I have strong feelings on lots of things: cilantro, whether the color of a college basketball player's undershirt clashes with his jersey, etc. However, I've never had strong feelings on falafel. I usually see it on a menu and move on to other things. It's not that I've had a particularly bad falafel experience, I just feel kind of "eh" about it. Our friend Budak, on the other hand, is a falafel kind of guy. Whenever we travel to a new city he tells us where we can find good falafel. When he suggested we meet him at vFalafel near Dupont Circle, I was ready to give falafel a fresh start.
First, I love the tile awning. If a massive indoor rainstorm ever threatens the falafel topping bar, it is fully protected. Second, the owner (Man in the Yellow Hat) is really nice. He bears an uncanny resemblance to our favorite picture framer at Picasso Gallery and is equally friendly. When we looked a little overwhelmed by the variety of toppings on the salad bar, he offered to put the toppings on our falafel for us.
What makes vFalafel stand out in the world of falafelness is its all-vegetarian salad bar. You choose either a regular or a junior falafel sandwich and then can go to town adding toppings such as hummus and pickled veggies. Man in the Yellow Hat said that his wife makes a lot of the salads herself, but she just had a baby, so wasn't back to salad making yet. We also missed out on her bean brownies (hopefully they taste better than they sound) but I wish her congratulations on her new baby and a speedy return to brownie baking.
While Budak, the Falafel Fan went the do-it-yourself route with the salad bar, B and I let Man in the Yellow Hat work his magic.
We ended up with a tangy, creamy, messy concoction that was good enough to make me interested in falafel. Budak gave high marks to the topping selection but said the falafel balls themselves were a bit on the dry side. I hardly noticed since my pita was bursting at the seams with about 45 different kinds of toppings.
If you're a falafel purist, this might not be your cup of tea. We've gotten a lot of blog comments directing us to Amsterdam Falafel in Adams Morgan. My general falafel doldrums have prevented us from trying it thus far so I can't tell you how vFalafel stacks up. However, it's going to take some good falafel to tear me away from the Man in the Yellow Hat dishing out falafel under the awning.
Second Thoughts from B
Clearly, people are trending away from national chains and embracing smaller, local restaurants. J and I are no exception. While the argument usually centers around fresh ingredients and unique recipes, not much is made about the connection that can develop between a small business and its customers.
vFalafel is the perfect example. I won't remember the food so much as the Man in the Yellow Hat. People talk about chefs putting "love" into a dish. It was clear that every aspect of vFalafel was the product of the hopes, dreams, and yes, love, of the Man in the Yellow Hat. He was sharing his food with us, but also his passion and his culture. vFalafel represented him.
Eating out is sometimes more than food. It can be an experience that excites much more than your sense of taste and smell. By going to vFalafel, I felt like I was going into a person's home to hear his story... and that can be so much more fulfilling than any meal.