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Published: Wednesday, 2/11/2009

Restaurant Review: Grape Leaf Diner ***

Before discussing the Grape Leaf Diner in Holland, let s take a moment to talk portion control.

As in, how much food is too much?

It s common to go to Italian or Chinese restaurants and find yourself staring at a massive plate of pasta or stir-fried vegetables, thinking, Um, I m supposed to eat all that? Why cooks feel compelled to load plates up with far more than the average person can eat is a mystery because it doesn t seem to make sense from an economic perspective.

And sure, it s nice to take food home, but, really, is that why we eat out? The point of going to a restaurant seems to be a combination of fellowship and dining with someone else doing all the work of preparing the food not gorging ourselves.

Which brings us to the Grape Leaf. A recent excursion to the Lebanese and American restaurant tucked away on McCord Road just a bit north of Airport Highway was almost like going to the grocery store, given the amount of food we ended up taking home.

There were a couple of cups of soup and three big Styrofoam containers of all kinds of food, and that s not counting the hummus and grape leaves we left behind.

The point: a restaurant like the Grape Leaf, which has uniformly good food, shouldn t feel compelled to load us up with heaping plates of meat, rice, and vegetables until the diner screams no mas. Better to cut portions in half, focus on presentation, and provide a solid meal for a decent price that leaves you wanting to come back for more.

We started with appetizers of soup, hummus ($4.25), and, of course grape leaves. The lemon rice soup ($1.95/$2.95) was delicious, with just the right combination of comfort food warmth and zest. The crushed lentil ($1.95/$2.95) was a bit spicy, but good.

The waitress solved the problem of whether to get meat-filled stuffed with rice and lamb grape leaves or vegetarian by helpfully suggesting a combo plate (both cost $5.95), making this a reasonable solution. I liked the meat-filled leaves better than the vegetarian, which were a tad vinegary for my taste, but both were fat and tasty.

The lettuce on the Greek salad ($4.25) was good, but there was way too much feta cheese on the plate, overwhelming the dressing and greens.

On to the entrees, which were the Mixed Grilled Kabobs ($14.95), Chicken Shawarma ($11.95), and Beef Ghalaba ($12.95.) Mixed Kabobs featured steak, chicken, and kafta (aka, Mediterranean meat loaf) over a bed of rice. The meat was grilled to perfection and other than being way too much food for one person with each skewer containing enough meat for a single meal the dish was excellent.

The Chicken Shawarma was solid, but the garlic sauce on the side was necessary to jazz it up a bit. And the Beef Ghalaba was interesting, featuring a wildly colorful mix of carrots, rice, broccoli, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, and beef tips in, once again, a huge portion. It had the perfect proportion of meat to veggies and the latter made the meal feel healthy.

On a lunch trip we started off with the pita chips, which are free before every meal, and with an order of hummus serve as a kind of Mediterranean version of chips and salsa. They re a real treat, frankly, because they re crispy and flavored just right without being greasy.

Unfortunately, the Chicken Shawarma sandwich ($6.95) was bland. Wrapped in pita without any lettuce or tomatoes, it has only its own seasoning to carry it and that s not enough. The Gyro sandwich ($5.75) on the other hand was excellent, with the meat seasoned just right with the side sauce a perfect complement. Both lunches were served with side salads and a choice of rice or fries.

The service on both trips was excellent, with the wait staff attentive without being annoying. Water glasses were kept full, the meals were served in a timely manner, and the overall vibe was friendly without being heavy-handed. As the name suggests, the place has a bit of a diner feel bright lights, no-frills decoration other than a large aquarium, casual dress but it provides a good value and solid food in a warm, friendly environment, so we re not complaining.



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