Los Angeles Times
A Brooklyn-style falafel stand
Madcapra, my friend Gillian insists, is not a falafel stand. And in several respects I may even agree. Its chefs, Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson, come to Madcapra from Glasserie, a well-regarded restaurant in a gloriously inconvenient corner of Brooklyn. When you find yourself at its marble counter on a Wednesday afternoon, you will find out more than you need to know about what was at the farmers market that morning, whose arugula is pungent and whose lollarossa lettuce is especially tender, and what citrus is two weeks past its peak. It may be located near where the Middle Eastern concession used to be in the Grand Central Market, but its nearest neighbor is devoted to artisanal cheese.
And even though falafel is pretty much the only thing Madcapra serves, it is nothing like the happy, oily stuff you drive across town to inhale at Joe’s, Arax or Ta-eem. Instead of pita, the sandwiches are constructed on floppy, za’atardusted rounds of flatbread patted out and grilled to order. Where you expect lettuce, diced cucumbers and tomatoes, there will be handfuls of fresh herbs, probably including marjoram, cilantro and mint, as well as various greens and tart, crunchy bits of pickled things. There may be jolts of spiced yogurt or labneh supplementing the traditional sesame paste tahini. You will run into the occasional leaf of pungent Thai basil, which is not a typical Israeli or Lebanese touch.
The sandwiches, rolled up into dense tubes and wrapped in foil, approach the heft of Chipotle burritos. You can order them red, with tomatoes; green, with pickled cauliflower and fennel; or orange, with citrusy carrot salad and lots of dill. There was rainbow falafel during Pride Week. And if you’ve noticed that I have avoided mention of the falafel itself, you are correct. The spiced, ground chickpeas are cut into small cubes before they are fried into crisp gamblers’ dice, and they assume basically the importance that the croutons do in a well-made Caesar salad: crucial to the composition, yet somehow tangential to its essence. Should you spend the extra couple of bucks and get your falafel as an actual salad? You may as well.
You are going to be drinking sumac-beet soda instead of Coke with your falafel, and you will probably find it appropriate.
Los Angeles is the new Brooklyn, in case you missed the news, home to milliners, artisanal jam makers and champion baristas, YA novelists and successful banjo players, and any number of folks inclined to use “brand” as a verb. You can ride a skateboard from your loft to your job at a law firm, stopping in at a gelateria or a secret menswear store on the way. It is probably easier to get noticed by the New York Times style section from the sanctuary of an Echo Park bungalow than it is on boring old Havemeyer Street. After a few months of palm trees and excellent tacos, even the snarliest expats may be willing to concede that Walter O’Malley may have had a point.
So Madcapra is pretty Brooklyn, with water in cut-glass pitchers, yogurt drinks flavored with orange flowers and squirt bottles of the house-fermented hot sauce called zhoug. The broad, well-lighted counter seems almost purposebuilt to enhance the Instagram photos that everybody around you will be taking. The chefs enjoy sprinkling everything with spices and seeds.
At Glasserie, Kramer and Hymanson were beloved for dishes more familiar to devotees of the Yotam Ottolenghi books than to expats from Beirut or Tel Aviv. Their most famous plate was a $72 whole rabbit prepared three ways. The New York Times liked the squid. It was — still is — the kind of restaurant Brooklynites love knowing about: light, innovative and impeccably on-trend, yet obscure as the last guitar and drum duo you read about on Pitchfork.
What is even more Brooklyn than serving grilled radishes out by the Pulaski Bridge? Moving to Los Angeles, like Moby, Lena Dunham and the Dodgers. But Madcapra feels like Los Angeles too.
So: salads, like a fantastic concoction of puréed eggplant with sunf lower butter and sour plums, or the smoky grill-roasted cabbage with yogurt and chopped olives.
But if you have the inclination, the time and at least one other person to share the meal, you could Go Big, which is the falafel-stand equivalent of asking a sushi chef for omakase: the entire menu deconstructed into two vast trays of falafel cubes, flatbread and salad; puréed white beans with pomegranate seeds; carrot salad; pickles; bitter roasted broccolini with crushed seeds. All of it, like an overflowing mezze assortment served on a compostable cardboard tray.
Or just get the grain bowl, a brimming cupful of Grist & Toll’s finest layered with a healthy smear of pureéd white beans, greens, some squash or charred green beans or whatever, and the inevitable softboiled egg. Something spicy and Middle Eastern is lurking, maybe harissa. And then you mix it all up, unless you enjoy the sensation of hidden flavor pockets and random herbs, and in a minute or two you see the bottom of the bowl and you realize that you’ve just eaten lunch.