Unusual Turkish Food And Traditional Mediterranean Flavors Shine at New York's Leyla

The Turkish fezzes and appetizers can be shared for a full meal.

Leyla

It goes without saying that many Middle Eastern countries share a food culture based on longstanding traditions that involve breads, beans, rice, lamb and myriad seasonings that show up as readily on a Persian or Syrian menu as on a Lebanese or Israeli one. Yet within the individual food cultures of the region there are as many distinctions as similarities, and Leyla, a new restaurant on New York's Upper West Side, offers an array of dishes you won’t easily find elsewhere in New York.

        

The dining areas are decorated with Turkish textiles and cookbooks.

Leyla

Together with Executive Chef Met Kaba and General Manager Murat Akinci, partners Huseyin Ozer (he also runs nearby Bodrum, which is more Pan-Mediterranean) and Berna Erbilgin Gundogdu have taken the ground floor of a brownstone building and transformed it in to a bar, a U-shaped dining area and an outdoor garden patio.  Turkish artifacts are arrayed throughout, from beautiful Ikat  wall textiles to rustic baskets and shelves of Middle Eastern cookbooks. Soft lighting brings out all the colors of these very comfortable dining areas and the tables have globe candle lights. Do ask for a table in or near the garden to avoid the noise up front.

        

"Pide" are Turkish versions of flatbreads, which have myriad toppings.

Leyla

The menu is of sensible size, with much of the food comes forth from a ceramic oven that produces addictive pide flatbreads; best to choose the “3 Cheese Pide” ($11), with halloumi, kashar and mozzarella, drizzled with truffled honey. The lahmacun ($11) is also terrific, topped with minced meat, sumac, onion, parsley and tomato.

        

Grains, cooked like risotto, are a big mainstay pf Turkish cuisine at Leyla

Leyla

The mezze and salads include a wonderfully smoky eggplant “caviar” with charred onion, bell pepper and garlic on toasted sourdough bread ($12), and Leyla’s unusual version of a Greek salad with ezine cheese, pomegranate and lemon dressing ($14), is big enough for two people as a starter.  Muhammara ($8) was new to me—a puree of sweet red peppers and crushed walnuts, flecked with red pepper flakes and mixed with pomegranate molasses and ground cumin—a very savory dish that balances out heat, acid and sweetness together with a delightful texture.

         Non-mezze starters—and you could make a hearty meal from only the mezzes and starters—include braised beef tongue with housemade pickles ($14), a very juicy dish I could eat often, especially since it’s not easy to find in restaurants. Karides güveç ($17) is a platter of plump, tender shrimp that take on just enough sweetness from bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and shiitakes.

       

A traditional dish of lamb is cooked for hours, simmering in spices and vegetables.

Leyla

  If you go on to the main courses, you cannot fail to try the erişte ($23), a hand-cut Turkish pasta riddled with small lamb cubes, sumac, cumin, and a rich brown  butter-yogurt sauce. Our table of four fought over it to the last spoonful.  Equally as delicious was frekeeh risotto ($21) with an abundance of summer’s asparagus, mushrooms, string beans and zucchini.         

Leyla, would not be Turkish without a luscious lamb shank ($27), cooked for hours and enriched with mushrooms and sided with orzo risotto.  Branzino comes infused with raki and is cooked with caramelized onions, pickled za’atar and green olives ($25)

         There were four of us and four desserts, so we ordered all of them, from a böregi puff pastry layered with a rich vanilla custard ($10) and “pistachio mud heaven” ($13) to a sweet tahini flatbread ($9)—almost as good as a Nutella pizza—and kesem maraş ($8) made from mastic resin ice cream from Maraş, Turkey. 

         The reasonably sized wine list, with many bottles under $60, is geared to the flavors of Leyla’s food, and contains some rare Turkish wines. I particularly liked a Kavaklidere Syrah 2012 ($50), from a winery that began in Ankara in 1929.

         Leyla, which, by the way, means “dark beauty,” has quickly won  a local crowd, and it has the intimate feeling of being a neighborhood restaurant. It’s certainly close enough to Lincoln Center and the Beacon Theater to make for an early dinner, and right now that leafy garden patio is an enchanting draw for some of the most exciting food of its kind in the city.

LEYLA

108 West 74thStreet (near Broadway)

347-334-7939

 

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The Turkish fezzes and appetizers can be shared for a full meal.

