Oleana opened in Cambridge back in 2001 and continues to be one of the most popular restaurants in the Boston suburb. It’s quite the feat given the rate of restaurants closing these days.
The restaurant is located in a residential area of Cambridge on a very unassuming street. The interior of the restaurant is quite dark and instead of the dining room being in one big open space, it’s divided into separate rooms. The space has a very neighborhood-y feel to it – it’s not modern or trendy but very warm and friendly.
Oleana was opened by Chef Ana Sortun after being inspired by a trip to Turkey. After opening her restaurant, she won a James Beard award for Best Chef Northeast (2005) and competed on Top Chef Masters.
The restaurant features an extensive menu of mezes (small plates) and larger fish and meat dishes inspired by Mediterranean flavours. A vegetable meze-style tasting menu is also available for $40.
We started out with the Octopus Saganaki –almond skordalia, sweet pepper & olive salad ($14), which was a great way to whet our appetites. The dish consisted of little bits of chopped octopus, peppers and briny olives sitting on top of a delicious almond skordalia (like a dip). They were able to pack a ton of flavour into this little dish.
Up next was the Spinach Falafel – tahini sauce, beet yogurt & cress ($12), one of their most popular dishes. Crisp on the outside and incredibly creamy on the inside, this was unlike any falafel I’ve had before. You won’t find dry crumbly falafel balls here! But I have to say, the price is pretty steep for 3 falafel balls (we added an extra ball for an added cost since we had four people).
A dish that caught my eye was the Lamb & Grape Leaf Tart – cumin, orange, orzo & spicy feta ($11). It was certainly unique. It was essentially a flattened meatball topped with feta and wrapped in a grape leaf. I really enjoyed it – the lamb was tasty and I loved it with the creamy feta.
If there’s one thing you’re going to order from Oleana, it has to be the Sultan’s Delight – tamarind beef, smoky eggplant puree & pinenut ($14). This was hands down our favourite dish of the evening. It consisted of sweet, melt-in-your-mouth short ribs covered in a slightly sweet tamarind glaze. I also loved accompanying eggplant puree which had this nice smokiness to it. It all worked together so perfectly!
Another meze we shared was the Vermont Quail Kebob – Baharat spice, barberries and pistachio ($13). Honestly, this was a ridiculously small portion for the price. I only really got a small taste of this and while it was tasty, it just isn’t great value (especially for us Canadians).
For a more substantial dish, we ordered the Duck Shawarma – cherry spoon salad, mint labne & pickled red onion ($26). It arrived already wrapped and cut in half. The duck was quite tender and the accompanying pickled onions, salad and labne were delicious. Overall, I thought the shawarma was good but not particularly memorable.
The last dish we shared was the Lemon Chicken Za’atar – with a Turkish cheese pancake ($25). I usually stay away from chicken entrees but this seemed to be a popular dish so we gave it a try. The chicken had a great za’atar and spice crust on the skin and the chicken was incredibly moist. Eaten together with the cheese crepe underneath, each bite packed quite a punch.
On the whole, we had an enjoyable experience at Oleana. While the entrées weren’t bad, I thought the mezes were definitely the highlight of the meal. But be prepared for a large bill if you want to leave full – the prices are quite steep for the portion size.
At a glance:
- Opened in 2001 by Chef Ana Sortun (James Beard award for Best Chef Northeast in 2005, competed in Top Chef Masters)
- Inspired by Mediterranean flavours
- Located on a residential street in Cambridge
- Prices are high for the portion size (mezes are very small)
- Mezes were the highlight of the meal; entrees were less memorable
- Open for dinner at 5:30pm every night
- Highlights: Sultan’s Delight, Octopus Saganaki
Ratings (out of 5):
- Food: 3.5 stars
- Service: 3 stars
- Atmosphere: 3 stars