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Can't Get Into Oleana, Where would you take Foodie from New York

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Help, my cousin is coming in from New York. She actually has a food blog and really wanted to be taken to Oleana. Its Tufts graduation and there are no seats to be had. Where else would you take someone with great taste, high standards, looking for something unusual? Don't recommend Chez Henri, we just ate there for mother's day and it was terrible.


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  1. I'd suggest Baraka Cafe, a more authentic version of Oleana's concept, serving Algerian and Tunisian fare. The food is consistently superb, and the vibe is distinctly Cantabridgian. If you can call the requisite 36 hours in advance for the bastilla, it is well worth it.

    Be advised that it's cash only, and they don't serve alcohol. There are several nearby bars for great cocktails; the closest and arguably best is Green Street, perhaps a five-minute walk away.

    1. I'm sure you will get some other good recommendations, but I did want to mention that I'm *fairly* sure Oleana doesn't take reservations for their outside seating or the bar. If you are willing to wait (probably a while) for one of those tables/bar seats, you might be able to get in without a reservation. Not sure how easy it would be, but if your cousin has her heart set on it, all hope may not be lost unless they've changed their reservation system for the busy weekend. You might want to call and check.

      2 Replies
      1. re: soxchik

        soxchik and finlero what a fantastic suggestion! Is baraka cafe the one on pearl street? I'm going to google it. I actually had a long talk with them on the phone and they either don't have the patio open or they have decided to take reservatons for it because they didn't even suggest our trying to come and stand in line. Myself, I think Oleana's highly overrated. I loved ana sortun's cookign when she was at casablanca and some of the appetizers are fabulous but the main dishes are quite dull (of course I'm a chili freak). I was going to offer to cook my cousin the desired meal from the Spice cookbook but then I just decided that it probably wouldn't work out since everything I've tried from it hasn't come out well.

        Thank you so much for the suggestion. Keep 'em coming!

        1. re: soxchik

          I believe that Oleana's only takes reservations and seating on the patio is based on those reservations, i.e., when it is open, there may be many more tables available inside. But the best thing to do is call.

          What was the problem with Chez Henri?

          Gini's suggestions below are great - I would also add in the Oleana neighborhood, the Blue Room and Hungry Mother, the latter being more "unusual" for Bostonians at least. You might also consider Dante or Benatti, also in Cambridge, for high-end and somewhat novel Italian. (Benatti was just reviewed in the Boston Globe today.)

        2. I love Baraka Cafe. Be aware that they don't serve alcohol.

          Other slightly more upscale options nearby:
          East Coast Grille (Grilled seafood)
          EVOO (New American)
          Gargoyles on the Square (New American)
          Green Street Grille (New Yankee)
          Atasca (Portugese)

          There's also Ten Tables in JP, which I adore.

          I also like lots of the Central & South American joints in East Boston, particularly Rincon Limeno, which is Peruvian.

          Since the Soho/Chinatown squeeze of NY's Little Italy, I might take her to Prezza, Taranta or Neptune Oyster in the North End.

          1 Reply
          1. re: gini

            Agreement with most of Gini's and Bob Dob's suggestions. Partial to EVOO and Gargoyle's.

          2. That's easy, San Francisco or Chicago.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jjbourgeois

              That's funny, but not helpful. Come on now.

            2. How about Craigie Street Bistro?

              1. They only takes reservations for their indoor tables. The bar is always first come, first serve and so is the patio, depending on the weather. Chances are good, if it's a nice night, you'll get a table. Sometimes indoor reservations give up their table to sit outside. You just have be a little patient and willing to sit anywhere they can put you but, it's definitely worth the wait.

                1. I'll recommend Neptune Oyster in the North End, great seafood and great atmosphere (she might compare it with Pearl Oyster Bar in NYC). I second East Cost Grill as a great, and a bit unusual, Boston restaurant. Clio/Uni would also be a great choice IMO.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: steinpilz

                    Very high end, Sorellina's (part of the Mistrial group) and I'd second gini's and steinpilz recs. Love Clio and have taken many out of towners there who beg to go back.

                    If you really want to wow her, take her to O Ya and ask to sit at the bar, but make sure you can one afford it and two are aware of the sticker shock (dinner for 2 with drinks will run around $350-$400)

                  2. Low End:
                    Brookline Family Restaurant in Brookline Village (dirt cheap Turkish, and sublime in a way that I haven't been as impressed with Baraka Cafe)

                    Mid end:
                    Howzabout Small Plates in Harvard Square (tapas, meze and the like) or Trattoria Toscana in Fenway (real deal Tuscan, though that might not solve the availability/reservation problem)? Or FuLoon in Malden Center for hole-in-the-wall, best-all-around multiple regions of Chinese cookery in the greater Boston area.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Dr.Jimbob

                      re: brookline family, i've got exactly the opposite view--i've been a couple times (for takeout) and thought it was solid, reliable but not spectacular or particularly unique in any way. it never would have really been on my chow-radar if it didn't get so much press on this board--can you recommend anything in particular.

                      in contrast, i thought baraka (on my one visit) was really quite special and unique. i've been dying to go back and try the squab for some time now.

                      but in answer to the OP, i would second the recommendation for craigie street--i don't know anything about new york dining, but the quality of the cooking is quite high and innovative dishes and the ingredients are super fresh. plus it's basically about as quintessentially cambridge as you can get.

                    2. Try Benatti, just a couple blocks form Oleana. Unusually good Italian, fewer than a dozen tables, very cozy and exceptional food.

                      1. I'd be wary of making a final judgment on a place based on a Mother's Day experience. That's one of the Hell Days of the year for restaurants; they often don't bring their A game. I personally have always thought that the French food on Chez Henri's dining room menu was far less interesting than the modernized Cuban food they serve in their bar.