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Tuesday, September 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 43.0° F  Fair
The Daily
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Eating at Layla's Persian Food is like dining at a friend's
New restaurant opens in lower level of the Madison Hostel
Borokhim: "There are a lot of layers to every dish."
Credit:Linda Falkenstein

The small lower-level eatery space below the Madison Hostel at 141 S. Butler St. has a new tenant -- Layla's Persian Food has been open for a few weeks and has already done some shifting of hours. Layla's is now open for lunch from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri., with dinner service available if patrons call ahead and schedule in advance. Chef/proprietor Laila Borokhim hopes to re-open for dinners sometime after the first of the year.

In the meantime, lunch focuses on six entrees (all $8), dishes like slow-cooked typically Persian stews (with grass-fed free-range beef, organic chicken, or eggplant and tomato) over rice, or a kabob kubideh (marinated ground beef formed into a patty, spiced and grilled) or jujeh kabob (chicken); sides are a salad or a farmers' market-based soup. Everything on the menu currently is gluten-free and there are vegetarian and vegan options. There's an "Ask Layla" special daily, too.

Borokhim, whose background is Iranian/Jewish, grew up cooking with her grandmother, who lived just down the block, for shabbat. She describes Persian cooking in general as "rice-based, aromatic, not spicy" -- the spices often used are saffron and turmeric. "It's an old cuisine, based on what ingredients were there 2,000-some years ago. There are a lot of layers to every dish." The stews also incorporate unique elements like walnut pomegranate sauce.

Incorporating organic, grass-fed meats in the menu was important to Borokhim as well: "I have a degree in biochemistry and I was going to be a doctor, so I know what poor nutrition does to a body. I wouldn't want to feed people in the restaurant anything I wouldn't feed my family."

All the vegetarian entrees here are also vegan, and the baklava is also vegan (made with agave syrup rather than honey).

The space has been lightened and opened up from the tight squeeze it was during its days as Cafe Costa Rica; the awkward bar/counter is gone and all space is devoted to four tables. Better chairs, too.

The vibe is relaxed and homey -- intentionally. Borokhim is both cook and waitstaff, and happy to talk about her food.

She's also going to be serving specials on Thanksgiving/first day of Hanukkah (a.k.a. Thanksgivukkah -- the dual event will not recur for another 79,043 years, so book your table now). There will be multiple seatings for the $18 meal. Updates can be found on Layla's Facebook page or by calling 608-216-4511.

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