I like sharing all of my food finds with you. But there are some places that elicit more excitement than others. For me, Oleana is one of those places. Some years back, when I was just getting to know the Boston restaurant scene, I discovered Oleana and was floored by the menu offerings. I tried it for the first time for Dave’s birthday two years ago. He liked Oleana just as much as I do, if not, more, and so on Sunday night, we returned once again for his birthday.
We were seated on the enclosed patio, which afforded us full views of Oleana’s gorgeous outdoor patio, something I fully intend to partake of once it is warmer. The menu consists of almost 20 meze, many of which are vegetarian, and a few meat and fish entrees. Oleana offers a vegetarian tasting menu of five meze and dessert. We ordered the tasting menu on our first visit and it was wonderful. This time, we ordered a la carte.
After placing our orders, we received a basket of za’atar bread and baguette along with a dish of fruity and peppery olive oil. We completely devoured the za’atar bread. I first tried za’atar in Israel five years ago, where it is ubiquitous, and fell in love with it. It is a condiment made of dried herbs including thyme and oregano mixed with sesame seeds, sumac and salt. This za’atar bread was an extremely soft focaccia. The soft bread, coated in the salty herb mixture and soaked in pungent olive oil was nothing short of heavenly. I could make a meal (albeit not a well-rounded one) out of that za’atar bread and olive oil any day.
Dave ordered a glass of the Gamay, Edmunds St. John ‘Bone-Jolly,’ from California.
For an appetizer we had the cheeses meze – Homemade String Cheese, Mozzarella & Shanklish with Spiced Figs. The mozzarella and string cheese come from Somerville-based Fiore di Nonno. The shanklish, made in-house, is a fresh cheese mixed with aleppo pepper and za’atar.
The cheeses were served with an extremely thin, fried pita chip, on the right, and a flakey, buttery cracker studded with black sesame seeds. In addition to the artful presentation, the mix of textures and flavors was stupendous. The fresh mozzarella was milky and rich, the string cheese chewy and slightly salty, and the shanklish creamy, tangy and flavored with the aleppo and za’atar. My favorite combination was the buttery cracker with the chewy string cheese and a touch of the spiced figs.
For my entree, I chose two meze. The first was the Mango Spoon Salad, Green Hummus & Green Tahini with Fried Shishito Peppers. I ate the spoon salad and the hummus separately, for the most part, as I liked the flavors of each on their own and the plating facilitated this. The mango salad was sweet and juicy, with chewy cubes of mango and crunchy vegetables. The hummus was firm and topped with roasted chickpeas and the green tahini. I loved the firmer, drier consistency of the hummus, as it contrasted nicely with the runny tahini. Although I ate the mango salad separately, I did allow the dressing from the salad to mix with the hummus, which softened it and added a nice sweetness.
For my second meze I ordered the Spicy Fideos & Chick Peas with Green Chard & Orange Aioli. I was very keen on every aspect of the dish except for the spicy component, so I was hesitant to order it. Our server highly recommended it but offered to check with the kitchen, who informed him that the dish was not terribly spicy that evening.
You know that feeling you get when you’re leaving somewhere and you almost forget something really important, but at the last minute you remember and you think, phew, that was a close one! Well, that is how I felt about this dish after I took the first bite. It was phenomenal and I couldn’t help thinking how close I came to not ordering it and what a shame that would have been. The textures, for one, were lovely. The skinny vermicelli and tender chickpeas were bound together by a rich sauce that tasted overwhelmingly of swiss chard. It was astounding how the sauce achieved that flavor. Even the bites without strands of swiss chard tasted of it. It was thick and rich, but simultaneously light in texture. A sprinkle of cilantro and scallions on top and the orange aioli added some brightness to the otherwise rich and robust dish.
Dave ordered the Azuluna Sujuk & Date Brochette with Hazelnut Sarma & Celery Root-Endive Remoulade. Sujuk is a veal sausage and Azuluna is the farm from which it comes. The brochette was made up of thin slices of the sausage alternating with slices of soft, caramelized date. In the front of the plate was the remoulade, with slightly crunchy strands of celery root submerged in a thick, slightly sweet sauce. It was topped with leaves of endive, parsley and red onion. I could have eaten an entire bowl of the remoulade. Underneath the brochette was the sarma, which means ‘a wrapped thing’ and can be interchangeable with ‘dolma.’ It consisted of a leaf of chard wrapped around a rice mixture.
I cannot rave enough about Oleana. The food is truly remarkable. Executive chef Ana Sortun takes a few fresh ingredients and elevates them to something more than the sum of their parts. The mix of flavors are inspired and each dish amazes and satisfies. I without a doubt place Oleana in my top five, if not top three, favorite restaurants in the Boston area.
134 Hampshire Street