy Robbins had resisted the move to Brooklyn. She had tough-to-budge Manhattan roots. She saw herself starting over in the West Village. But three years had passed since her 2013 departure from A Voce in the Time Warner Center and A Voce near Madison after winning a Michelin star for each.

I ask my niece Dana Stoddard to capture the captivating hairstyle of the waiter on her iPhone.

          She’d agreed to partner with Matt Kliegman, co-owner of the Smile and Black Seed, but the search for a suitable space went on and on. When he suggested Brooklyn, she had her doubts. But she found herself seduced by the possibilities of the auto-body shop he’d found. After the usual torturous rehab, a proud industrial beauty has emerged. There are exposed beams far overhead, a skylight, glorious soaring windows looking out to the street, an open kitchen filled with cooks, a wall of wines, and wood for the grills stacked at the door.

I didn’t expect the cacio e pepe frittelle to be quite so light and delicate. A thrilling surprise.

          Now a pair of adventuring pals want to celebrate their new car with a visit to Lilia. Such impetuous dreams are impossible since Robbins’s installation across the water became an instant hit. I’m not willing to wait in the reservation snarl for a month. Confession: I email Missy Robbins and ask for a table. “Of course,” she responds.

The little gem lettuce is dressed with an “Italian” vinaigrette. It’s the dried chili that makes it fiery.

          Unlike Gulliver, we can follow the GPS. We’re early. Missy comes out of the kitchen to welcome us. She looks younger and happy. “This is the best table in the house,” she says. “You can see everything.” That’s true. My friend recognizes a major Wall Street quarterback a few yards away. 

The cauliflower with spicy soppresatta and Sicilian pesto is torrid, too. But not too hot for me.

          “He’s probably thinking how clever he is to know about Lilia,” my friend muses. He orders the $14 house Negroni: Old Raj gin, Carpano Antica and Campari. His wife will have her usual Martini. Old Raj gin will do. That’s $3 extra. As usual I look for a bargain. Yes, Nero d’Avola goes with most everything and it’s only $12.

          I notice that Williamsburg prices are less aggressive than Manhattan’s have become, antipasti mostly $14 or less, pastas $18 to $23, entrées all under $30. That will cover the EZ Pass.

          As I’ve been dong lately, I suggest we all order starters and share. I consider the snacks. House-made mozzarella with roasted garlic bread. Radishes with whipped ricotta, Sicilian olive oil, and sea salt. I could easily put together an antipasto dinner.

The grilled squid comes in a small bowl with clots of tartly sweet marinated corbari tomatoes.

          Lauren and I agree we must have the cacio e pepe frittelle. These are thrillingly delicate, yeasty little donuts sprinkled with a blizzard of grated sheep’s milk cheese, one for each of our four. A server delivers cauliflower tossed with spicy soppressata sausage and Sicilian pesto with tomato and crushed red peppers, but no serving spoon.

We need a knife to divide the giant escarole leaves, deliciously salty from anchovy and ricotta salata. 

          She seems startled when we won’t touch the cauliflower without a serving spoon. Are we the only people who order to share? At last, spoons arrive. The double dose of chile heat makes it a very spicy dish. Not all of us have tongues rated on the Scoville scale, but I’m happy.

Handmade mafaldini is laced with pink peppercorns and Parmigiano Reggiano.

          The roasted escarole, a play on Caesar -- with ricotta salata, crispy garlic, and anchovy – comes minus serving spoons too. It actually needs a knife to divvy the thick escarole leaf. “Doesn’t anyone else ever ask for serving pieces?” I wonder. (Not to suggest sharing without serving implements is an outer borough issue. I find it everywhere.)

          The grilled squid are piled into a small bowl, banked with luscious blobs of marinated Corbari tomatoes. I borrow a spoon from the cauliflower to serve myself. The sardines, beaded with capers, and piled on toasted country bread, are a work of art under a lacing of dill fronds, as you can see from Dana’s photo.

Clockwise from top left, rigatoni diavola, sheep’s milk agnolotti, mafaldini, fettuccine with spicy lamb sausage.

          By the time clean plates are switched in for Missy’s couturier, hand-crafted pastas, our chorus has created a pattern in the server’s brain. A lineup of spoons is awaiting the elegant sheep’s milk agnolotti, delicate ricotta gnocchi, and a gift from the kitchen: squash-filled ravioli with chopped hazelnuts and sage.

Saffron and dried tomato givse the sheep’s milk agnolotti a golden glow. A taste of honey adds complexity. 

          Saffron and dried tomato give the agnolotti a gleam of gold. A hint of honey adds to the complexity. Broccoli pesto made with pistachios might sound almost too aggressive for the gossamer gnocchi, but it’s not. None of us has much appetite left for the grilled veal flank steak with hot peppers that seemed essential when we began. But of course, we taste. It’s disappointingly chewy.

After so many pastas and starters, we scarcely have appetite left for the grilled veal flank steak.

          We decide to share a dessert: the olive oil cake with grappa, candied blood orange, and whipped cream.  But a double chocolate torta materializes, too, and a serving of lemon ice with vanilla gelato and candied lemon. The designated driver has an espresso and steers his way to the nearest bridge home. I suggest you’ll want to join the digital waiting list now for your own passage to Brooklyn.

Dolci include soft serve with sprinkles and this olive oil cake with blood orange, grappa and whipped cream.

567 Union Avenue, corner of North Tenth. 718 576 3095. Monday to Friday 5:30 pm to 11 pm. Saturday and Sunday 5 pm to 11 pm. Coffee is served in the Caffe from 7 am daily.


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