Al Fresco Dining At Oleana

Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

I am lucky enough to live within walking distance of one of Cambridge's best restaurants and lucky enough to have some great friends who love dining out as much as I do. These two things combined eventually led to a dinner at Oleana.

The most coveted spot at Oleana is a seat on the patio on a warm summer evening, and most of us knew that to secure a place out there, we needed a 5:30 reservation and to get ourselves in line at Oleana a little before then.

I work a few blocks away from Oleana, so Meghan came and met me nearby, and we walked over to Oleana together, where we found Emily, Amy, and Daisy already in line. We had definitely all arrived in time to get a table on the patio. We even had a nice view of the fountain.

Our waiter introduced himself, and then we got started with some drinks. I was intrigued by The Papao -- sparkling wine with strawberry and pink peppercorn. It sounded so light and summery... and it was.

The Papao at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

Soon after we got our drinks, we analyzed the food menu and decided on all our must-haves. It's best to go to Oleana with a group of open-minded eaters so you can share an array of dishes. We had our list narrowed down to seven but added two more dishes once we heard the specials.

Our waiter brought over some bread and oil for us to snack on as we waited for our mezes. I loved the  crispy, herby pieces of focaccia tucked in the bottom of the bread basket.

Bread and oil at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

First to arrive at the table were the deviled eggs with tuna and black olives. I liked these more than I thought I would but was happy to just have a small taste.

Deviled eggs with tuna at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

One thing that should always be ordered at Oleana is the whipped feta with sweet and hot peppers, so we obviously got an order of that. The creamy, spicy dip is a definite palate pleaser. (And you can actually pick up a container of it at Sofra to enjoy at home.)

Whipped feta at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

The warm buttered hummus wrapped in basturma (cured beef) with tomato was one of my favorite bites of the night. I really liked the texture of the meat with the smooth hummus.

Hummus in basturma at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

Emily strongly suggested we try the spinach falafel with tahini, yogurt, and beets, and our waiter asked if we wanted two orders so we could each have our own. So we went with two orders, and we were not disappointed. I loved the bright color of the beet tzatziki in this dish and wish I could make these at home!

Spinach falafel at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

Then we cut into the flatbread with grilled peaches and haloumi cheese. I'm pretty sure this was my first time trying haloumi, and I was surprised by the firm texture of the cheese.

Flatbread with grilled peaches and haloumi at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

The fried mussels were another standout dish for me. I was a little hesitant about ordering them as I'm not  a huge fan of fried clams. The sweet mussels were lightly battered, gently fried, and topped with a silky almond and garlic sauce. There was nothing to dislike about them.

Fried mussels at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

Having made our way through our first round of cocktails, we looked to Amy and Meghan, the wine experts in our crew, to select a bottle for the table. Amy ordered the Leitz Eins Zwei Dry, a dry, fruity riesling that was one of Oleana's Summer of Riesling offerings.

And then we tucked into more mezes. The shrimp and artichoke crostini was a special the night we went. As soon as the waiter described it, we were all nodding our heads in agreement that we'd need to add it to the already long list of mezes we planned to order. The chopped artichokes on the crunchy bread were light and summery, and the dish proved you can get away from the typical tomato bruschetta from time to time.

Shrimp and artichoke crostini at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

The next dish had the most beautiful presentation. Beets provided a vibrant background for the ricotta loukoumades (fritters). The fritters were light and fluffy and paired with thin slices of salty Iowa prosciutto.

Ricotta loukoumades at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

The deconstructed tuna and potato salad was another special. A platter of hard-cooked eggs, seared tuna, new potatoes, and peppers -- though somewhat scattered -- contained many complementary flavors.

Deconstructed tuna and potato salad at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

And while you might think we'd be stuffed after all of the delicious, creative mezes we tasted, we did manage to save some room for dessert. Again, we looked over the options and each weighed in on what we absolutely had to have. For me that was this hazelnut dessert: hazelnut delice with a hazelnut cocoa nib tartlet and hazelnut praline ice cream. I have constant cravings for Oleana's chocolate-hazlenut baklava, so I was definitely intrigued by this other chocolate-hazelnut dessert offering. It was my second favorite dessert of the four we tried.

Hazelnut dessert at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

We had to order the native strawberry floating island with moscato strawberry crisp and lime leaf ice cream because Oleana was participating in the Strawberry Dessert Festival. The festival, which just ended Sunday, was created to raise funds for Mass Farmers Markets. All one had to do to attend was visit a participating restaurant and order the featured strawberry dessert. Mass Farmers Markets got a portion of the proceeds from the sales of those desserts.

It wasn't a difficult thing to do at all at Oleana. The floating island was a sweet, summer dessert featuring a soft meringue topped with bright fresh strawberries and strawberry granita.

Strawberry dessert at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

The Baked Alaska, which I'd heard was incredible, easily became my favorite dessert (and I think everyone else's too). It wasn't even the impressive mountain of browned meringue that did it for me. It was that sweet pool of passionfruit caramel and the coconut ice cream and cookie underneath. All of the flavors went together so well, sort of sweet and tangy all at once. The Baked Alaska was absolutely heavenly.

Baked Alaska at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

The almond cremolata with warm chocolate panino was good but just a little boring compared with everything else. There were no really striking flavors.

Almond cremolata at Oleana, Cambridge, Mass.

Along with all of the desserts, we sipped some sparkling rose, which at first seemed too sweet, but the sweet desserts really balanced and mellowed its flavor.

If you haven't been to Oleana or you've never sat on the patio there, I suggest you do so while we still have some warm summer weather left. The food, atmosphere, and service were all phenomenal.

Have you dined at Oleana?

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