TOTTENVILLE’S LAILA RESTAURANT IS A UNIQUE CHANCE TO EXPERIENCE TRUE MIDDLE EASTERN FLAVOR
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS BY AMANDA DOMENECH
Whenever Alan Aldakhlallah ate out on Staten Island, he was forced to settle for Italian.
“I like pizza,” he said with a laugh. “But that’s really the only option you have especially in Tottenville.”
So the Syrian born restaurateur, who has a passion for food and who long dreamed of opening up his own restaurant, decided he was the right person to introduce his culture’s delicious sweet cheeses, traditional hummus, and savory grilled meats to the borough. So, together with partner Basel Maiyous, Aldakhlallah launched Laila Restaurant on April 1.
“It’s a very uncomplicated menu, and I think that’s what people like best about it,” Aldakhlallah said. “Syrian food is very healthy a mix of grilled chicken, lamb, and filet mignon, surrounded by green salads and a range of appetizers for picking. We have 30 different small plates for our guests to choose from.”
Laila is located on Page Avenue, in a space that formerly housed Ruby Falls, a catering hot spot. Aldakhlallah recalled that while the bones of the establishment were good, he decided to undertake a major renovation so that his Syrian concept would be reflected not only in the food but in the ambience.
“We added new, higher ceilings and used a lot of exposed brick throughout,” he said. “We decorated with a lot of chandeliers, put in some gold accents and beautiful flowing drapes. We wanted the look to be a mix of industrial and classic design something traditional, but with an edge.”
Aldakhlallah and his wife, Amal, chose to name the restaurant Laila because it’s a moniker they have long admired.
“It’s a beautiful name that translates well in all cultures,” he said. “My wife and I had chosen it for our daughter, but we had a son. Hopefully someday soon, I’ll have a little Laila, too.”
Aldakhlallah also serves as the restaurant’s executive chef, introducing his family’s time honored recipes to a new audience.
“The lamb chops are a hit here, as well as the mixed grill,” he said, describing freshly grilled meats, which are served with a side of grilled vegetables and rice. “Traditional hummus, baba ghanogh, and labneh [a soft cheese made from strained yogurt] are extremely popular as well.”
Appetizers are divided into three sections cold, hot, and tartare and feature such Middle Eastern favorites as falafel, hand rolled grape leaves, and kebbeh made with a cracked wheat dough filled with spiced meat, onions, and pine nuts. There are a dozen different entrees to choose from and six kinds of fish. A special section of the menu called “Grandma’s Kitchen” features such dishes as Fattet Makdous (eggplant stuffed with ground meat and tahini sauce) and Stuffed Cabbage (rolled cabbage leaves filled with rice, spiced lamb, garlic, and lemon broth).
A variety of desserts are offered, including a traditional Syrian knafeh, made from an unripened sweet cheese that’s baked into shredded phyllo dough and soaked in simple syrup. There are also several varieties of gelato and ice cream, along with crème brulée and a pistachio cheesecake. “Pistachio is the star of many of our desserts,” the chef explained.
And while Aldakhlallah, a self-taught cook, built the menu from family recipes, he added that there are a lot of contributions coming from the kitchen staff, too.
“We have a great team here, and everyone adds something to the menu,” he noted. “I’ve had a passion for food ever since I was little, and I truly love bringing this cuisine to Staten Island. We are the first Middle Eastern restaurant on the South Shore, and our customers are grateful that there is a new option for them to try.”
Because Laila has received such a positive reaction from borough residents, there is already talk of expansion.
“A Laila Express will be opening soon,” the owner said, describing plans for a grab and go takeout version that will be located close to the Page Avenue address. “I’m so pleased with the response we’ve received so far; I hope to further this concept and branch out into the delivery business very soon.”
45 Page Avenue, Tottenville / 718.984.0006