Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sofra, the land of orange blossoms and honey

I think about food...a lot. A good portion of my day is spent meditating on the topic. But I will admit that after I have a blow-out of treats, like a box of Italian pastry goodies or a trio of Georgetown cupcakes, I don't think a few hours later, "I'd like another box of that right now." But this honor goes to Sofra, my newest food discovery and upcoming contender for best Boston bakery and cafe. Indeed, a few hours after I had ingested all that my stomach would allow at Sofra, I was sitting at home and was overtaken with a strong desire to hop in the car (that I don't own) and slap down a few twenties (that I don't have to spare) and ask for as many goodies as Sofra could fit in boxes.

So what is Sofra? It's a Persian bakery and cafe on the outskirts of Cambridge, next to one of the most beautiful places to walk through in all of Boston, Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Inside, you will find the warm aesthetic of a New England farmhouse mixed with the textiles and ambience of a Middle Eastern tea room. The tables are embossed copper drums that invite sharing a plate or two with your lunchmate, and the cozy seating arrangements lead to a sense of conviviality.

But none of that would matter if the food were not massively gourmet. And it is. Very, very rarely do I sit down to a plate of Middle Eastern food without being smacked across the face with a gaudy excess of garlic. And with dessert, it is usually phyllo dough that has been drowned in a deadly sweet pool of syrup. Maura and Ana are two culinary geniuses, as far as I'm concerned, who have taken eclectic flavors from across the Mediterranean and Middle East (allepo peppers, sumac, za'atar, orange blossoms, nigella seeds...) and created something masterful.

My lunch was a hefty plate of mezze (you can pick five different kinds from their mezze bar). I don't normally do this, but I think that the array is so tempting, that I will just copy the menu here for you:

hot pepper labne with mint sizzle
chickpea salad with harissa & dried lime
smoky eggplant with pinenuts
whipped  feta with sweet & hot peppers
beet tzatziki
maftoul salad with sweet potatoes
Moroccan style carrot salad
bamya - okra with tomato, red onion & saffron
fig salad with piquillo peppers & green garlic
squash skordalia with pepitas
muhammara—red pepper & walnut purée
kale tabouleh with barberries & pickled garlic

Add in some of their homemade flat bread or spongy and wondrous za'atar finger bread, and you have a lunch worthy of the gods. I sat on their patio making embarrassing little lip-smacking noises, marveling at how distinct and unique and complex the flavor was for each of these dishes...And then, when a sane person might have considered themselves satiated, I went back for dessert. Well, this is the Bakery Babe, not the Savory Snacks Princess! 

And Sofra does not disappoint with the baked goods. Greek semolina cakes called revani, soaked with orange blossom. Bird's nests with pistachios and saffron. Doughnuts with Persian spices. Short breads flavored with tahini, Egyptian bread pudding, almond rose cake, light Turkish simits that have a croissant-like flakiness...truly, I stood at the counter a bit slack-jawed, my mind spinning, unable to pick from the little trays of magic. 

But of course, I soldiered on and sampled away. Even if you don't fancy something overtly exotic, you can find yourself quite happy with a piece of pumpkin bread, a morning bun topped with orange-blossom glaze, or a chocolate earthquake cookie. 

This is one of the reasons I really adore can come for coffee and a doughnut or a full fledged mezze feast. And let me tell you, it is supremely rare to find a place that can pull off both sweet and savory with this kind of class. You may find yourself tempted to take home one of the many packages of syrups, spices, and pickles that they sell, ready to take on a cooking adventure of your own.

So make haste, hop on the bus, and take a little field trip to Sofra (don't forget to tour Mt. Auburn while you're there), and get ready for foodie nirvana.
1 Belmont Street, Cambridge MA 02138 

1 comment:

  1. So many choices would drive me crazy. They all look delicious.