Peter and I visited a cozy little restaurant in Asbury Park on Saturday night called Laila’s, named after the owner/chef Wanda’s daughter. The moment you walk in the door of this little storefront, you are struck by the smoky scent of coriander and the incredibly friendly staff. Well, the staff doesn’t actually strike you, that would be kind of weird. Unless you’re into that which is none of my business.
Anywho, talk about your lack of advertising, I can’t even find a reference to the place online. And yet, its attracting a great clientele (all by word of mouth, obviously.) Our cheerful and helpful waitress, Sandy, recommended we try the Cuban Meatballs as an appetizer. They did not disappoint. I neglected to ask if they were made of pork or a combination of meats. They tasted lighter than beef to me. This appetizer would have served a table of four just fine. By the time Peter and I polished it off, we were already on our way to being stuffed. But, being the culinary troopers that we are, we soldiered on.
Also, recommended by Sandy was the Orange Roughy with Shrimp cooked in white wine, garlic and coriander. A very savory dish. This was my meal and I am sorry to say, was not my cup of tea. But, Peter loved it. So, next time I am there, and there will be a next time, I will try to choose a fish dish that appeals to my sweet tooth. All the meals come with your choice of sides. I had the Caribbean Rice and Sandy recommended putting black beans in the rice. Sounded good to me, and it was. Peter went with sauteed vegetables. You could also order Cuban rice, sweet plantains and some other rice varieties. I heard the waitress say many times over to customers, just pick what you like, you can mix and match anything. Everyone seemed to dig this concept.
Peter ordered the Steak au Poivre which he devoured. It was a thick strip steak cooked medium rare. It actually came out fairly rare which he loves, so just know medium rare leans toward rare. Oddly, Laila’s au Poivre doesn’t have the cognac cream sauce normally associated with the dish. Good riddance! The flavor of the steak and peppercorns really comes through.
For desert, which we never order but Wanda treated us, we had the Flan. Let me just say, that you must love coconut to like this flan. If you do, you will be in tropical heaven. The flan was prepared perfectly and even though we were absolutely bursting at the seams, we finished every last bite.
So, to wrap this review up, I will say that the food may lead you to Laila’s, but the people will keep you coming back. It sounds corny, but you actually feel like you’re surrounded by family, family you actually like. The staff obviously enjoys what they are doing and by the time you leave you feel like you’ve made some new friends. That is what keeps customers coming back, the whole experience, not just the food. Too many restaurants never get this. We are coming for an experience, the food is part of that experience but there is so much more to it. Laila’s achieves this goal brilliantly.
Congratulations to Wanda her business partner, Diane, and her terrific staff.
Thanks again for a lovely evening.
808 5th Avenue
Asbury Park, New Jersey