Ana Sortun’s latest venture strays from the Ottoman palace ambiance of Oleana and the casual teahouse setting of Sofra in lieu of something in between: Let’s call it the bazaar vibes of Sarma. Those of us who’ve wandered the maze of Istanbul’s most famous market will immediately spot familiar mosaic lamps and painted plates adorning Sarma’s wall, with a requisite feeling of nostalgia for the new tastes we once encountered in Bosporus-side cobblestone lanes.
Not for long, though. Like any of Sortun’s restaurants, the food here—with its heavy focus on spice blends and infusions of colors and herbs—makes you feel like you’re traveling again. The menu reflects Sortun and chef Cassie Piuma’s embrace of the exotic, with a glossary of words from Turkish to French included to help you decipher dish descriptions, spice blends you’d be hard-pressed to pronounce, and wine choices from far-flung regions like the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon (try the Chateau Musar, a powerful and velvety red blend with robust red fruit aromas).
Although Med-to-Maghreb is a definite theme, no dish is the cuisine of a single county or even region. Instead, each plate’s multiple layers of textures and flavors is like a saunter across the entire Silk Road (with a tapas stopover in Spain on the way home—these are small plates meant to be shared). Geography is inspiration rather than limitation, evinced by the judicious inclusion of wines from France, beers from New England, and veggies from Sudbury, Massachusetts, grown by none other than Sortun’s husband. There’s even a shout-out to Chinatown: During the meal, specials are circulated by servers and offered dim-sum style (we love the fried chicken, but it’s a matter of luck which plates will make it to your table). The point of Sarma is not to transport you anywhere in particular but instead to remind you how big the world is, how many flavors there are to discover. Even if we’re in Boston for now, we’re pretty lucky to have Sortun and Piuma, homegrown chefs talented enough to seep up those flavors and make them their own.
Sarma is technically booked up weeks ahead of time, but each night walk-in seats are available at the bar and at a huge communal table.
If you want to keep the wine flowing, ask for the Surahi. It’s a 500 ml carafe of the house selection for $22.
Sarma’s opening in 2013 was the first indication that Somerville’s gritty Winter Hill was on the up and up. Still pretty gritty, it’s a great excuse to get off Boston’s well-trodden tourist path. Head up Prospect Hill afterwards for a view of the city, and down the other side for drinks at backbar in Union Square.
“Sarma” is a style of food found from Eastern Europe all the way to Central Asia, a bite-sized concoction that’s rolled up in cabbage leaves, grapes leaves, or phyllo dough and meant to be shared.
Tastes of Sarma
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