Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Occupation: Executive Chef and Owner, Oleana and Sofra Bakery and Cafe; Co-owner, Sarma
Years worked as a chef: 25
Years lived in Boston area: 26
Awards/Accolades: Semifinalist, Outstanding Chef, James Beard Foundation (2015)
Boston’s Best Bakery for Sweets, Boston Magazine (2009)
Finalist, Best International Cookbook, James Beard Foundation (2006)
Best Chef: Northeast, James Beard Foundation (2005)
Discover Chef Sortun’s favorite places to eat and drink around the Boston area:
What’s your earliest food memory?
I can remember eating a cookie when I was three in Norway and not liking it. I tried to throw it out the car window.
What do you love best about Boston’s food scene?
There are a lot of very creative chefs in town that are cooking amazing food now. It’s diverse as any other large city with a handful of people that are really making a mark. Boston is becoming a food city like Chicago and San Francisco now.
Name the top restaurants and dishes that you think every visitor to Boston should try.
Neptune Oyster in the North End of Boston is worth the wait. In my opinion, this sums up a real Boston meal experience. Seafood mixed with just enough Italian influence that you feel the strong immigrant influence on New England cuisine. Best lobster roll in town.
Café ArtScience in Cambridge is in the heart of where art meets science in MIT’s new neighborhood. Chef Patrick makes incredible pasta dishes, does amazing things with foie gras, but I can’t get over his whipped butter with water and salt that he serves with bread. Cocktails are something else there. The bartenders will entertain you with open arms.
Spoke Wine Bar is a tiny little restaurant in Davis Square in Somerville. Chef John daSilva is a jewel. He cooks out of a galley-like kitchen and performs miracles and delicious seasonal cuisine that is light, but rich. Love the duck meatballs with almond sauce and grapes. He’s a rare talent. Wine and cocktails are amazing.
Toro is a fun scene in the South End and is owned by Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer. Love going there for the strong neighborhood vibe, many small plates and Spanish wine. Padron peppers are always a must, and I can eat three orders myself without sharing.
o ya is awe-inspiring. Chocolate and foie gras paired with sake always gets ordered twice by my husband.
Moody’s Backroom in Waltham is on the outskirts of Boston but is one of my favorite places to go. They have a deli where they cure many different flavors of charcuterie and have just opened a restaurant next door. Love the hush puppies – they are as sinful as doughnuts – and the Parisien-style gnocchi. It’s worth the drive. There is nobody doing what Chef Josh [Smith] is doing in town. He’s the only show.
Imagine you had a limitless appetite and describe your perfect dining out day in Boston.
Sofra‘s egg sandwich is perfection. I haven’t had one better yet so I can’t say I’d go anywhere else for a breakfast sandwich! Chocolate at Burdick’s in Harvard Square. Lunch at Neptune for a lobster roll. Shake Shack for a milkshake. Oysters and wine at B&G Oysters. Snacks at o ya, foie gras with chocolate and sake and the plate of oyster mushrooms. Dinner at Matt Jennings’s place, Townsman, and I’d let him just cook for me.
If you had to name one personal favorite from Oleana, Sofra and Sarma, what would they be and why?
Morning bun at Sofra is so good. It still makes me cry six years later after trying it for the first time. My partner, Maura [Kilpatrick], is a wizard in the kitchen.
The quail kebab with barberries, pistachio and baharat [at Oleana] is an iconic flavor profile for what we are all about. I never get tired of it and love the balance that the dish has.
Fava bean pate at Sarma always amazes me with its intense fava flavor and creamy texture, and it has the illusion of being rich. Cassie has many signature dishes there but this one always surprises me how much I love it every time I taste it.
Your restaurants are go-tos for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food. What other places in the area specializing in these cuisines have impressed you?
I love the food at Seta’s. She and her mom make incredible flatbreads and Armenian kofte and meze. She has a real love for what she does.
What other cuisines do you enjoy eating and cooking, and where do you like going for them?
What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out in?
The South End because it’s vibrant and full of people that are used to dining out all the time. It’s a dine out culture in the South End.
Since it’s Boston, we have to ask: where do you love going for seafood?
What’s one dish that blew you away and left you wishing you came up with the recipe yourself?
Matt Jennings’s crudo with tahini [from Townsman].
When you want a cheap and quick meal, where do you like to go?
Shawarma King in Brookline for chicken shawarma with garlic sauce.
Since Eats Abroad is geared toward travelers, are there any restaurants or bars at Logan Airport or the city’s hotels you would recommend?
The Oak Room is always a scene and fun to have a drink and snack in, The Boston Harbor Hotel, The Charles Hotel (Rialto). Santarpio’s Pizza or Angela’s near the airport.
