If you are planning a meal with a group of picky eaters, I have found that Mediterranean cuisine is my go-to choice: there is always a wide variety of delicious dishes, from meats to seafood, and usually plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. Opened earlier this spring, Leyla is bringing Turkish cuisine to the Upper West Side.
Leyla, which means “dark beauty” in Turkish, is your new favorite neighborhood spot for the bright, vibrant flavors of Mediterranean cuisine. The restaurant is conceptualized by Huseyin Ozer and business partner Berna Erbilgin Gundogdu, who brought a piece of their home to NYC. The kitchen is run by Executive Chef Met Kaba, and with the help of General Manager Murat Akinci, Lelya serves dishes designed to inspire the palate.
We started with drinks, and as per usual I always must get any cocktail with egg white. Drogheda’s Spirit was a moody mix of Jameson, Chambord, lemon, and egg white – not too sour, not too sweet, not too strong, just an excellent balance of flavors. The Duman was also an excellent choice of Bourbon, Mezcal, ginger, and honey, and for a great summer drink try the Botanist with gin, elderflower, lime, cucumber, and rosemary.
First you will want to start you meal with a Turkish pide. “What is a Turkish pide?” you may ask. The answer is that it is basically a flatbread baked in a stone oven, and they offer a wide variety of delicious toppings. Apparently it is meant to be rolled up and eaten with your hands, which explains why I had such difficulty using silverware.
We ordered the Merguez Pide with marinara sauce, red onions, and mozzarella cheese, with a nice slightly crunchy crust. For meat lovers, try the Lahmacun Pide topped with minced meat, sumac, onions, parsley, and tomatoes, which is nice hearty option. These pides are great for ordering a couple of varieties to share with the table. Also try the Slow Cooked Short Rib Pide with an eggplant spread and kashar cheese, or the Vegetarian Pide with broccoli rabe, bok choy, spinach, leeks, and charred bell peppers.
In addition to the pides, other great starter dishes include the Branzino Crudo with pickled sea fennel and gremolata, the Sun-Dried Eggplant stuffed with pilaf, tamarind, currant, pine nuts, and the Quinoa Hummus Salad topped with crispy chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, and a balsamic tahini dressing. For hot appetizers, try the Karides Gave with bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and shiitake mushrooms, or the Braised Beef Tongue.
I am obsessed with Turkish manti dumplings so naturally I gravitated towards the Eriste, handcut Turkish pasta with cubed lamb in a brown butter yogurt sauce. It was delicious! The creaminess of the sauce blended expertly with the sharp flavors of the sumac and cumin.
We also ordered the branzino, which is expertly prepared, only slightly salted to enhance the natural flavors of the delicate fish. With a side salad, this is a wonderful dish that is healthy (in preparation for summer swimsuit season), and also delicious and filling.
For those looking for something extra hearty, definitely order their slow-cooked Lamb Shank with porcini orzo risotto, or the Frekeeh Risotto with asparagus, mushroom, string beans, zucchini, and parmesan. You can’t go wrong with either of these Lelya specialties.
For dessert we had the Laz Boregi, phyllo dough filled with milk pudding and topped with pink peppercorn. The layered phyllo was nice and crispy, which paired excellent with the creamy pudding filling. The pink peppercorn added an interesting shock to the palate – I had to dust a bit of them off, but the residue was just enough to add to the complex flavors. If you are into the flatbread theme, also try the Tahini and Honey Flatbread topped with toasted walnuts.
Leyla has also recently launched brunch, which includes great additions such as Mascarpone Scrambled Eggs, a Breakfast Pide with quail eggs and sujuk, and Mihlama (a traditional breakfast staple in Turkey’s northern Black Sea region). Accompany those with some brunch cocktails including an array of flavored mimosas (original, passion fruit, and lychee), a Tommy Margarita (Resposado Tequila, lime, and agave) and Leyla’s Favorite (Vodka, Campari, Sour Cherry).
Whether for a weekend group brunch or for a calm date night, make your next reservation at Leyla.
Hours of Operation
Mon – Thurs: 5pm-10pm
Friday & Saturday: 5pm-10:45pm
Photos via Leyla and by Yvonne Lee