>> 2/8/13

84 Seventh Avenue South
New York, NY 10014
(212) 255-7150

About a year ago, back in the Operagirl days, I tried one final time to go to Public, the Michelin starred speakeasy-cum-gastropub on the Lower East Side. Thanks to various forces, including but not limited to panicky roommates, an alleged sex offender, and a handful of cops all coalescing at the exact moment that I sat waiting at the bar nursing a drink, I never did get to eat anything there. It was, coincidentally, about this exact time a year ago that a couple of chefs from Public opened up their own place in the West Village called Leyla. Naturally, I was more than a little intrigued and enthusiastic. Well, while Leyla was decent, it is with regret that I must conclude in advance by saying that Leyla is not Public.

This time, I took Speeds. We showed up at Leyla around 8 and were greeted very warmly and happily by the staff who seated us in the front half of the restaurant near the big glass windows overlooking Seventh Avenue. Between the table of girls-night-outers on the other side of the room and the cougars next to us occasionally flirting with me (which was a little awkward), this was a very estrogen-filled room. I think I was one of three male patrons. Not a bad thing.

I ordered a cocktail, Speeds picked out a glass of tempranillo, and we set about debating the menu. First, a snack. Olives marinated in chile, orange, and mint. Served with some soft bread and olive oil, this was a good way to start the meal.

The appetizers were good, too. Speeds ordered the Wild Mushroom Toast, a large piece of toasted bread on which was a healthy topping of balsamic-glazed wild mushrooms, gooey ricotta cheese, and a mountain of arugula. Delicious, actually. The dish might have been a little more than her 95 pounds would normally think is an appropriate size for an appetizer, but I could have inhaled it in fifteen seconds if I tossed decorum over the cougars heads and out the window. My appetizer was the Moules Frites, steamed mussels in a broth of roasted garlic and thyme and french fries served with a paprika mayo. Too often I just get the standard white wine broth and this was variant was a perfect change. The mussels were sandless, large, tender, and the broth was incredible. The french fries were good, but not amazing. They weren't double fried, so they were too soggy for me. Still, it's not like I left any of them on the plate.

The entrees were where Leyla fell short. Up to this point, everything was phenomenal. My main course was the Maple-Glazed Pork Belly, a foot long strip of pork belly (not some piddling little cube you usually get) that actually was NOT half fat. It came with grits, a poached egg, celery leaf pesto, and picked mushrooms. The glaze on the pork belly was sweet and pleasant, the pork belly itself wasn't, as I said, super fatty, and I loved the poached egg bleeding its yolk across the plate. But the grits were almost completely tasteless and the celery pesto and picked mushrooms didn't work at all. I know that pickles are a thing right now and every restaurant seems to want to throw pickled somethingorother in the mix of their menu. But in this case, the mushrooms should have been kept out. I almost forgot, the pork was too dry. I wanted to like it. It should have been killer. But... 

Speeds took the Lobster Risotto, a bowl of risotto, heavy on the parmesan with large chunks of lobster and not-large shavings of watercress and leek. Again, this should have been amazing. I mean, it's lobster for chrissake. But while the texture was spot on, the taste was not. It overwhelmed the tongue. For a second, close your eyes and imagine lobster risotto the way you envision it in it's ideal form. It's smooth and silky and the lobster isn't fighting the cream and the cheese for power as part of a flavor coup d'etat. Now crank that volume to 11, soak the dish in MSG, and give the lobster a tab of acid before it goes in the pot. And add some salt just in case. That's this dish. Speeds called it fishy, but that's only a vague description because it's not fish that you taste, it's lobster mixed with Hulk DNA.

Normally, Speeds and I don't do dessert when we go out, but we had time to kill so we knocked back was was left of our hooch, asked for a round of coffee, and split an Apple Cobbler. The cobbler was fine, but Speeds was not terribly smitten by the large dollup of lemon-cream yogurt/whatchamacallit on top. "Whipped cream. That should have been whipped cream" she to the waiter as she ate around the melting white glob. I didn't mind the yogurt.

Leyla is not the cheapest restaurant in the city and our meal of four drinks, one snack, two appetizers, two entrees, two coffees, and a dessert, plus tax, plus tip totaled somewhere in the vicinity of $180.

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