Fine Dining

Ilis is a breath of fresh air to New York

Ilis is Danish for fire and ice. Two defining words for one of New Yorks most interesting and awaited restaurant openings of 2023. 

In Greenpoint Mads Refslund has been working on opening his own restaurant for almost 10 years and in 2023 he could finally realize his dreams.

Walking in to the massive restaurant is truely breathtaking. The entire restaurant is basically one open space. A space with impressive art on the walls, Danish designed furniture and the heart and soul of an old factory building. I have seen many beautiful restaurants in my time but this is definently one of the most beautiful. A space filled with personality and character. A character capturing the Danish roots of Mads as well as where he is right now.

The menu has two options. A la carte where you choose your ingredients and whether you want them prepared over fire or over ice and a tasting menu. We naturally opted for the tasting menu but I do love their version of an a la carte which is the most creative and interesting version of a la carte that I have seen.

Starting the menu we would have a fun and inventive drink. Unfortunately I don’t remember what it was but drinking it through a piece of celeriac in an emptied out squash set a playful and relaxed tone for the evening. 

Different crudities of fresh vetegables would be next. Putting focus on the purity of the ingredients from the get go showed you that Ilis is a product driven restaurant. 

In an emptied out shell we would have a simple and delicious potato crème with a bit of crispy herbs for texture. Another fun concept that helps making everything just a bit more relaxing.

We would continue with two different oysters and a mussel with chili oil. Oyster with caviar is a classic combination but to me the favorite was the other with fresh tomato which you were to squeeze over your self. The sweetness it added to the oyster really worked quieter well.

Dorado would be served in both a fire and ice variant. We would start with the ice version which was a sashimi version with blood orange on the side. Being served on the actual fish was impressive and inventive and the flavor delicious. The floral and acidic notes from the blood orange really worked. I loved it. The rest of the fish would be taken back and served as a fire version would later in the menu. It was nicely grilled but it didn’t have the same refined complexity as the sashimi version.

Another conceptual dish was up. Fresh tuna aged for 3 days would be served side by side with tuna that had been aged for 3 months. Naturally the first was vibrant, fresh and juicy and the latter had a wonderful umami flavor that was highlighted even more by shaved summer truffles. 

Citric flavors was to be a common theme for the menu and it works perfectly. This time with lobster, blood orange and a rich buttery sauce made on the shells and head of the lobster. A dish of pure deliciousness. 

From one luxurious ingredient to another. Caviar that had been ever so lightly cooked inside a fig leaf served with almonds that had been cooked slightly in almond milk. A dish of soft delicate and delicious flavors.

Next up we would have a crispy chicharrón (crispy pork skin) that you would top with sea urchin and different flowers. A very nice dish with great mix of textures.

A beautifully cooked squid would be one of the best things I had all year. Soft flavors from the squid were perfectly matched by an umami rich sauce made with a large array of fermentations and fresh vegetables provided a nice textural balance. I also absolutely loved the presentation which depending on how I looked at it reminded me of the baby Alien from the movie of that name or a Lions head.

Mussels cooked inside a pigsblatter would be another dish showing off the many different techniques that the kitchen represents and a nice bit of show for the guest as well.

They would continue using a similar technique for the next dish. This time the amazing matsutaku mushroom that was cooked inside a vessel of seaweed served with spinach. A delicious dish which was all about the purity of the product.

We would finish our savory dishes with a grilled pigeon. The breast was wrapped in a ramson leaf and the rest was combined into a delicious “meatball” served on the bone. A very delicious and simple dish.

Where most of the savory dishes had been simple and product driven the desserts would take on a more technical nature from a super refreshing granite to an aerated whiskey foam to an extra bite of caviar and walnuts. The technical side of the  dishes were spot on and so was the flavors which makes for an impressive combination.

It’s fair to say that Ilis has divided the crowds. My own take on that is that it actually has less to do with neither the food or the place but more about the expectations. Mads can’t run away from being a founder of Noma and many articles has that in either the headline or the first paragraph. There are obvious similarities between the two but in the heart and soul they are extremely different. Noma is a much more technical and Japanese inspired restaurant whereas Ilis is much more product driven. So if people expect an American version of Noma they will be disappointed. 

I personally loved the restaurant and see a huge potential. The space is incredible and the menu has so much personality as well as great flavors. For New York their approach to service is very different than what you are used to with the chefs serving most or all of the dishes. Something that I am used to from Scandinavia and to me only ads to the experience as you get the best of both worlds. Chefs that know the details of the dishes and sommeliers who are masters of wine and service that takes care of the rest. 

It is also fair to say that it is still a new restaurant which you can feel on occasion, but that only makes me see their potential to be so much greater than the already incredible restaurant that they have today. A restaurant that I will for sure return to, to see where it is going.

Practical information

Location: Greenpoint, New York

Menu: Small “a la carte menu” $195 and tasting menu  325$

Head chef: Mads Refslund


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