Depending on your thoughts on the changing of neighborhoods over time, the loss of longtime Winter Hill standby The Paddock in the summer of 2012 was either yet another sign of Somerville's ongoing gentrification or a huge boon to the culinary health and vibrance of the city.
Word that the new tenants would be Ana Sortun and Cassie Piuma of Cambridge's beloved Oleana and Sofra nudged things decidedly in the latter direction — you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't have great thing to say about one or other other, if not both. That said, the strikingly modern addition of Sarma, which finally opened its doors last month, to the quiet residential neighborhood is a bit jarring at first blush.
Inside, however, the initial shock to Somerville's system gives way to a sense of comfort, with its hybrid industrial (of course) and bright Mediterranean-aesthetic design. The sharp brick edges of the room are softened by playful, artistic touches — a hung door for a wall, colorful plates-cum-art, mismatched upholstered banquets, bright blue walls, dangling glass lamps and a mostly-open kitchen, just off the large stone bar.
The concept is based on traditional Turkish neighborhood taverns, the owners say. That influence can prove confusing — namely when, on your first visit, you encounter servers wandering the dining room and bar area with specials from the kitchen, which they try to hawk guest to guest, dim-sum style. It's...different.
Many of those dishes, as at Oleana, take their flavors from the Mediterranean and the Middle East, but are served small-plates style and meant to be shared. You could consider sharing offerings from the bar as well although, after a taste of one of the better concoctions (courtesy of bar director Vikram Hegde), you might be reluctant to hand it over. Fine, maybe just a tiny sip.
Hedge, recently of Island Creek Oyster Bar, takes his flavor inspirations from the kitchen. “One of the most important themes of our bar program is a marriage of kitchen to cocktail program,” he says. That means cardamom, mastic and Aleppo chili, to name a few of the less-predictable ingredients.
The Hippodrome takes rhum Agricole, sage, lime and mastic, a resin common in Greek desserts. It's akin to how we use vanilla here, he explains, but with a bit of pine and anise, and an earthy note that makes it well suited to rhum Agricole. The result is a bright, clean, mid-course palate cleanser that can be employed to soothe some of the hotter dishes.
The Cane Salata is an apertif style cocktail made with Punt e Mes, grapefruit juice and cancale — a blend of fennel, sea salt and orange peel — that is exceptionally tart and dry, in the best way. The Silent Seventh is a Pimms Cup style riff with vodka, muddled cucumber, Aleppo chili, lemon juice and lemon tea syrup.
Less is more when it comes to a lot of these ingredients, Hegde says, but they add a depth of flavor that's remarkable without being overpowering. “I'm actually shocked by how receptive people have been to trying the drinks,” he says. “They have been going really wild for stuff on the menu rather than venturing off-list.”
Suddenly, gentrification is looking (and tasting) a lot more appealing.