by Meg Keegan
Having recently revolted against our typical American heavy-plate-roll-me-out-the-door dinner experience, I’d been on a bit of a tapas kick lately. With small plates, I’m able to satisfy my FOMO (fear of missing out) on incredible dishes and I’m also safe from the threat of that lull in conversation when the dinner plates arrive and everyone stops talking to feed. Hence, I’d been dying to try Sarma, the newest Oleana-offshoot jewel of Somerville (yes that does say “jewel of Somerville”).
Inspired by a traditional Turkish meyhane, this restaurant is a bold experience that celebrates food, drink, and people wrapped up in a single intoxication of the senses. The word sarma means “wrapped; enveloped; rolled up; a bundle of food that is bite sized and served as a meze. An embrace.” Aptly named, this restaurant exclusively serves meze, or small plates, of which they recommend about 3 per person.
An unassuming spot in Winter Hill, tucked around the corner from a greasy gas station, this establishment is a bit hard to find. But the transition off the street is almost unbelievable: upon entering, a friend and I were embraced by dark turquoise and exposed brick, contemporary but warm lighting, an excited, boozy social buzz, and the sweet scent of Eastern Mediterranean spices. When our senses came back to Earth, a lady with dark hair and gemstone eyes greeted and immediately sat us.
Our server was knowledgeable about the dishes, an absolute necessity given the diverse menu. Our server listened to our desired tastes and gave thoughtful recommendations. We started our order with four meze plates: three vegetarian and one meat. The beauty of the small plate style is the supposedly quick turnaround, and you can always order more if still hungry after a few. In addition, we wanted to save room for Sarma’s dim sum-esque feature, where servers tempt your olfactory lobes with trays of special meze carried through the cozy-tight aisles.
Our drinks, the Mal’s 75 and the Hermoso Ramo, were offbeat-sounding and decidedly delicious in execution. We waited a while for our first meze to arrive as a result of a “backed-up kitchen.” Our server eased the pain with Sarma’s house pide, a Turkish flatbread, which was sprinkled with za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix), wrapped warm, and served with small personal votives of olive oil for dipping. The wait wasn’t too bad–the music was enjoyable and not too pretentious; the vibrant environment was stimulating for lively conversation and full-volume laughter.
When our dishes did arrive, they failed to disappoint. We swooned over the grilled broccoli dish, where tahini took grilled broccoli and made it into a headliner. My carnivore friend delighted in the lamb ribs; I was all too consumed in the ridiculously delicious cabbage roll. We gave in to the trayed temptation with a delicious fifth meze, which featured grilled baby artichokes and some charred greens dancing with the sour notes of lemon and sumac berries.
We departed with a sense of fulfillment and vigor, rather than an uncomfortable sluggishness. Once again shocked by the transition back into a frigid, dark Somerville, we popped into a cab and were on our way, our Sarma experience now an internal glow. The final word: I can’t wait to go back, but neither can anyone else—getting a reservation at Sarma required almost a month’s advance! But the month’s wait is surely worth it.
249 Pearl St.
Meg Keegan is a 2nd-year Friedman student in the Agriculture, Food, and Environment program.