Leyla

It goes without saying that many Middle Eastern countries share a food culture based on longstanding traditions that involve breads, beans, rice, lamb and myriad seasonings that show up as readily on a Persian or Syrian menu as on a Lebanese or Israeli one. Yet within the individual food cultures of the region there are as many distinctions as similarities, and Leyla, a new restaurant on New York's Upper West Side, offers an array of dishes you won’t easily find elsewhere in New York.

        

The dining areas are decorated with Turkish textiles and cookbooks.

Leyla

Together with Executive Chef Met Kaba and General Manager Murat Akinci, partners Huseyin Ozer (he also runs nearby Bodrum, which is more Pan-Mediterranean) and Berna Erbilgin Gundogdu have taken the ground floor of a brownstone building and transformed it in to a bar, a U-shaped dining area and an outdoor garden patio.  Turkish artifacts are arrayed throughout, from beautiful Ikat  wall textiles to rustic baskets and shelves of Middle Eastern cookbooks. Soft lighting brings out all the colors of these very comfortable dining areas and the tables have globe candle lights. Do ask for a table in or near the garden to avoid the noise up front.

        

"Pide" are Turkish versions of flatbreads, which have myriad toppings.

Leyla

The menu is of sensible size, with much of the food comes forth from a ceramic oven that produces addictive pide flatbreads; best to choose the “3 Cheese Pide” ($11), with halloumi, kashar and mozzarella, drizzled with truffled honey. The lahmacun ($11) is also terrific, topped with minced meat, sumac, onion, parsley and tomato.

        

Grains, cooked like risotto, are a big mainstay pf Turkish cuisine at Leyla

Leyla

The mezze and salads include a wonderfully smoky eggplant “caviar” with charred onion, bell pepper and garlic on toasted sourdough bread ($12), and Leyla’s unusual version of a Greek salad with ezine cheese, pomegranate and lemon dressing ($14), is big enough for two people as a starter.  Muhammara ($8) was new to me—a puree of sweet red peppers and crushed walnuts, flecked with red pepper flakes and mixed with pomegranate molasses and ground cumin—a very savory dish that balances out heat, acid and sweetness together with a delightful texture.

         Non-mezze starters—and you could make a hearty meal from only the mezzes and starters—include braised beef tongue with housemade pickles ($14), a very juicy dish I could eat often, especially since it’s not easy to find in restaurants. Karides güveç ($17) is a platter of plump, tender shrimp that take on just enough sweetness from bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and shiitakes.

       

A traditional dish of lamb is cooked for hours, simmering in spices and vegetables.

Leyla

  If you go on to the main courses, you cannot fail to try the erişte ($23), a hand-cut Turkish pasta riddled with small lamb cubes, sumac, cumin, and a rich brown  butter-yogurt sauce. Our table of four fought over it to the last spoonful.  Equally as delicious was frekeeh risotto ($21) with an abundance of summer’s asparagus, mushrooms, string beans and zucchini.         

Leyla, would not be Turkish without a luscious lamb shank ($27), cooked for hours and enriched with mushrooms and sided with orzo risotto.  Branzino comes infused with raki and is cooked with caramelized onions, pickled za’atar and green olives ($25)

         There were four of us and four desserts, so we ordered all of them, from a böregi puff pastry layered with a rich vanilla custard ($10) and “pistachio mud heaven” ($13) to a sweet tahini flatbread ($9)—almost as good as a Nutella pizza—and kesem maraş ($8) made from mastic resin ice cream from Maraş, Turkey. 

         The reasonably sized wine list, with many bottles under $60, is geared to the flavors of Leyla’s food, and contains some rare Turkish wines. I particularly liked a Kavaklidere Syrah 2012 ($50), from a winery that began in Ankara in 1929.

         Leyla, which, by the way, means “dark beauty,” has quickly won  a local crowd, and it has the intimate feeling of being a neighborhood restaurant. It’s certainly close enough to Lincoln Center and the Beacon Theater to make for an early dinner, and right now that leafy garden patio is an enchanting draw for some of the most exciting food of its kind in the city.

LEYLA

108 West 74thStreet (near Broadway)

347-334-7939

 

John Mariani is an author and journalist of 40 years standing, and an author of 15 books. He has been called by the Philadelphia Inquirer, “the most influential food-win...