Grape Leaf Cafe and Grill opened in Cotati (Sonoma County) earlier this year. Owned and operated by a very hospitable family from Lebanon, I dropped in two weeks ago. It stays open in the afternoon, making a good stop off for a late lunch.
Studying the cold case filled with colorful salads, the counter staff said I could taste anything I wanted. I ordered the Mixed Mezza Platter, $10.95, at the counter and asked for the addition of some lamb shawarma, $2.95. Only chicken was available but they offered me a grilled kofta kebob as a substitute. For good measure, I also added garlic paste (toum) and a cheese sambousa to the plate, and got a couple manakeesh - zataar flatbread, spinach pie (fatayer) and baklava to-go.
Loved the very smoky baba ganoush, a coarse mash not overwhelmed by too much lemon or tahini. The falafel's also excellent, with a fresh-fried crackly crunch to the exterior and mildly seasoned insides, dressed with tahini sauce and a drizzle of tart-sweet pomegranate molasses. Usually not a fan of tabbouleh, I liked the very fresh, zippy version here. I enjoyed the balance of flavors in the hummus, but prefer a smoother, creamier texture. Also it was a letdown that it was not dressed in the traditional way with a pool of olive oil and paprika though that was easy to remedy with the bottle of Tuscan EVOO on the table. Stuffed grape leaves were oddly tough though otherwise tasty enough.
Kofta, made with a mix of ground beef and lamb, was okay. Maybe the grill was not hot enough to get real char character. I'm glad I asked for some hot sauce, as the excellent shatta offered here was complex and fiery. I'll add that the toum was outstanding, roaring with fresh garlic intensity and no bitter notes. I will need to order grilled chicken some time to show the toum at its best.
The cheese sambousa was so soggy, probably microwaved to reheat. Pita bread was like cardboard. At home, reheating the stiff-as-a-board zataar flatbread returned it to pliable, edible stage. The dough's quite rich with olive oil and this made a good snack. I preferred it to the spinach pie that was too bland. The baklava is from Detroit and had seen better days.
On my way out, I complimented the owner on the toum and expressed my enthusiasm for Lebanese food. I asked if the meats were halal. They are not, since he said that I am the only person who has inquired, yet he would make the effort in sourcing if more requested. He did express that most of his customers have never tried Lebanese cuisine before. I wanted to know if they would be offering more dishes. He said I should tell what I'd like and he'll ask his wife if she can prepare them. So, what should I request?
The cafe has a small display of Lebanese food products for sale as well. It recently added a selection of deli sandwiches (e.g., corned beef, turkey) to enlarge the menu. There is some seating outdoors by the charcoal grills that will be pleasant when the weather warms up.
Grape Leaf Cafe & Grill
101 E Cotati Ave
Cotati, CA 94931
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