The chef at Ilo was once the chef at Aquavit, a wonderful Scandinavian restaurant midtown, noted for its clean, elegant cooking and often deceptively simple dishes enhanced by the clever use of good ingredients. The influence on Ilo is obvious. The cooking here is also clean and elegant, though the Scandinavian influence is less pronounced.
The dining room is a comforting space with modern, simple lines, a calm retreat from the bustle of the city. We started our meal with a mind boggling margarita. We like ours straight up, with salt, and made with real lime juice, not that synthetic stuff. This one was made to order, but quite heavy on the tequila. The flavor was excellent, but one such veritable flagon of alcohol was enough for the entire meal. And, in truth, it went quite well with the flavors of the meal.
Tequila does set off the flavor of white asparagus, which was served with chopped hard boiled egg and bits of smoky bacon on a slice of brioche with plum sauce. Egg and bacon are usual accompaniments for white asparagus, but we liked the sweetness and tartness of the sauce with both the asparagus and our mega-margaritas. Tequila also works well with crispy fried mackerel, an oily fish, leavened with a green salad and roasted baby potatoes.
By the entrees, we had had enough tequila, but we were still hungry. We had hearty fare to come. The beef short ribs were rich with dark, beefy flavor which was punctuated by the slightly sweet horseradish sauce. The charred pork loin was similarly flavorsome, with its porky notes set off by a chunk of cured ham. This was almost a southern dish, with the ham set off by cooked greens, in this case a spinach timbale and braised endive.
We staggered out of Ilo quite satisfied. Ilo is not a place for blockbuster
food, desperately trying to impress. The chef relies on intelligent combinations
of ingredients, good cooking techniques and a straightforward, elegant esthetic