Photo by Robin May
There’s a Lebanese menu nestled near the bottom right corner of the menu for the French café tucked inside of Renaissance Market, tucked inside of the Oil Center. This nesting doll of culinary surprises will inevitably lead you to stuffed grape leaves, themselves layered rolls of swaddled treasure. For much of my life, I wrote grape leaves off as an unnecessary distraction from hummus and shawerma among Mediterranean dishes, but I now realize that was a gross oversight. At Renaissance, the grape leaves conceal a delicate blend of minty spice, pillowy rice and well-seasoned ground beef. Each bite has a deceptive meatiness that defies the leafy appearance, a slight of hand that convinces you, and hopefully others, that you’re putting forks over knives. Touché, meat. What a clever disguise.
What separates this specimen from others of the species is a meat-forward flavor that’s as warming as it is substantive. What you often find at many Mediterranean restaurants — especially in these parts — is a limp and wet cigar, served as an afterthought or garnish for gyros. Comparing the Renaissance grape leaves with such pretenders is like comparing Rice-A-Roni with a homemade casserole. One’s made with meat, and the other made for it.
Pro Tip - At Renaissance, you can shop for a new chaise lounge while you wait for your grape leaves. Do not eat hummus on the furniture.