I was a fan of Ana's from waaay back when she first arrived here, through catering and her formative and impressive turns at 8 Holyoke, Aigo, Casablanca . We followed her and we loved her food . But three really bad service experiences at Oleana in 2001- kept us away until tonight. We both still found the room boring and unappealingly appointed and the tables waaay too close(I can recount word for word the conversations on either side of me,and neither group was speaking loudly.) But the food, now THAT was some food!
I'd have to say(very uncharacteristically) that everything was a highlight, but, if pressed, I would give the four star nod to the app. of Turkish BBQ'd Octopus w/ vermicelli in a ginger broth
(w/ at least 3 more elements in there)- a robust and lovely bowl of tenderness and textures, protein, carbs and greens. Wow.Major wow. A dish like that tells you all you need to know about the genius of the chef behind it. Also brilliant was the Prosciutto and Sage Wrapped Roasted Parsnips w/ Creamy Ricotta, Greens and agro dolce elements. So many textures and layers of flavors playing together in bright clean counterpoint. No culinary mumbling here. Ana's signature Chinese anise flavored short rib at Casablanca was always a fav, and she has another short rib hit at Oleana- Sultan's Beef, w/ a tamarind glaze and side pool of babaganoosh. App. portions went from normal(beef) to very generous(parsnips). Somewhat related to her Sari's Lamb (at Casablanca)- is her entree of Braised lamb chunks in filo, topped with a yoghurt spread and sitting on a bed of luscious 'Everything Green". When the busser asked if he could clear, we told him Yes, that we had decided not to eat the china.(But that was only because we had managed to get up every bit of everything that had originally adorned that plate.) Ana operates from a wide base of knowledge about all foods Arabic. One of the delights after a dinner here is realizing how clean you feel, even if you ate alot. No heavy rich dairy-laden or fatty foods. Lots of vegetables, and, especially, lots of greens. And, revealed in all, a masterful hand with spices and textures.
As tempting and original as many of the dessert components were, we passed because a) No room left at the Inn, and b) I am morally opposed(really?yes) to $14 desserts that do not involve amazingly labor intensive moves(handmade filo or puff pastry, pulled sugar, among many) or caviar/truffles/foie gras.
Service was excellent. Nobody rushed us, neither the 'tall- Steven-Tyler' waiter(very informed about the food too) or the Hollywood handsome busser. We super enjoyed our meals and will return soon, to the wider spacing of the patio tables. I really do think that Oleana has, along with a small handful of places, one of Boston's most unique menus. And aren't we lucky for it.
134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139