I am incredibly thankful that I did not pass on my evening at Oleana when I learned of the hour and a half wait for a table of two. I am also thankful for the excellent array of beers on draught next door at Lord Hobo to pass the time. After tasting Oleana’s outrageously inventive, fresh and local food, along with a bottle of excellently paired wine, I was eager to learn more about the restaurant and experience its associated bakery, Sofra, and Siena Farms‘ farm stand. I spoke with people behind Oleana, Sofra, and Siena Farms and found dedication to developing original, innovative cuisine and pioneering the sustainable food movement in the Boston area.
With Mediterranean spices fresh on her palate, Chef Ana Sortun returned from Turkey ready to fuse her passion of using only the best ingredients with the flavors and exoticism of Arabic-Mediterranean cuisine. The result of this marriage was Oleana, a restaurant just outside of Inman Square in Cambridge, that brought Sortun a highly prestigious James Beard Award just four years after it opened in 2001. Sortun took her passion for locally grown food a step further when she married her organic produce supplier, Chris Kurth of Siena Farms.
The night I was there, the restaurant was warm and packed, with diners at small tables, the bar and the outside patio. Sitting at the bar, I had a great view inside the kitchen and got to peek at the various dishes flying by. I was immediately greeted with homemade tomato bread and fresh pressed olive oil by the enthusiastic bartender. I split a generous portion of kale salad with tahini dressing, shakshuka (a bean stew with farm egg, leeks, spice and cheese latke), tender tamarind-glazed beef and smoky eggplant puree with pine nuts, moussaka of minced lamb and eggplant with whipped fava beans and a Spanish style pork empanada. Although I opted for meat options, the daily vegetarian tasting menu consisting of 5 meze appetizers and a dessert for $40, is one of the most popular options that provides patrons with an eclectic mix of seasonal house favorites. The most difficult part of the evening was selecting a dessert, especially after hearing about renowned pastry chef Kilpatrick’s homemade infused ice creams’ Eastern Mediterranean flare. I went for the salted butter ice cream with pumpkin seed granola and pumpkin-brown butter crepe, a great autumnal finish to an outstanding meal. Located at 134 Hampshire St in Cambridge, Oleana is a 12 minute walk from Central Square and is open only for dinner. A meal with a glass of wine runs anywhere from $30 to $50, on the pricier side but a great spot for celebrating a special occasion.
Oleana isn’t the only place where you can sample Sortun and Kilpatrick’s delicious Eastern Mediterranean cuisine—the team also runs a more casual venue, Sofra, west of Harvard Square at 1 Belmont St in Cambridge. Sofra is a café, retail shop, and most of all, bakery, offering Middle Eastern sandwiches, mezzes, prepared foods and gourmet baked goods. The décor is light and homey and there is an open kitchen to watch all the action, but the food is what turns Bostonians into regulars.
The downside of such a delicious and popular café is that the crowds can be overwhelming and it is hard to find a table, let alone a seat, in the small space. If you can get in before or after peak hours, you will be able to enjoy the Turkish breakfast of soft-boiled egg, cucumber, tomato, olives, feta, yogurt & spoon sweets, authentic spanakopita, oh so savory lamb and pickled cabbage shawarma, homemade pita, and huge assortment of Turkish cookies. I went for the shawarma and a platter of five mezze—hearty Israeli chickpea salad, richly oiled Brussels sprouts and grain salad, bright and flavorful beet tzatziki, pitryot, a seasonal marinated vegetable salad, and smoky eggplant with pinenuts, all paired with buttery homemade seeded crackers. My meal was ended with Kilpatrick’s absolutely addictive sesame cashew bite and an earthquake cookie that will have chocolate lovers going mad, washed down with a heart-topped mocha. I split this meal with a friend for a total of $26—more affordable than Oleana and definitely worth the organic deliciousness. Sofra also sells creative and hard to come by ingredients like rose petal jam, Eastern Mediterranean herbs and spices, dried hot peppers, halva, and more in their retail shop.
After indulging in Sortun’s culinary and baking talents, I took a trip to visit her husband’s farm stand at Copley Square Farmers Market to see the raw produce that gives way to such amazing food. The stand had copious amounts of winter greens, squash, vegetables, herbs, eggs, and flowers. I made out with a bushel of gorgeous rainbow chard, kohlrabi, and salad mix for $8—not bad for certified organic produce grown just outside the city limits. Based in Sudbury, MA, Siena Farms’ produce can be found year round at their South End farm store at 106 Waltham St and seasonally at the Copley Square and Harvard Square Farmers Markets.
Whatever Sortun, Kilpatrick and Kurth have going, it’s working. Visitors and Bostonians alike flock to Oleana, Sofra and the Siena Farms Farm Store to get their fill of fresh, local ingredients with the exoticism of the eastern Mediterranean. We can only hope that more chefs can learn to take a cue as adaptively and creatively from their worldly travels.
*photos by author unless otherwise noted
Amy is a first year AFE student with a big appetite for exploring the Boston food scene of exotic and local food.