Lila is the restaurant we’ve been waiting for. It’s like nothing else in the city—or the region, for that matter. Ryan Boeve and Arthur Lopes, who own the upscale and excellent Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar in the Rosemary District, have now brought us a place that celebrates vegetables and freshness with dazzling creativity.
At Lila, the bun for an open-face burger ($13) is made of spelt, an ancient grain said to be more nutritious than modern, processed grains. The flavor-crammed burger is made with quinoa, sweet potato, chick peas, carrots and seasoning, and served with kohlrabi slaw that in itself is a revelation. I can’t remember the last time I ate kohlrabi or wanted to, but I’ve enjoyed it often and mightily at Lila. Other ingredients you may relish discovering in salads and warm dishes: goji berries, farro, epazote, beetroot, pickled chilies, or bee-pollen basil kombucha.
Lila, like Pomona, is not big; the room (a recycled downtown storefront) is a combination of bar seating, high tops, banquettes and tables done in fashionable modern-rustic style, fusing elements such as metal and wood furniture and terrazzo floors with a crystal chandelier dangling from a ceiling where the mechanicals are exposed.
Your napkin is a dish towel, and the plateware is modern and white. The open kitchen is clad in familiar traditional white tiles, but the front of the bar is accented with a customized band of large and elegant silvery blue ones. The overall atmosphere is both stylish and playful.
The menu, while focused on vegetables, is not vegetarian.
Under “small side plates” are some of the nicest carnivorous morsels to be found anywhere in town, averaging in price from $5-$18. A duck-fat braised pork belly (served with a mustard-pickle adornment) for $12 is the size of an ice cube and delivers about three bites of something porky-fatty-juicy-tender. To eat more might be an embarrassment of riches. Have the pork belly with the smoked poached egg in olive oil on brioche toast ($5) and you might have the tastiest breakfast anywhere—only you’ll have to eat it at lunchtime.
A moist and mild buffalo filet mignon is $18 and drizzled with a rich Bordelaise. There’s house-made bacon, organic Asian chicken broth and the ubiquitous short ribs. A small plate of merguez sausage (lamb) with mustard and onions ($7) might pair well with a main plate of Greek salad ($13) that’s heady with feta cheese, red onion and quality olive oil.
The meat additions to the menu are meant to be supplements to the larger vegetable plates and sharing platters, meaning they’re too small to share. But if I had three orders of the pork belly, I still wouldn’t share. (You might be more magnanimous.) You could divide the warm salad of freekeh (ancient durum wheat cereal grain), cucumbers, herbs and yogurt ($8) or the grilled baby bok choy with miso butter ($7) or the trio of Mediterranean spreads that comes with warm pita bread for $11.
The beetroot super salad with ricotta, fruit, seeds and pistachios at $14 is a filling meal, lovely to both gaze and graze upon. Same for the house-made pappardelle pasta with roasted tomatoes, ricotta and basil for $16. The macro bowl, which comes with chopsticks, is full of chickpeas, sweet potatoes, seaweed, brown rice, avocado and a turmeric-tahini vinaigrette ($15) all arranged in precise sections in the white bowl. Customers post photos of this dish because of the vivid colors and artistic arrangement.
Desserts are made at Pomona and delivered daily to its wholesome little sister restaurant. The lemon tart is sublime, and the other berry and fruit items change with the season and the ingredients master pastry chef Lopes can locally source. This makes Lila a great place to stop for an afternoon expresso or nushen tea and something sweet and decadent. No liquor bar here, but there are lightly effervescent kombucha tea-based beverages and craft cocktails made with vermouth.
Lila might make a vegetable devotee of you, but you needn’t be passionate about healthy eating to enjoy the diverse and creative pleasures at this intriguing new restaurant.
1576 Main Street, Sarasota
Monday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-1o p.m.
Sunday: 5-10 p.m.