Last weekend, L and I treated ourselves to a meal at Oleana. No reservations were available when I rang the night before, but I was cheerfully assured that if we came early, a table for two could happen; which it did. We arrived just before 6pm and were seated immediately.
The restaurant is partitioned into three dining areas: an intimate nook in the back and two rooms out front facing Hampshire Street. There is also an outdoor patio, outfitted with a fountain and fig tree, for warm weather dining. The subdivisions give the indoor space a very cozy feel; the lighting is earthy and warm without being too dim, and the fireplace lends an emotional intimacy to the experience. We started with drinks: a paopao for me and a white port cocktail for L. The menu is focused, ingredient-driven, and inventive, which made deciding both easy and difficult. For mezze, we settled on the olives with za’atar, Vermont quail with baharat, barberries & pistachio, and an evening special, sheep’s milk ricotta with sweet potato, almonds, bacon, white truffle honey, and an arugula and mandarin orange salad.
Vermont quail atop some risotto-style rice. I would have preferred meat that was a bit more lean, but the harmony of flavors I really enjoyed: the gaminess of the quail, savory quality of the cheese, herbaceous notes from the sauce, and tartness of the barberries.
Ricotta: I could have eaten this dish alone and been golden. Again, the balance and richness of flavors really stood out, and despite the number of ingredients incorporated in the dish, it didn’t taste muddled at all. The variety of flavor combinations within the dish did not cease to surprise and delight. Each component made delicious sense, down to the flecks of freshly cracked black pepper.
L’s main course, Azuluna lamb with spices, greens, pickled onions, and yogurt:
Thanks to her microscopic stomach, I got to eat most of her lamb, which was robustly seasoned and perfectly medium rare. The garlicky greens (some cross between spinach leaves and snow pea shoots) were also divine, pairing especially well with the yogurt. Apologies for the blurry photo.
My sea scallops entree: tender scallops on a bed of dark, hearty lentils, topped with cruciferous brussel sprouts, pomegranate seeds, walnuts, and probably a handful of other things:
The genius of this dish is conceptual, I think: the sea sandwiched between the earth. The lentils could have been more interesting, but I took them to be something of a minimalist stage for the main attraction, which I gobbled up.
In my bikram yoga class, instructors often repeat the phrase, “If you can, you must.” That is, if you are physically able to attempt a posture (i.e., are not passed out or throwing up), it is your imperative to do it, and they would argue that you owe it to yourself to try. I believe the same can be said for Oleana. If you ever find yourself in a position to go, you must! If there isn’t an occasion to celebrate, make one up. If you can’t afford it, be prepared to eat rice and beans for however long it takes for your wallet to recover. If you can, you must.
134 Hampshire St
Cambridge, MA 02139