As a critic, it's always odd when a city's food community goes bonkers for something that you just don't understand. In Madcapra's case, the bonkers part started way before the business opened.
The new falafel stand in Grand Central Market had national press as well as press in New York and L.A. well before its early May debut (including here in L.A. Weekly's food section). Chefs/owners Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson already had a following in New York City, where they had worked at successful Brooklyn restaurants. The duo held well-attended pop-up previews hosted by beloved local chefs.
That kind of excitement, especially over falafel, is hard to come by. And so it was with great anticipation that I first sidled up to the counter at Madcapra to try a falafel.
And, OK, there are things about these sandwiches that deserve praise. The flatbread (not pita), grilled to order, is fantastic: soft but sturdy enough to hold the filling, utterly fresh-tasting, marked by the grill. The fillings, too, are sourced with extreme care, the veggies snapping and crunching with bright flavor, the tahini tangy, the herbs aromatic. The stand serves three kinds of falafel, each one differing in its fillings: green, red and orange. The orange, for instance, comes with a juicy carrot salad and walnut yogurt, as well as thin-sliced raw yellow squash and bitter leaves of radicchio that give it a bracing quality.
Given all that, the attention to freshness and flavor, I am baffled by the falafel itself. Square, somewhat bland except also excessively salty, the Madcapra product is like the tater tot of the falafel world, but without the kitschy appeal. I just don't get it.
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The chefs claim that there are no herbs in the falafel itself because there are so many fresh herbs in the wraps and salads they come served with. The square shape is due to the production process — the mix is spread on sheetpans, cut and frozen, then dropped frozen into the fryer to order. I'm not sure if the freezing takes away from the usual lightness of falafel, or if the extreme saltiness is made worse by this process. I do know that the best things about the best falafel — the gentle green herbed flavor of the interior, the softness inside, the heartiness of the dish — are not present here.
I've been back three times, hoping to prove myself wrong. But every time, I come up with the same result and conclusion. There's a lot of things to love about what these chefs are doing, but for me the falafel is not one of them.