Boston noms

This really should have been called “Somerville noms,” for Somerville is an up-and-coming section of greater Boston that abuts Cambridge. Last night, my hosts and I dined in that former working-class area at Sarmaa highly rated restaurant that serves the equivalent of Middle Eastern tapas: small, complex dishes that are extraordinarily tasty, and made with the freshest ingredients.

It was a delightful meal, and though I usually disdain “small plates” restaurants on the grounds of insufficient quantity, this food was rich enough that 2.3 dishes per person constituted an eminently satisfying meal.

The restaurant is unprepossessing from the outside, occupying a space in a fairly desolate part of Somerville:


But the food was delightful. I photographed the dishes handheld in low natural light, so they’re a bit fuzzy.

Fried artichokes ricotta, grilled radicchio caponata, hazelnuts:


One of the night’s specials: grilled chicken wings with a cilantro sauce:


Crab and red lentil kibbeh, coconut-curry, green papaya, zhoug:


This was, to my mind, the best dish: mushroom moussaka, chestnut béchamel, parsnip, prunes:


Another spectacular dish: mussel escabeche, ouzo aioli, feta, sundried tomatoes, grilled bread:


Goat cheese and orange dolma, arugula, fennel, fried quinoa, pistachio (a lovely salad-like dish):


Spaghetti squash carbonara, basturma, egg katayif, sarvecchio. The thing on top that looks like a small coconut is the egg katayif: a soft-boiled egg encased in a fried savory pastry dough that is also used to make one of my favorite Middle Eastern/Greek sweets:


We eschewed dessert because not far away was  Christina’s ice cream, which has what I think is the most delicious single flavor of ice cream I’ve ever had: burnt sugar. And that’s what it tastes like: a complex mixture of caramel, tres leches, and slightly singed sugar that creates a gustatory explosion. Here’s a double scoop (it was too soft to get in a cone). My host’s pedestrian choice, mint chocolate chip, is in the background:

Ice cream

It’s always hard for me to go to Christina’s, for although I always have two scoops (burnt sugar and another flavor, which last night was ginger), there are about 50 to choose from. Here’s only a partial list of what’s available:


I would dearly love to have also ordered another duo: green tea ice cream (one of my favorites) with azuki bean, which would form a Japanese-style treat. Sadly, the burnt sugar is so good that I never get to sample the whole menu (the laws of physics determine that I shall always have that flavor). But look at the other flavors: golden syrup, malted vanilla (one of their best), sweet cream (the second best flavor: the purest, tastiest frozen cream you can imagine), khulfi (an Indian flavor, with pistachios and rosewater), chocolate mousse, banana. . . ad infinitum.

On Saturday I’m having an “ice cream social” with some of the Harvard and MIT Humanists at the Boston area’s other famous ice cream parlor, Toscanini’s—also in Somerville, and with a similar “burnt caramel” flavor on tap. I’ll report back.


  1. Posted April 2, 2015 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    I’m in Boston this weekend and I remember reading about your favourite ice cream before, I’ll have to see if I can make it over there!

    • Posted April 2, 2015 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      If you go to Christina’s, make sure that at least one of your scoops is burnt sugar. Toscanini’s, though, is said to be nearly as good.

  2. GBJames
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Wow. That stuff looks good.

  3. Posted April 2, 2015 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    I photographed the dishes in natural light so they’re a bit fussy.

    I concled that last word is meant to be “fuzzy” now that I have spent a full minute or more trying to figure how the food could be fussy.

    Fussy or fuzzy it all looks fantastic. And the ice crea! Woe.

    • Posted April 2, 2015 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      concled = conclude

      • Posted April 2, 2015 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        Never misunderestimate the power of a fully-operational Muphry’s station…

        …or turn down an opportunity to accompany Jerry on a gustatory excursion!


        • Posted April 2, 2015 at 10:39 am | Permalink

          That comment has the jazzy eloquence of early Tom Waits. That’s a compliment. In my head it is set (loosely) to “A Foreign Affair,” in a bouncy B-Flat.

