Tzurit Or is positioning herself to be Boston’s answer to Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli-born London chef who owns popular cafes and restaurants, and whose cookbooks have a cult following. Israeli-born Or opened Tatte Bakery & Cafe in Brookline in 2008 — showcasing nut “boxes,” small and large rectangles of pastry filled with caramel and nuts, delicate cookies, and other baked goods — and recently three more locations in Cambridge, quite close to one another in Kendall Square.
You have to wonder what the business plan is for this ambitious entrepreneur. “I didn’t have any plans,” she says. She opened Broadway to have a drop-ship center for Williams-Sonoma, who found her soon after she started in business, and now sells her confections. The landlord for Broadway also owned the Third Street location and convinced her to go there. A customer who owned the Main Street spot, which has over 3,000 tenants (including Amazon), brought her to her fourth location.
Tatte, which is how Or’s daughter pronounced the Hebrew word “savta’’ for grandmother, looks the same in Cambridge wherever it is: white subway tiling, pine apothecary cabinets and other large wood display cases, and a chandelier fashioned from pendants, some all the same, others all different. Spaces are stylish, and, except for the chandeliers, largely Spartan. The decor is laptops and pastry displays. A lot of business is getting done at communal tables over buttery confections.
All of the spaces were designed by Or, 41, a former film producer, who traveled all over the world. “I grew up in a home that baked all the time,” she says, “everything made from scratch.”
On the morning menu, a satisfying breakfast sandwich ($8) comes with a rich, intensely golden, scramble, cheddar, and bacon on sourdough toast. Croque monsieur ($8.50, with an egg add $1.50) is all buttery flakes with melted Gruyere, ham, and a drizzle of light Mornay sauce.
For lunch, vegetable tarte Tatin ($13) is homely as all get-out, roasted eggplant spread on pastry with rings of cherry tomatoes. But it’s quite amazing when you taste it. Grilled halloumi plate ($13) with pan-fried squares of the delicious cheese that only intensifies when it’s heated, comes on a bed of arugula with fennel, dates, and pistachio nuts.
Tomato-basil soup ($7.50) is a huge bowl of pinky, creamy, intense fruit. “Green & nutty” ($13) is a mosiac of tart, sweet, and crunchy: green apples, dried apricots slightly burnt at the edges, pumpkin seeds, edama-me, and lettuces.
Plump beef, pork, and veal meatball sandwich, in a fine tomato sauce with provolone and pesto ($11), will set you up after shoveling out your car, as will braised brisket on rye ($10), which needs more pickled cabbage. Balakani ($8) is a simpler sandwich of eggplant, feta, and a very good pesto on ciabatta.
A traditional shakshuka ($11, with bacon and potato $13), the North Africa dish now so popular in Israel, made with tomatoes, bell peppers, and poached eggs, is thick and beautifully seasoned, but the egg is hard. At the Main Street location one day, we’re presented with quite a nice tuna and egg sandwich ($8) on toasted brioche. The plate could have held four more, which made our sammie seem forlorn. And another sandwich ordered to go was simply handed to me in a wrapper, no bag.
This is all staff-training stuff, the things you have to think about when you’re growing quickly. But Or is obviously a perfectionist. You only have to taste her croissants, or her biscotti, or any little cookie, or the gorgeous “rose” pastries made from buttery yeast dough, with hazelnut or chocolate swirled into the folds to know.
Is a cookbook with a cult following next?