Enjoy Mediterranean Cuisine at Layla

Carey Sweet
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Sonoma County is no stranger to great Mediterranean food. Layla, however, offers its own twist with a lighter, reinvented approach to the cuisine. 

Set on more than seven prime acres on East MacArthur Place off Hwy. 12, the restaurant has come out of the gates with a bang. Under the helm of chef Cole Dickinson (previously of Chris Cosentino’s Acacia House), the fresh, bright cooking is sophisticated, often superb and sometimes surprising.

Hummus plate at Layla in Sonoma in Sonoma County

Salmorejo soup? Salmorejo is a purée of tomato, bread, oil and garlic, originating from Cordoba in Andalucia, south Spain. Here, Dickinson twists it a bit with toasted pepitas, smoked olive oil and confit grapes ($12).

The look: The crew gutted the entire building. Gone is the darker equestrian theme, with a new, contemporary look that’s elegant in cream, soft mocha, ivory, and touches of mint. Large windows let in views of the lavish landscaped patio outside, and two live trees amid the tables inside continue the verdant theme.

interior image of Layla in Sonoma County

To eat: The menu bounces between classics like a half dozen oysters splashed with fermented hot sauce ($18), and modern bites like salmon set atop braised lettuce with caviar, pearls and citrus beurre blanc ($31)? Fun is one apt descriptor, for the plates that generally are individual servings but are really interesting to share, as you’re curious about what your tablemates have ordered.

Start with the Parker House rolls, baked in-house and drizzled with chicken drippings and sherry vinegar ($7). They’re warm, fluffy happiness. Then, get the crudo. The menu changes for specific presentations within staple dishes, but on our visit, the fish was a delicate cubed yellowtail, molded into a cylinder, sprinkled in a coat of tempura crunchies and dolloped with an intriguing tartar sauce made of sea beans ($18).

crispy octopus in sauce at Layla in Sonoma County

We also got dips to nibble on with grilled, herbed pita strips - baba ganoush with walnut, pickled raisin and black garlic; hummus with English peas and pea tendril chimichurri; and tzatziki with cucumber and za'atar ($9 each or all three for $24). The mashes are terrific, the baba ganoush in particular with its powerful, layered flavors.

I love shakshuka, that traditional Israeli breakfast of eggs poached in a highly seasoned tomato sauce. So I was happy to see it here, albeit dialed up for dinner. This version substitutes a milky white halibut fillet for the eggs, though the sauce is as rich as the original, glistening with a bit of olive oil and studded with tangy pickled peppers, Castelvetrano olives and crispy chickpeas ($32).

Sometimes I’m wary of ordering octopus since the meat can become tough when cooked. But Dickinson treats the seafood so tenderly, it’s gently chewy and full flavored, tumbled with potato confit and enhanced by a pumpkin-red romesco kissed with lemon-parsley vinaigrette ($21).

yellowtail Crudo at Layla in Sonoma County

Against all the big flavors, a bowl of cacio e pepe ($21) helped reset our palates. Skinny twirls of bucatini pasta were cooked perfectly al dente, tossed with warm egg and espelette pepper, and became an instant table favorite.

To note: Saddles meat lovers will be pleased to know that excellent beef still has its place of honor here. Creekstone Prime 14-ounce New York strip steak ($56), 16-ounce rib eye ($68) and  8-ounce filet ($51) are open flame grilled, then plated with crispy potatoes, confit onions, blue cheese and choice of port jus, chimichurri or homemade steak sauce.

bowl of Straus Yogurt at layla in Sonoma County

Dessert: Yogurt to wrap up a fine dinner? Yes, please. A generous scoop of thick, tangy Straus Family plain yogurt is drizzled in buckwheat honey and sprinkled in granola around a bed of seasonal fruit like figs and raspberries ($12). It’s light, heavenly, and just the right Mediterranean finale. Loukoumades are knockouts, too, the warm donuts sticky with candied pistachio and dunked in whipped lemon curd ($10).

To drink: Study the 14-page wine and spirits list for global and Sonoma County treasures. And be sure to order at least one cocktail – the neighboring bar whips up jewels like the complex Juniper & Thyme of Plymouth Gin, strawberry, pomegranate-thyme Shrub, lemon, aquafaba and angostura ($14).

Details: 29 E. MacArthur Street, Sonoma, 800-722-1866