Dining – Laylas offers Lebanese treats

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Radah Chebat can tell you exactly whats in any of the dishes on the menu at Laylas.

I grew up on this food, so I can describe it dish by dish, said Chebat, 23. And she made good on her promise describing mouthwatering mezes (Lebanese appetizers, similar to tapas) of hommos, tabouleh, baba ghannouj, and more. Many of these dishes are similar to what can be found on the menu at any Middle Eastern establishment, but, Chebat said, everything at Laylas is homemade and fresh. The tabouleh chopped parsley salad is made twice daily.

Laylas even makes its own phyllo dough quite an undertaking; Jeff The Frugal Gourmet Smith once wrote Pulling your own phyllo dough? Forget it for an appetizer called sambousik.

Try the kibbeh, too. Its the one Lebanese food you wont find at other Middle Eastern eateries. Take sirloin steak, puree it and blend it with crushed wheat and seasoning. Then, you can have it one of three ways. Theres fried kibbeh, where the mixture is shaped kind of like a football, stuffed with meat, and deep-fried; theres baked kibbeh, where the mix is layered with more meat, onions, and pine nuts, or kibbeh niyye, the Lebanese version of steak tartare. Its served raw with olive oil and mint. Laylas also serves familiar fare like shish kabobs and beef shawarma.

As for drinks, Laylas offers Lebanese coffee, Lebanese wines, and Lebanese beer. The coffee is similar to Turkish coffee, dark and strong, and takes at least 5 minutes to prepare. It comes in three varieties. You can have it without sugar, with a little bit of sugar, or with a lot of sugar. I dont suggest you take it with cream because that just destroys the taste, Chebat said.

The food draws raves from customers. Its excellent, Michelle and Robert Ritchy, who had come from McLean for their anniversary dinner, agreed.

Such praise ought to make the Chebats proud. The recipes are family ones, not cookbook fare, from mother and executive chef Matilda Chebat, 40, whos not a student of any culinary school but her familys. Matildas mother used to cook for rich families in Lebanon, Radah said. Matilda must have picked up a lot, because friends and family used to try to finagle dinner party invitations when they knew Matilda Chebat was cooking. The food at Laylas is the same food Matilda would cook at home.

Along with Matilda, theres father Michael, the manager, 46, and sisters Radah and Layla, 21, for whom the restaurant is named. The Woodbridge family had wanted to go into business together for a while, and had been looking at sites in their hometown. Then a family friend mentioned that his restaurant, Nonla, was closing, and asked the Chebats to come look at the space.

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