You’d think that an 8-year-old restaurant nestled in Somerville’s faraway Winter Hill would have come off its hype. You’d be wrong.
An Eastern Mediterranean small plates wonderland, Sarma remains one of the hardest-to-get reservations in the greater Boston area. And for good reason: Sarma may be Oleana’s little sister, but it’s a dining destination in its own right, earning chef-owner Cassie Piuma six consecutive nominations for the James Beard Best Chef in the Northeast Award, from 2015 to 2020. But with the pandemic comes a new set of booking rules. Luckily for you, you’re in the right spot.
Welcome to The One Who Keeps The Book, a regular series that aims to answer that most important of questions: How do I get in? The first answer is Resy, of course. But every restaurant manages its tables differently and there are always secret tips, tricks, and shortcuts to be discovered. So here, we go straight to the source to get them for you.
In this case, that’d be Fernando Neves, an Oleana vet who’s worked for the company for over 15 years, where he started as a busboy. Today, he’s the general manager at Sarma, and he’s here to divulge exactly how to get in, the best tables to book, and more intel.
Resy: How many seats are there at Sarma?
Neves: Right now, we have 26 seats inside and 30 outside.
When do reservations drop on Resy?
16 days ahead, and they go live at midnight.
How quickly do these get booked out?
I would say it takes between two to three days for a weekday, and then for weekends — right now, we’re already booked for next Saturday — so, about 10?
- Reservations drop at midnight, 16 days in advance.
- If you can swing it, Friday night at 7 p.m. is the ideal time to visit Sarma.
- Otherwise, you should be able to easily snag a table on Monday and Tuesday nights.
- Definitely order the sesame fried chicken supplement.
- Fernando’s personal favorite though, is the lamb and spinach manti.
Are any of the seats in the restaurant held for walk-ins?
Not at the moment. Because of the pandemic and the seating regulations, it doesn’t allow us to have room for walk-ins. It’s all reservation based.
Right now, the restaurant is only serving a pre-set menu for dine-in, right?
Yes. I started here August of last year. But I’ve known chef Cassie since 2011 — we worked together at Oleana for 11 years. I onboarded in August, mid-pandemic. Sarma started doing the chef’s tasting in April or May of last year, and we kept it, just to make sure that we could bring the revenue up a little bit and keep all these people employed. So far, so good, but the goal is to go back to à la carte once we can seat more people.
If someone were to Notify for Sarma on Resy, is there a certain day of the week they’d be most likely to get a reservation?
I would say Monday and Tuesday.
How long your Notify list is on average?
Today is Friday, we have 19 parties and 52 people on the Notify list. Tomorrow we have 33 parties and 85 people on the Notify list. We don’t want guests to be frustrated. I try to explain it’s just because we don’t have enough tables, but eventually we will. But I understand, Sarma was always hard to get into, even pre-pandemic!
Can you share a good story that’s gone down at the door?
We had a group of four — two couples, late 20’s — they came in and said, “We have a reservation for tonight.” I looked and I was like, “Hm, I don’t have you on the list.” And then I search the phone number and they have a reservation three days after [laughs]. But of course, I was like, I will make it happen. So, I did, I sat them down, and they were really happy. They came back two days ago, and they remembered me, and said they had a reservation for today [laughs].
You have to be open, right? Especially with the pandemic, people are stressed out, they don’t leave the house, and maybe it’s the first opportunity they had to go out, sit down with friends, and enjoy good food.
It shows that we can give hospitality, even in times like this, even with all these restrictions.
In your opinion, what’s the best seat in the house?
Right now, there’s a table next to the window that’s really nice, table 65. On the patio, there’s table 35 that’s in between two heaters — that’s the best table outside.
When’s the best time to book a meal at Sarma?
I would say a Friday around 7 o’clock.
Can you set the scene?
We’d be getting to the second seating. People love the 7 o’clock time: There are people coming in, people outside on the patio, we still have some light out. There are food runners running food, drinks being ran, the music is going, the playlist is there. The smell of spices is in the air. People are saying great things about the cornbread — they never expected cornbread could taste that great… It’s a good energy.
What’s the best table for a date?
Table 46. Once you come into the restaurant, there’s a table that’s in the right corner. It’s a banquette, and people love that table for dates, because you can sit next to each other.
And for a hangout with a small group of friends?
I would say the bar, not that the bar is [open right now], but it’s a great bar. Post-pandemic, the bar, definitely.
What are the best things to order for a first timer?
Even though we have a pre-set right now, we have two options: We have the vegetarian pre-set and the omnivore. We also have supplement items, and they’re the classics. We have the sesame fried chicken that people loved — it comes with a tahini rémoulade and I’d say that’s definitely something you should order, it’s on the supplement menu. Also, the cornbread, but the cornbread comes with the tasting, because it’s so great. It’s a Black Sea cornbread with some feta, honey, sesame seeds, and jalapeños.
What’s your personal favorite dish on the menu?
Hm… There are so many things, it’s hard to say. Last night, I had the lamb and spinach manti — manti is like a stuffed pasta, it almost looks like a flower — it comes with green garlic, turmeric, and ginger, and it’s really good. That’s my favorite right now. I go in phases, sometimes I go for the lamb meatballs. But I guess I love lamb, so [laughs]. For vegetarians, I would say the feta cheese gnocchi.
What’s your favorite time of day at the restaurant?
I think right now is a good time, 2 p.m., because you’re getting ready for the night. You’re going through the reservation list, you see who’s coming, you see familiar names. You talk to the chef about allergies, about what we’re going to do. The expectation of how the night is going to be, that’s exciting.
What are you most excited about?
I’m excited about what’s going to be next, whatever it is. People are getting vaccinated and excited to be out. And to be able to be part of it as a restaurant, as someone who works in the industry, welcoming these people back is exciting for all us working. Things are coming back to a certain normal.