*Editor’s note: Since publication of this interview, Rialto has closed.
Any favorite watering holes you like to frequent?
What are your guilty pleasures and where in Boston do you go to get them?
Josh’s hush puppies at Backroom in Waltham. They are like doughnuts and the best hush puppies by far. State Park for that incredibly talented woman, Rachel Sundet’s, desserts. They are honest and perfect. Hot dog at The Butcher Shop. Hot pastrami at Moody’s in Waltham.
Are there any foods native to Boston that you particularly like and can’t really be found anywhere else?
Finally, what would you say is the one thing any visitor must see or do before leaving Boston?
Chef Sortun’s Shortlist:
Oleana, 134 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, MA (Inman Square); Mediterranean, dinner only daily.
Sofra Bakery and Cafe, 1 Belmont Street, Cambridge, MA (West Cambridge); Middle Eastern, open daily.
Sarma, 249 Pearl Street, Somerville, MA (Winter Hill); Mediterranean, dinner and late night daily.
Neptune Oyster, 63 Salem Street (North End); seafood, lunch and dinner daily.
Café ArtScience, 650 E Kendall Street, Cambridge, MA (Kendall Square); new American/French, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Spoke Wine Bar, 89 Holland Street, Somerville, MA (Davis Square); new American, dinner only Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Toro, 1704 Washington Street (South End); Spanish tapas, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Sunday.
o ya, 9 East Street (Leather District); Japanese, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.
The Backroom at Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions, 468 Moody Street, Waltham, MA; new American, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.
L.A. Burdick Chocolate, 52 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA (Harvard Square); chocolate shop and tea room, open daily.
Second location: 220 Clarendon Street (Back Bay); open daily.
Shake Shack, 234-236 Newbury Street (Back Bay); American, lunch and dinner daily.
Second location: 92 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, MA (Harvard Square); lunch and dinner daily.
B&G Oysters, 550 Tremont Street (South End); seafood, lunch and dinner daily.
Townsman, 120 Kingston Street (Chinatown); New England, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner and late night Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
Seta’s Cafe, 271 Belmont Street, Belmont, MA; Armenian/Mediterranean, breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, brunch only Sunday.
Oishii Too, 365 Boston Post Road, Sudbury, MA; sushi, lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.
Angela’s Café, 131 Lexington Street (East Boston); Mexican, breakfast and lunch daily, dinner Monday-Saturday.
Summer Shack, 50 Dalton Street (Back Bay); seafood, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily.
Second location: 149 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge, MA (Alewife); lunch and dinner daily.
Island Creek Oyster Bar, 500 Commonwealth Avenue (Fenway-Kenmore); seafood, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.
Shawarma King, 1383 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA (Coolidge Corner); Middle Eastern, lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.
OAK Long Bar + Kitchen, The Fairmont Copley Plaza, 138 St. James Avenue (Back Bay); American, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.
Boston Harbor Hotel, 70 Rowes Wharf (Waterfront); multiple restaurants and bars available.
Santarpio’s Pizza, 111 Chelsea Street (East Boston); pizza, lunch and dinner daily.
Drink, 348 Congress Street (Fort Point); cocktail bar, open daily.
State Park, 1 Kendall Square, Building 300, Cambridge, MA (Kendall Square); Southern, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.
The Butcher Shop, 552 Tremont Street (South End); French/Italian, lunch and dinner daily.
Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions, 468 Moody Street, Waltham, MA; gourmet shop and deli, open Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.
Belle Isle Seafood, 1 Main Street, Winthrop, MA; seafood, lunch and dinner daily.
Old North Church, 193 Salem Street (North End); open to visitors daily.
Fenway Park, 4 Yawkey Way (Fenway-Kenmore); tours available year-round.
About the Chef: For Chef Ana Sortun, it was a life-changing visit to southeast Turkey that would completely transform her approach to cooking and set the foundation for her restaurants. Her favorite memory from that trip is a welcome potluck prepared by 30 women in their hometown of Gazientep.
The result upon her return to Massachusetts was Oleana, which opened its doors in 2001. The restaurant not only cemented her place in Boston’s dining scene, but it also earned her a James Beard Award four years after its debut. Oleana would even end up being the place where she first met her future husband; a local farmer, he came by one day selling spinach and the rest is history.
Sortun expanded her reach in 2008 by opening Sofra Bakery and Cafe with her Oleana pastry chef, Maura Kilpatrick. Five years later, Oleana’s chef de cuisine, Cassie Piuma, opened Sarma, with Sortun as a business partner. Both restaurants incorporate the tastes and techniques learned from Sortun over the years, from her love of spices, to her commitment to local, fresh produce.