For 16 years, the Tadros family ran an Italian restaurant with Middle Eastern touches in Holladay. Maybe four years ago, I reviewed it for the Salt Lake Tribune, one of the unhappiest reviewing experiences ever. After several meals there, I could only be honest with my opinion: I found it, um, disappointing, and said so, inspiring a lot of outraged mail from Confetti fans and family.
The Tadros family still runs a restaurant in that space in Holladay, but now it is called Layla and has reversed its menu priorities, serving mainly Middle Eastern food, with a few lingering Italian touches like Caesar salad and dinner rolls.
After several visitis, I couldn't be happier to say, go eat at Layla.
The interior has been revamped, lightened and brightened. Fun light fixtures and sconces, one wall of flickering tea lights and one of sheer white drapes, brushed aluminum chairs and bolstered banquettes make the main dining room chic but comfortable, while an adjoining area has elevated tables, a dining bar and a flatscreen TV for a more bar-like feel.
Service on both our visits was fantastic, cheerful, knowledgeable and enthusiastic in the kind of contagious personal way that only comes from someone truly engaged with their work. On our last visit, our server was Liz, the daughter of the family, so that could explain it, but I feel like on earlier visits other servers were equally invested in making us love Layla.
The menu is not as comprehensive in terms of Middle Eastern food as Mazza, for instance, but hummus, tabouleh, shawarma, kabobs, etc. are all present, accounted for, and executed well. I love the presentation of warm pita triangles in a miniature tagine and the olive oil pooled on top of the swirled hummus, just like Sito used to do.
We tried a couple different Massaya wines (from Lebanon) made in the Bekaa Valley where wine and war been made for 6,000 years. After a few minutes in the glass, they opened up to a fruity, light-bodied red that went well with the complex spices of the food.
Oh yes, the food.
Can I start with french fries?
Does that sound too counterintuitive, as the lifestyle editors say? If so, remember how long the French dominated Beirut. Layla's fries are perfectly cooked, crisp, gold and then, the Midas touch, sprinkled with za'atar, the spice mixture made of sesame seeds and dried sumac, which has a tangy, almost citrusy flavor. Za'atar is the secret weapon of a lot of Middle Eastern cooking, why it's not on the shelf at mainstream groceries is a mystery, since a pinch can add a kick to all kinds of dishes, eggs, breads, lamb, vegetables. Mix the herbs with some olive oil and use it in salads, or dress goat cheese or labneh (yogurt cheese) with it...
You get my drift. Lots of dishes at Layla are described as having "exotic spices." I'm guessing that za'atar is often one of those.
Anyway, the grilled flatbread sandwich stuffed with chicken, caramelized onions, pine nuts and za'atar was without doubt the best "wrap" I've eaten. Another great chicken take was the Mougrabieh,chicken over pearl couscous with chickpeas. The Moroccan lamb shank was outstanding, combining French tradition (braised in Burgundy) and Moroccan (olives and dried apricots.)
A chocolate torte lurked amid several phyllo dough-based desserts turns out it was made by Mrs. Tadros, family matriarch and the real life Layla, and though there was nothing particularly Lebanese about it, it was a silky, deep delight.
As it turns out, eating your words can be a delicious experience.
4751 South Holladay Blvd. Holladay, UT 84117 (801) 272-9111
751 South Holladay Blvd. Holladay, UT 84117 (801) 272-9111