          • Posted April 2, 2015 at 11:40 am | Permalink

            Thanks! I’ll take it!


          • quiscalus
            Posted April 2, 2015 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

            why not something from Nighthawks at the Diner? I hear there’s a rendezvous of strangers around the coffee urn tonight…

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted April 2, 2015 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        Concled or Cunkled?

  4. Barry Lyons
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I lived in Somerville for a while (I grew up in neighboring Arlington). I’ll check out this restaurant the next time I’m there. I’ve been to Christina’s or Toscanini’s before, I can’t remember which. But that ice cream board sign sure looks familiar!

  5. Kevin
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Unbelievably divine. I cannot wait for lunch and the next meal and the next. It is good to think about food…most everything is less important anyway… Food instead .

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Mmmmm everything looks so good! I love Boston.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 2, 2015 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      I have a Boston food story.

      My not yet wife, not yet mother in law, and three not yet brothers in law, were going on holiday to Quebec. We flew to Boston and spent a day and a night there before continuing on by car. We went to go find some dinner, but none of us had a clue about Boston. We figured we would just go out and find a place.

      After driving around for about an hour, during which there was not a single moment that couldn’t be best described as being lost, we decided to just try the next place we saw. We were in an old part of town with narrow streets solidly lined with brownstone type buildings.

      We saw a sign, can’t remember the name. We parked, which took about 1/2 an hour to figure out. We walked across the street to the restaurant. There was no obvious way to get in. Eventually we decided an entrance some way down the building must be it. We entered. There was seemingly no way to go except up a flight of stairs, but the restaurant had been on the ground floor. We could hear patrons in the restaurant. We started up the stairs. As we rounded the first turn of the stairs, there at the top of the stairs was a very scary looking, very large, man right out of a ’70s mafia movie script. In a very nice suit. We were obviously not going to be moving any further that way. In a very deep voice, with a very heavy accent, he asked if he could help us. Very respectfully we told him we were trying to find the restaurant. Unthreateningly, but with no trace of a smile, he informed us how to enter the restaurant. Which was through an unobvious, unmarked door on the ground floor next to the stairs.

      The restaurant was wonderful. A true Italian place. Lobster about 25 different ways. We all got lobster, all different ways, and everyone loved theirs. I didn’t get to try them all, but all the ones I tried were wonderful.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted April 2, 2015 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        Good story. You wonder if people like the guy in the suit exist in real life, then you read this!

  7. darrelle
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    UUhhmmmmm. All of that food looks and sounds wonderful. I love places like that because you get to try lots of different things in one meal. I recall a wonderful Chinese dim sum place I once experienced with a group of 8 or so friends. 25 plus different “small plates,” and drinks of course, covering the table. I had no idea what many of them were. And the best thing? The entire table, which was round and large enough to fit us all comfortably, was one big Lazy Susan!

    I’d have to go through all the ice cream. I’ve rarely met a flavor of good quality ice cream I didn’t like. For pairing, I like to pair something tart, like lemon, raspberry or similar ice cream (not sorbet!) with something very rich. Like deepest chocolate. Or Jerry’s favorite burnt sugar.

    • Posted April 2, 2015 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      “I love places like that because you get to try lots of different things in one meal.”

      Indeed. My wife and I generally dine on a range of appetizers (rather than entree meals) for this reason: Lots of variety.

      We have no qualms about re-ordering something that is particularly good! 🙂

      • Mark R.
        Posted April 2, 2015 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that’s why I love Spanish Tapas restaurants. Though I’ve never seen that style for Middle Eastern food.

      • darrelle
        Posted April 2, 2015 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        “My wife and I generally dine on a range of appetizers (rather than entree meals) for this reason: Lots of variety.”

        Exactly! My wife and I do that all the time too. It also eliminates most of the uninteresting filler that is often put on entree plates.

