Grilled clams. All photos: ©


Fettunta of cured sardines.


Ricotta gnocchi with broccoli pesto, basil, and pistachios.


Mafaldini with Parmigiano and pink peppercorn.

One of my favorite meals in my first month in New York, the food at ~LILIA~ really spoke to me. Chef-owner Missy Robbins has been in the Italian fine dining world (Spiaggia in Chicago, and most recently A Voce in New York), but this is her first solo venture.

The food is just rustic enough, but with the air of someone who could make it really soigné if she wanted to but is keeping it real, with the flavors hitting a pitch-perfect note. It made me think of Melissa Perello’s food at Octavia—if she were cooking Italian.

Cocktail snacks are hearty enough to hold up to a Negroni, like the cacio e pepe frittelle ($7), the savory doughnut of your dreams, and grilled bread slathered with chestnut crema and topped with a generous slice of pancetta ($8).

The seafood is exemplary, like the grilled clams ($16) cooked just right, nestled in their shells with Calabrian chile soaking into the bread crumbs, and fettunta (bruschetta) of lightly cured sardines ($13) that really lets the freshness of the silvery fish shine. A Little Gem salad ($11) is dressed just so, delivering much more flavor and delight than its description on the menu.

Pastas are straight-up magic. Silky but still substantial ricotta gnocchi ($19) are napped in a broccoli pesto with basil and pistachios, while the pappardelle in nutmeg-spiked veal bolognese ($21) is the belly-warming winter pasta dish you rightfully deserve—it screams for an Italian red.

The table favorite was the mafaldini ($18), which look like the ruffly edge of lasagne noodles. The dish is like a spin on cacio e pepe, but with Parmigiano and pink peppercorn—Robbins tells me she had some excess pink peppercorns at home and gave it a whirl on her pasta one night. It has a fantastic fruity brightness. Pop pop!

Lilia is in a former auto body garage in Williamsburg; it has an industrial modern look, but still manages to have some warmth and coziness. There’s a main dining room with a bar and open kitchen, and we were seated in the much quieter side room. There’s also a café open in the mornings. I can see this place blowing up, it’s full of charm and soulfulness. Look forward to returning for grilled fish and meats—and definitely more pasta. 567 Union Ave. at N. 10th St., Brooklyn, 718-576-3095.