There’s a new restaurant in town. Wait, does Wilmington Island count as “in town”? Even if you live elsewhere, it’s worth a short drive out to Lili’s Restaurant and Bar. Look for the Spanish style building shared with an orthodontist along Johnny Mercer Boulevard. I just might have missed it if I weren’t so determined and hungry. Near the back, past the patio, is the entrance to this cozy restaurant. In nice weather, plentiful outdoor seating doubles the capacity. But we were there for lunch on a chilly day, so most of the inside tables were occupied.
The interior of Lili’s is sleek and modern, which helps this small space seem open. The cool grey walls and fixtures are balanced by the warm wood ceiling, tables and bar. That same theme of contrasting colors is reflected in the modern oil paintings on the walls, by Savannah artist, Christina Edwards.
On a recent episode of Eat It and Like It, chef and owner Mir Ali described his menu as influenced by French and Pakistani cuisines. How refreshing and unique for Savannah! I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to try it.
Better still, the menu includes flavors from all over the world, including Mediterranean, African, East Asian and West Indian influences. And yet, if I were to label this menu, I would call it Southern Fusion because of the incorporation of international flavors with Southern standards such as Shrimp and Grits, Seafood Fritters, Barbecue Brisket, and Chicken and Waffles.
Speaking of Chicken and Waffles, unless you’re in Nashville ordering Hot Chicken, the traditional preparation can be rather unzesty. So at brunch, Chef Ali offers a choice of Tandoori Spiced Seared or Buttermilk Fried Chicken to go with those waffles. In another nod to the South, Chef Ali sources regional ingredients such as grits from South Carolina, produce from Savannah’s own Tierra Verde Farm and meat from Savannah River Farms and Georgia Buffalo Ranch.
But let’s get down to the root of the matter: how the food tastes. For an appetizer, we ordered the Black Bean Falafel Flatbread. As a shared starter, it is a little difficult to handle, so I recommend it as a meal for one person. This version is not at all like a pizza, as some warm flatbreads are served elsewhere. It is easiest folded up and eaten by hand, like a pita sandwich. While the large chunks of Mediterranean veggies and flatbread taste fine, the falafel and mint sauce are really special and deserve their own appetizer plate. The falafel themselves are fried to perfection. Crunchy on the outside, herbaceous and moist on the inside. The mint dipping sauce balances things out with its creamy tang and fresh green flavors.
For a meal, my friend ordered the Sesame Crusted Tuna Salad, cooked rare. The tuna is sliced very thin. While very mild in flavor, the salad on which it lies is packed with flavor. The citrus-soy-wasabi dressing brings to life the kale, edamame, cucumbers and marinated seaweed. I would order this bright salad even without the tuna.
I ordered the lunch special which was Duck Stir Fry. Both the duck sausage and the roasted duck are delightful. The rainbow of well seasoned summer vegetables are cooked just enough so that they retain their gorgeous colors. The saffron rice, presumably basmati, is yellow in color, so I expected lots of luxurious flavor. While I appreciate the difference that saffron can make in rice, for my taste this rice is not seasoned enough. Neither is the fried egg over-medium, which lies on top of the whole dish. Perhaps it wouldn’t be traditional in a biryani dish, but I would rather have the egg poached on top so that the yolk flavor could run into and elevate the rice. Given that one can shake on a little salt at the table and the other elements are well prepared, I wouldn’t entirely rule out recommending this dish. Next time though, I’ll try the Scallops with Lentils and Pomegranate Glaze, the Seafood Stew with Coconut Milk or the Duck Fat Fried Tater Tots. Yes, you read that right!
Speaking of gourmet foods even the youngest can appreciate, we ordered a kids meal since we had a two year old with us. Creamy noodles and steamed vegetables may not sound original, but this is arguably one of the more delicious kids meals offered in Savannah. The wide egg noodles taste homemade and are expertly cooked (i.e. in very salty water to al dente). The cream sauce, though thin, is decadent. It reminds me of my family’s rich oyster soup base…half and half, butter and salt. The seasoned vegetables hit the spot and appear to be the same recipe as used in the stir fry.
I am so thankful for kids menu items like these that are just half portions of adult dishes. Truly, my kids and I are tired of children’s menus with blue box mac and cheese, frozen nuggets and fries. I’ll get off my soapbox now!
Reservations at lunch or brunch are only available for parties of eight or more, so get there early and often. From foie gras to fried chicken, Lili’s Restaurant and Bar serves approachable fusion cuisine that will take you around the world without leaving your comfort zone.