        • Posted April 2, 2015 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

          Indeed. And we find that often the most (tasty and) interesting things on a menu are the appetizers anyway!

          • Heather Hastie
            Posted April 2, 2015 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

            I almost always order only appetizers and entrees, or ask for a main as an entree.

            As always Jerry, the food looks fantastic, and I’m envious of your taste buds once again!

  8. Posted April 2, 2015 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    We Alaskans used to (perhaps still do?) hold the record for the state with the highest ice cream consumption per capita. That flavor sounds excellent.

    The food looked delicious as well.

    Thanks for sharing.


  9. Paul S.
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I have fond memories of ice cream. That was before being overwhelmed by lactose intolerance. Perhaps I used all my lactase enzymes in my youth. 😦

    • Marella
      Posted April 3, 2015 at 12:22 am | Permalink

      I have the same problem, but nearly all desserts these days have ice-cream with them, so I eat it, and even with the lactase pills I feel pretty bad the next day. 😦 I should have more sense.

  10. Jeff Rankin
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 9:37 am | Permalink


    I recommend The Sevens Ale House in Beacon Hill if you want a drink or two.

  11. compuholio
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Bookmarked. I’ll be in Boston this June. And I’ll be staying in Somerville.

  12. quiscalus
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    can’t help but think of a giant trichonympha when I look at that egg katayif dish…I’m sure it’s wonderful but that thought has put me off a bit.

  13. Posted April 2, 2015 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Oh, sh … crap, I am hungry now!

  14. Posted April 2, 2015 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Crab kibbeh, eh?

    I wonder if that’s adapting to local circumstances (not a problem to me, but traditionalists might find it awkward) or whether that’s a thing elsewhere … does seem to be available various places.

    In any case, lovely stuff.

  15. Ken Crook
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Is the professor in town for business (ie a talk that I could attend)? And thanks for the restaurant suggestion – I love Oleana’s in Cambridge and this looks as interesting. And, after 2 1/2 years here, I’m ashamed to say that I still haven’t been to Christina’s. To be rectified soon.

    • Posted April 2, 2015 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Nope, here to visit friends, old and new, do a bit of work at Harvard, and relax. No talks, thank Ceiling Cat!

      • Posted April 2, 2015 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

        You’ve just crushed my hopes, professor.
        Oh well, at least there’s this restaurant to check out.
        I can also recommend Fugakyu (Japanese) in Brookline and Solea (Spanish/tapas) in Waltham near Brandeis U.

  16. Posted April 2, 2015 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Did you eat the chicken wings with cilantro purée? I thought that’s the one that you can’t abide.

    It all looks delicious. You’ve been raving about the burnt sugar flavour ice cream for so long that I’m dying to try it! But I’m so far away in London.

    • Posted April 2, 2015 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Not all that much farther than I am here in Arizona….


      • Posted April 2, 2015 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        Wow America really is BIG! You don’t realise that from looking at a map.

        • Posted April 2, 2015 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

          Texas is bigger than France. California is about as long as Texas, though half as wide. Alaska is bigger than either, by a significant margin.

          I live in Tempe, a suburb bordering Phoenix on Phoenix’s east. The closest major metropolitan area is Los Angeles, which is half again the distance between London and Paris. From one side of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area (the Valley of the Sun) to the other, from the suburb of Florence to the suburb of Sun City West, is about 100 miles by car, or well over half the driving distance between Rome and Napoli. Tucson to Flagstaff, the second and third largest cities in Arizona respectively, is a substantially longer trip than Geneva to Zurich.

          Hell, from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon is over an hundred miles by air, and twice that by car. You should have no problem driving from Brussels to Cologne in much less time than you can drive from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon.



          • darrelle
            Posted April 2, 2015 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

            I’ve been to Tempe once or twice. I once knew a man, named Rusty, who owned and piloted a hot air balloon, Double Eagle II, who lived there. I met him in Albuquerque and ended up crewing for him for two of the International Balloon Festivals there. 1980 and 1981 if I recall correctly.

