In the last week or so, the subject of consistency has popped up several times. We expect consistencey because we lay out the same buckage each time. On the other hand, we see that no one does it good every time. I mean last week I had a Johnnie's combo with bread that was this/close to being really stale. If this was my only visit to Johnnie's, I would have said, what's the fuss. Yet, no resturant can possibly be as inconsistent as Oak Park's Grape Leaves.
The population of Oak Park is nothing like, say Alabany Park or West Rogers Park, yet we support an arrary of ethnic eateries including Thai, Greek, Mexican (mostly awful), Indian (equally awful), Italian, etc. Meeting the falafal jones, is a little shop on Oak Park avenue called Grape Leaves. Only about 8 tables, they can accomodate parties larger than four only if you are lucky enough to find empty tables to pull together.
You will rarely find empty tabless. Grape Leaves generally fills them in at most meal times, serving the middle-eastern standards like hummous, tabouleh and baba-ganoush. Since this is Oak Park, there is more of an emphasis on chicken dishes. Only chicken schwarma for instance. Some of the time, the people filling Grape Leaves eat the most awesome food, other times, well, not.
Ms. VI and I sometimes wonder if Grape Leaves is really some kind of concession, almost like a booth at a flea market. Depending on which day and time you are there, the staff varies totally. Some days, the cooks are of Arab descent, other days, the Mongols run the kitchen (I mean this literally. For some reason, a bunch of students from Mongolia found employment at Grape Leaves). Depending on who's operating the concession, your experience will vary vastly.
When Grape Leaves is good, wow. They have an amazing ability to make out of season tomatoes taste good in a salad with tons of parsley, sumac and a few other ingredients. Yet, like last night, the salad tasted of bitter greens in watered down olive oil. Should not falafal always be fried to order? How hard is that. Last night's falafal were fried maybe last month, so cold and congealed. Grilled carrots, from a kebab plate, tasted of something from a forensic exhibit. Amazingly, the chicken schwarma was fine.
Usually, on the bad days, the chicken schwarma meat has been lying around, left over from the spit, and then re-heated in a saute pan. This creates something totally unlike the classic shwarma experience, the contrast of textures between crisp and mosit, the dryness from fat dripping away. Post cooked shwarma is fully cooked, re-oiled and all around mushy. Bad shwarma has been a problem many times at Grape Leaves, but not yesterday.
Obviously, the question is, why go back. Well, it is not always possible to travel great distances for food. More importantly, when we're lucky, the food at Grape Leaves is even better than just being in Oak Park. I really wish this was not the world's most inconsistent resturant.
Grape Leaves is on Oak Park Avenue a few blocks south of Lake Street in Oak Park. It is convinient to the Green Line stop at Oak Park Avenue. Go there if you feel lucky.