Ala, 4948 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda
For years, Bethesdans looking for a little Old World flair for their birthdays, bar mitzvahs, and graduation parties sought out Positano Ristorante, an Italian dining room with ivy and grape vines climbing its walls. But the restaurant’s 44-year run went out with a whimper amid a family legal dispute in 2021.
Now, the restaurateurs behind Ala, the two year-old Levantine restaurant in Dupont Circle, are reviving the space. Owner Deniz Gulluoglu and her husband Celal, an architect, hope to open their second location in October. They live nearby in Cabin John, and felt the distinctive, rambling building, reminiscent of a rustic Italian villa, would be well-suited to the spinoff’s vibe: “It’s like you’re walking in a Mediterranean country street,” Celal Gulluoglu says.
The Gulluoglus and their executive chef, Ercan Sahn, are Turkish, and some of Ala’s simpler Anatolian dishes hearken back to Ankara, the Turkish restaurant that formerly occupied the Dupont Circle space, and where the Gulluoglus had a stake. Manti (meat dumplings), ground meat adana kebabs, and pistachio baklava with hot tea are all quintessential Turkish items. But Ala is not a straightforward Turkish restaurant, and its sizable menu—which is fully halal— incorporates dishes and ingredients with origins in Syria, Israel, and Lebanon, as well as Turkey.
Eight-hour-braised short ribs are seasoned with North African ras el hanout. Turmeric-golden roasted whole cauliflower is topped with amba, a tart Israeli mango pickle. And at the Bethesda location, the Gulluoglus plan to pay homage to the late Positano owner Luigi Traettino with a dish they’ll call Luigi’s lasagna.
“We are not a traditional Mediterranean restaurant,” Celal says. “We’re always trying to add a twist to traditional dishes.”
The Traettino family, who had run Positano since 1977, descended into a legal battle after Luigi died in 2016. The restaurant closed its doors while Angela Traettino, Luigi’s wife, sued her son Jimmy, to whom she had signed over the restaurant, for alleged fraud and breach of contract. The Gulluoglus will lease the space from Angela, who is 93 and still owns the building.
In the Gulluoglus’ plan, the 10,000-square foot space will include a patio and rooftop, with 170 seats in total. Ala’s Bethesda menu will closely resemble the one served at the 19th Street original, including brunch—complete with bottomless mimosas and Levantine bloody Marys—and a daytime coffee service with sweet and savory pastries.