Tiliani Brings Upscale Halal Italian Cuisine to Dearborn

Tiliani Italian restaurant in Dearborn photo courtesy Melody Baetens The Detroit News
Tiliani Italian restaurant in Dearborn photo courtesy Melody Baetens The Detroit News

Chef Hisham Diab recently opened his take on Italian fine dining in West Dearborn, Michigan, featuring various Halal options in a cozy atmosphere. The ingredients used at Tiliani are locally sourced and fresh every day. Diab has much experience in the world of food and is passionate about his restaurant, which had its grand opening earlier this year.

Diab’s passion for cooking started at a young age. Food was not only nourishing but nurturing for Diab and his family.

Diab said, “The people that my family would host were happy to come over and have dinner. It made my parents happy to be able to serve people. And so I think my love of service and wanting to provide some type of nurturing definitely started at a young age.”

Diab studied at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York City. His experience there was very positive. He was forced out of his shell and exposed to new ways of thinking about food. Uncomfortable at first, Diab felt out of place, but soon found he was surrounded by peers that had similar interests and the same strong work ethic as him.

“I was in an uncomfortable situation, but I grew to love that,” Diab said.

Diab worked under Chef Jared Gadbaw at Marea in New York City. Diab learned not only culinary skills but Gadbaw, who earned Marea two Michelin stars, also cultivated Diab’s leadership skills. Diab observed the way Gadbaw loved the kitchen, how he spoke to people and how he respected everyone that worked there. It set a good example for Diab on how to lead people when he opened his own restaurant.

Diab explained, “Jared helped me see it’s not necessary to be an angry tyrant running through the kitchen, not to say his voice wasn’t heard when it needed to be heard, but overall the leadership he had, and just the way he approached work as a professional is something I always admired.”

While working in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar, where the application of spice is different, Diab was able to apply his knowledge and develop his own take on familiar dishes.

Working overseas also made Diab realize how much better the work environment is in America. “I learned more than anything about the importance of respecting people, valuing people, and building your team with those ethics. I think everyone’s opinion should be valued. I think those values go a long way if you’re trying to create something great,” Diab said.

After Diab’s time in the Middle East, he relocated to Dearborn, Michigan. His partner, Nasser Beydoun, owner of the Trio Restaurant Group, joked about opening a restaurant called “Tiliani,” which means Italian in Arabic. This joke was soon to become a reality. Beydoun and Diab noticed how there were no Italian restaurants in the area that served halal food, so the idea of the restaurant was born.

One of Diab’s main goals with Tiliani is to bring the community together and make them feel at home.

“It’s nice to see that some parts of old-school tradition are still there. I think it can only help a business to have a strong sense of community,” Diab said.

When I dined at Tiliani, it was a divine experience. Based on chef recommendations, I ordered the kale caesar salad, which was fabulous. I could have eaten that for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The potato pizza was exquisite. The crust was absolutely perfect, with a special surprise of housemade potato chips on top. The spicy rigatoni was the perfect amount of spicy and savory. The wood-fired butterflied branzino entree was everything Chef Diab described and more. Chef Diab was very kind and personable and sent us a few desserts to try, all impeccable.

The Potato Pizza at Tiliani is a _must try_ - Photo by Zynab Al-Timimi
The Potato Pizza at Tiliani is a must try. Photo by Zynab Al-Timimi

The exquisite Branzino dish at Tiliani - Photo by Zynab Al-Timimi
The exquisite Branzino dish at Tiliani. Photo by Zynab Al-Timimi

Diab told me he wants Tiliani to feel like his home growing up. The cuisine at Tiliani is very elevated, but the atmosphere is cozy and comfortable.

Diab hopes for patrons to feel very comfortable. “I hope you come in at 5 and look at the clock, and it’s 9, and you think, ‘how did these four hours swing by?’ I think a lot of times in these ultra-fine dining spaces, the hospitality of each guest is sometimes missed. We strive to figure out how to make everybody happy in their own way,” he said.

Hisham Diab head chef and co-owner Tiliani Italian Restaurant in Dearborn, MI photo courtesy Dearborn.org
Hisham Diab head chef and co-owner Tiliani Italian Restaurant in Dearborn, MI photo courtesy Dearborn.org

Tiliani has an incredibly bright future ahead. Diab plans to eventually have his own farm for Tiliani in Gladwood, Michigan. His family has a farm a few hours north of Dearborn, and it is something he has been planning for a while. Another plan is to open a casual spot called “Tili.”

Diab says, “Tiliani is the fine dining, date night spot, and Tili can be the casual pizza and pasta spot.”

Diab tells students who aspire to work in culinary arts that they should work in a restaurant for at least a year to really get a feel for the environment. He says that there are many outlets in the culinary arts: “People go into food journalism, food photography, and food styling."

Diab advises,"It is important to have a plan.” He continues, “In order to be a successful chef, you need to be realistic with yourself. You need to be able to truly taste things for what they are and not fall in love with the lure of the dish, or the fact that you made it. The second thing is cliché, but you need to work hard. This field requires a lot of critical thinking and high physical labor. It is fun if you enjoy the adrenaline.”

Tiliani is open from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and is located on Michigan Avenue and Military Street in Dearborn, Michigan. Reservations are recommended and can be made at tiliani.com