            It was always a blast. Though it can be dangerous! The results of the inertia associated with such a huge volume of air coming into contact with things is outside of most people’s expectations, given how peacefully they float through the air. And the race over the Sandias always seemed to include at least one or two harrowing incidents.

          • Diane G.
            Posted April 2, 2015 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

            Damn, I miss the west.

            • Posted April 2, 2015 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

              It’s not just the West…DC to Boston is a lot farther than Paris to Geneva or even London to Edinburgh.

              But, yeah. Despite all the nutjobs, we’ve got some damned gorgeous bits of the planet out here.


          • Marella
            Posted April 3, 2015 at 12:25 am | Permalink

            Indeed, we in Australia have a similar situation, but of course we only have 1/12 of your population.

            • Diane G.
              Posted April 3, 2015 at 2:52 am | Permalink

              Very cool illustration!

              This discussion reminds me of the old saying, “in Europe they think a hundred miles is a long ways; in the US they think a hundred years is a long time.”

              • Posted April 3, 2015 at 8:53 am | Permalink

                Agreed. That illustration is quite effective.

                I still remember wandering around somewhere in Europe a bit perplexed by the numbers on the buildings. I would have thought that they were address numbers, but they just weren’t lining up or making sense. Then I was told or realized or whatever…that they were the year of construction…and my head asploded. That nondescript-for-the-area building on the corner with the drugstore on the first floor…was over a century older than my country and had already been standing for a generation or two when Bach was born.


              • Diane G.
                Posted April 3, 2015 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

                Good illustration!

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted April 3, 2015 at 9:43 am | Permalink

                People who live in big countries tend to talk about time instead of km or miles when asked how far something is. I know I usually say something is x-minutes/hours away & have no idea what that is in KMs. It’s the time that counts (especially if you’re in traffic).

              • Posted April 3, 2015 at 10:23 am | Permalink

                Very true. I couldn’t tell you the milage to Los Angeles or San Francisco off the top of my head, but I can tell you that you should plan on one day to drive from here to LA and another day from here to SF, though you could make the drive straight to SF in a single day if you care more about time than safety. Similarly, Denver is best done in two days (with the night spent in Albuquerque in you take the southern route or the Four Corners region if you take the northern route), but it’s doable in a single day.


              • merilee
                Posted April 3, 2015 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

                Just make sure you turn left at Albuquerque…

              • Posted April 3, 2015 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

                Well…El Paso is a nice college town, so long as you ignore what’s over the border….

                Reminds me, so long as we’re on the subject of the size of the States…El Paso, Texas, is closer to Los Angeles than it is to Houston, even though you have to cross half of New Mexico, all of Arizona, and most of the width of California to make the westward trip.


              • Diane G.
                Posted April 4, 2015 at 1:32 am | Permalink

                And Texarkana is closer to Chicago than it is to El Paso.

              • Posted April 4, 2015 at 10:37 am | Permalink

                …and Houston is a lot closer to Pensacola than it is to El Paso.

                So, Texas sitting in the middle of the southern border, has its ends closer to the other ends of the country than its own ends are from each other….


            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted April 3, 2015 at 9:26 am | Permalink

              Yeah, Canada is like that too. Canadians wrote a song about it.

              • Posted April 3, 2015 at 10:18 am | Permalink

                Is there anything Canadians don’t write songs about?


  17. Mark R.
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I’m visiting Boston in May and will have to look up that restaurant- it all looks amazing. I also like Barbara Lynch’s restaurants. B&G Oysters has the best clam chowder and lobster rolls for some indigenous noms.

