Throughout the year, Restaurant Editor Bill Addison will travel the country to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
It's heartening to find the flavors of Turkey and the Middle East emerging in ambitious, finer dining restaurants across America. The nutty luster of tahini, the wafts of cinnamon and earthy za'atar, vegetable salads lolling in olive oil, spiced lamb in every permutation: Their prominence in our national culinary identity is overdue.
Ana Sortun was an early ambassador for these cuisines. She studied at the famed La Varenne cooking school in France and then moved to Massachusetts, working for a Tunisian-born chef, Moncef Meddab, then running the kitchen at Casablanca restaurant in Harvard Square. In 1997, Sortun travelled to Turkey where she encountered pomegranate molasses, spice blends as brain-teasing as jigsaw puzzles, and airy pita pulled fresh from the oven. Four years later, she opened Oleana in Cambridge, celebrating these sun-dazed flavors and demonstrating how nimbly American ideas can meld with the ingredients of the "Mediterranean" (a Middle Eastern restaurant euphemism ripe for retirement).