Although Oleana has been rightly praised on HO on many threads on many occasions, we don’t seem to have a thread dedicated to it. It certainly deserves one. Apart from the general, consistent excellence of its food, it also offers cuisine that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. For example, we have some good Italian restaurants in the Boston area, but you can find comparable (and often better) food in New York – sticking only to within-the-U.S. comparisons. The same goes for Chinese food, although Taiwanese restaurants in the Boston area have been better (until recently) than those in NY. With Oleana, I can’t think of anything comparable elsewhere in the U.S. (And if people have information that corrects me, I’d be delighted.)
Anyway, on to Oleana…
Our most recent visit, last week, was on a beautiful evening – just the right degree of warmth, clear skies. We sat in the garden, of course.
We ordered a few old friends – deviled eggs, spinach felafel and sultan’s delight (more on that later) – but tried hard to discipline ourselves to eat new things. With regret we passed on the buttered hummus, the lamb lamejun, the moussaka, etc.
Dishes that we’d seen before, but had not tried included the dark leafy greens, dressed with tahini. The greens were lovely, cooked so that they had the perfect balance between tenderness and chew, and the tahini complemented them beautifully. It left me wondering why I hadn’t thought of that combination myself. We had what were called shitake kofte, but were actually a loose mix of chopped mushrooms and some grain, and mung beans served in little butter lettuce cups. It was very tasty, and we polished off every speck, but it was not quite what we were expecting. We had a similar mismatch between description and dish with the arugula and peach salad, a special that night. We were expecting sweet, juicy chunks of peach – maybe, we fantasized, Sienna Farms had an early crop? – counterpointed with the slight bitterness of arugula. Instead the peach was tart – in reality, what else to expect this early in the season? – chopped fine, and the entire salad aimed at bitter-tart, not bitter-sweet. It was a terrific combination, and again we ate every last bit, but it took us a few seconds to adjust our expectations.
The topik – a mix of mashed potato, hummus, spring onions, and pine nuts – was easier to enjoy on its own terms, because we had no idea what to expect and were suitably wowed when it arrived. The mix is shaped into a large, vaguely potato-like ellipsoid, covered with a tahini “icing”, over which are dribbled veins of pomegranate molasses. It’s a lovely dish to behold, and lovely to eat. We also had the cheese saganaki – and really what’s not to like about grilled, sharp cheese with walnuts served on a salad? – and the spoon lamb encroute – very tender lamb surrounded by petals of crisp phyllo, with turnips.
No meal at Oleana is complete without a Maura Kilpatrick (plus Sophie Gees, to give credit to the hands on the cake) dessert. We passed, sadly, on the baked alaska (which we have had – and enjoyed – over two dozen times over the years), and had a special based on a “broken” turkish breakfast pastry – filling surrounded by shards of crisp pastry, with syrupy blueberries scattered around, and a tart scoop of blueberry gelato on the side. As with all the other desserts there, this was an absolute riot of a party in our mouths – tastes, textures, surprises. The sundae, our second dessert, was similarly joyous, especially the nut dukkah with which it is sprinkled.
The service at Oleana has always been a bit quirky: they make dishes in batches and roll them out a dish at a time. Suddenly, it’s felafel time and servers will bring them out to everybody who has ordered it. Then it’s topik time. By the time sultan’s delight time rolled around, it was nearly two hours after we had been seated, and about 15 minutes after we had finished the rest of our meal. We wanted dessert, so asked them to cancel the beef – with great regret. Our daughter – a poor eater when she was young – could always be relied on to polish off “Anna’s short rib” at Casablanca (to those of you too young to remember – look it up), from Anna Sortun’s stint there, and a legacy dish after she left. She (our daughter) then started on the evolved version at Oleana. To this day, she says she does not eat meat, but she will eat an entire sultan’s. So, it’s a dish with memories, but we’ll be back for it soon.
It was yet another knockout dinner at Oleana. The sky was darkening when we left, and there was the scent of flowers in the air. Can there be a better dining experience anywhere, than one at this level of creative conception and flawless execution in the garden of Oleana?