I moved to Boston in 2007. I was lucky enough to fall into a monthly dinner group and spend much of my first year having overly-long email debates about which restaurants to try, and filling their dance cards with 7 person reservations. I don’t remember all of the meals, I think we may have started with Blue Room, and then mostly chased what was new. However, after The Butcher Shop the group palate extinguished on ‘new American’ and people started clamoring for ethnic cuisine. We went to The Helmand (before any controversy) and finally to a restaurant that was somehow always the bridesmaid in our monthly debates, Oleana.
Oleana never got voted down because of anyone’s negative opinion. But there was always seemed to be some special circumstance: The person who made the nomination couldn’t go. Resto closed for special event. The collective just wasn’t ‘in the mood.’ As the Oleana virgin, I was indifferent. Oleana’s early press-crush was over, and the easily understood (but woefully inadequate) description of the cuisine as ‘Middle Eastern Food’ didn’t particularly excite me. “I’ve had falafel,” I thought.
So, so naive.
Oleana is very nearly the best restaurant in the greater Boston area. It is definitely the best restaurant in Cambridge (or Somerville, or the North End or the Financial District). The food is consistently astonishing. Exacting preparation of carefully chosen, thoughtfully sourced, high quality ingredients. Each bite is FULL of flavor. Those flavors are universally delicious, but they are also often surprising, inspiring, amusing, delighting. Ninety-seven percent of the dishes on the menu, though intense and sumptuous, feel light. You are satisfied as you eat, but not glutted. This is particularly true of their desserts which are never too sweet and always tamed with elements that cleanse the palate and refresh.
I was reminded of all this on Thursday when I dined at Oleana for the severalth time (but the first in far too long) and enjoyed a treasure of a semolina cake enhanced with syrup, curd and garnishing wheel of Meyer Lemon…Hence the title.
Meyer Lemons are, like most (supposedly) special, seasonal, or otherwise of-the-moment, ingredients, name-dropped into recipes, dishes, and menus with a kind of inuring regularity. Even I, in all my foodie exactitude, sometimes get tired of the seasonal overexposure of the Meyer Lemon. I mean, c’mon, I was hip to this citrus years ago. How can Meyer Lemons even be a big deal anymore? But much like Adele (totally copped her talent on her first album), Meyer Lemons get played over and over (and over and over) again because they’re actually really good. So good in fact that I had two Meyer Lemon desserts this week. In fact I went especially to Island Creek Oyster Bar (Adele was playing in the bathroom when I went) for their Meyer Lemon Poppyseed cake. Good thing I didn’t have a drug test on Thursday…
Olena, Meyer Lemons, Adele possess singular talent, delivered consistently with depth and versatility. Delicious to every sense, I hope they all keep playing for years to come.