  18. Posted April 2, 2015 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Jeebus! You guys are giving Napa a run for the money lol. Those fried artichokes….how have I not had those before??? I usually don’t comment on the food posts..but I just kept scrolling in awe lol. And the goat cheese thing …I love everything in that…
    It’s funny…I’m pretty bland when it comes to meat..I don’t really venture out…most “exotic” thing I ever had was chipped rabbit sealed with a layer of duck fat …for was heavenly…
    BUT..I don’t do seafood (aside from broiled shrimp and lobster..hardly counts) and no organ meat at all.
    However, I will eat anything to do with veggies…any style any combo…I love veggies! It surprises me that people can be so picky over veggies..but eat…liver? lol..oh well

    • darrelle
      Posted April 2, 2015 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

      You’ve never tried a nice goose liver pate? No seafood?

      You’ve brought a tear to my eye.

      • Posted April 2, 2015 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        Seconded! Our local place does poutine with seared (goose) foie gras on top. Holy Hoppin’ Hank, it’s delicious!

        • darrelle
          Posted April 2, 2015 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

          That’s . . . so . . . over-the-top? Sounds great! I’d love to try it.

          It’s like taking a scooter and doing this
          to it.

  19. merilee
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Gorgeous noms, burnt sugar ice cream, and Tom Waits!! Life is good

    Coincidentally just mentioned Waits on the Stones post.

  20. Posted April 2, 2015 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    What to choose, what to choose?…. That’s the kind of problems to have.

    I’d have to have the khulfi and the sweet cream, the latter which brings back the fondest of childhood memories. (With it being maple sap tapping season here in the Great White North, I’ve only recently learned about maple syrup cotton candy, something that can be made at home… who knew?! I’ve got that on my mind too.)

  21. John J. Fitzgerald
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Try Legal Seafood for a wide variety of quality fresh caught seafood.

    Also Bergamot in Somerville is worth a visit.

    If you have not done Durgin Park, then try it for roast beef.

    John J. Fitzgerald

    • Posted April 2, 2015 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

      I must have been at Legal Seafood on a bad day, maybe 12 yrs ago. It came highly recommended by our Back Bay BandB owners, but the lobster was watery, mushy, and terrible!

  22. Vaal
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Yelping Yahweh that food looks delicious!

    (I thought I was going to see something from Neptune Oyster on the page – a great place and probably already done by PCC – but this was a nice surprise. I need to get back to Boston).

  23. Diane G.
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Mmm, burnt sugar ice cream sounds SO good.

    • Posted April 3, 2015 at 12:43 am | Permalink

      May needto unearth my ice cream maker and figure out how to make that amazing sounding treat. The ginger, too.

  24. barn owl
    Posted April 2, 2015 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    There’s ginger ice cream? And banana cinnamon ice cream? How am I going to finagle a trip to Boston?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 3, 2015 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      The ginger ice cream sounds delicious!

      • darrelle
        Posted April 3, 2015 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        On holiday in Japan I had a “traditional” Japanese sundae. It was a scoop each of ginger and green tea ice cream with a sauce made of the ubiquitous (in Japanese cuisine) bean. I couldn’t tell if this sauce was made with soy or adzuki beans, but both are common for sweet applications in Japanese cuisine where in western cuisines berries, fruits, creams and that sort of thing would be used.

        When in a Japanese bakery perusing the gorgeous looking filled pastries, beware. The filling isn’t blueberry or pastry cream. It is sweet beans. And the sweet is misleading if you are used to western sweets, even European which tend to be a good deal less sweet than US sweets.

        The sweet bean paste was interesting, but I can do without it. The ice cream, both the ginger and green tea, were wonderful.

        • Posted April 3, 2015 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

          That bean paste is in the center of my favorite dim sum dessert: jin deui, aka “sesame balls.”


        • Posted April 3, 2015 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

          Red bean icecream is available in some grocery stores — usually the natural food groceries. It’s quite good.

  25. Marella
    Posted April 3, 2015 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    I recommend that you try the mango ice-cream next time you have a chance. Good mango is one of the best ice-cream flavours EVAH!

    • Posted April 3, 2015 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

      This looks heavenly! If I try this recipe myself, I might sub cane sugar for white granulated sugar.

      • merilee
        Posted April 3, 2015 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

        what’s the diff?

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