It is the rare restaurant that makes it through a dozen years in business and still requires advance planning to get a reservation. Chef-owner Ana Sortun’s Oleana is one. What keeps it relevant? Invigorating, interesting spices, food that is flavorful but not too heavy, an adventurous wine list, and a pastry program that doesn’t get short shrift. Many other restaurateurs might learn from its example. Playing it safe with American comfort food, relying too heavily on bacon and butterfat, and cutting corners on drink and dessert are practices too frequently seen in local restaurants in recent years.
Since Oleana opened in 2001, its cuisine has become iconic. Describing it feels akin to explaining that the MFA’s “Dance at Bougival” is a romantic painting by Renoir, or that Kenmore Square’s Citgo sign is highly visible: If you’ve been, you already know. You’ve tasted dishes inspired by the traditional cooking of Turkey, the Middle East, and beyond, perfumed with za’atar and mint, Aleppo and Urfa peppers, cumin and cardamom. You’ve seen how these far-flung flavors meet the ingredients of New England on the plate. Right now, all of the produce comes from Siena Farms, operated by Sortun’s husband, Chris Kurth; Oleana has been local and seasonal since before local and seasonal was something to be. The food tastes both like home and away.