The new nightlife destination opening inside Tysons Corner Center in early November isn’t just for club kids, either, says co-owner Vinoda Basnayake, principal of Versus Equity, the company that owns bars including Casta’s Rum Bar, Morris American Bar, and Heist. But it was inspired by the clubs that Basnayake’s close friend and co-owner, Bikram Keith, played as Jay Sean’s tour DJ. “He’s really big in India and the Persian Gulf. They would tour there a lot,” says Basnayake. The unifying thread in those regions, he explains, was “they’re all celebratory cultures.”
During the pandemic, when the music temporarily stopped, Keith called Basnayake, who’s also a lawyer and art collector (he made the news earlier this year for purchasing Kanye West’s high school oeuvre), and said, “I think I’m ready to pull the trigger,” Basnayake recalls. He was talking about his long-held scheme to bring the party he’d experienced abroad to his home of Tysons Corner.
Why not DC? Basnayake says that he and Keith had observed that when restaurants and bars began reopening after COVID, NoVA locals were more likely to go out closer to home than venture across the bridge. Besides that, “We do unique, experiential nightlife in DC. There’s a lot of options like that there, but in Virginia there’s less,” he says. “It’s sort of a unique offering for that area.”
What makes it especially unusual is the menu, created by the final co-owner, Karan Singh. Singh has made his name as owner of DC’s modern Indian restaurant, Punjab Grill. Working with Punjab Grill chef Jassi Bindra, Singh has created a menu that includes dishes from across the Spice Route. However, Basnayake is careful to explain that Leila is not a fusion restaurant. “It’s going to be the best and most popular foods of that region,” he says. “What I’m most excited about are the traditional dips and the bread. It’s kind of like the Middle East and India are all bread and dip cultures.”
Those dips include htipiti, a Greek red-pepper-and-feta-dip, and Middle Eastern hummus and baba ghanoush, but Basnayake says that the tandoor-cooked breads will also be ideal for dipping in Indian curries. Other dishes he’s able to preview include tandoor-roasted salmon, and Persian fesenjan, a sweet-and-savory chicken stew made with pomegranate-and-walnut sauce. Kebabs will be cooked on an oversized Montague open-flame grill, part of the half-million-dollar kitchen that will turn out the sophisticated fare.
Punjab Grill’s Hamid Khalili and Versus beverage director Hank Bowers have combined forces to create the equally upscale craft cocktails. They’ll incorporate Spice Route ingredients like cardamom, says Basnayake, to make drinks that pair ideally with the aromatic food. Another perfume will come from the varied menu of hookah offerings available on the patio, with flavors ranging from mint and grape to bubblegum.
Leila will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week. Music will be a part of the program at Sunday brunch and on evenings from Thursday through Sunday. Who knows, you might even catch Jay Sean performing there one day.
7943-B Tysons Corner Center, McLean
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