It bills its fare as “exotic Mediterranean,” and the décor of its two rooms seems to back that claim. Hand-wrought copper tables from Bosnia stand a comfortable distance apart in the dining room, where musicians of similar provenance perform from 10 p.m. on each Saturday and every other Thursday. (We unfortunately stopped by on a band-less night, although the music piped in over the sound system made digestion easy enough.)
The lounge has a more sinful appeal: its walls are bedecked with sumptuous rugs, and Moroccan-style lamps offer just as much light as is necessary for polite dining. Pillowed banquettes ensure a relaxed mood, as does the full bar.
Sabur may be touted as a Balkan-inspired restaurant, but the menu owes more to Italy and Greece than Serbia and Albania (although, as any New York foodie knows, many of the best Italian restaurants there are owned by Albanians—why shouldn’t Bosnians join the game in Boston?). Still, there are some Eastern touches among the more generic—though well-executed—Mediterranean items on the menu.
A hand-stretched burek, a slightly dense pastry stuffed with ground beef and potatoes, evokes the Ottoman past of the region despite being somewhat disappointing to anyone who has tasted the authentic article. The meat in this specimen is not crumbly enough, the onions are too meek, it is too thick and lacking in diameter. For any epicure who hasn’t ventured east of Italy or south of Austria, however, this will do the trick, as it apparently does for the seemingly less-picky emigrants who occupied the lounge on our visit.
More uniformly appealing are the potato and celery root pancakes, served with a shmear of sour cream. These were unexpectedly sweet and managed to achieve an ideal crispiness while remaining tender inside, as good as the best latke, but also distinctly its own delicacy. Cubes of cinnamon-spiced pears piled on either side of the plate make a pretty garnish, certainly, but add a bit too much sugar to the already dulcet discs.
A salad of bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta and yogurt stood out for its creaminess and the freshness of its summery ingredients even on a frozen November night. A bluefish filet was cooked just to the point of flakiness, and served atop apricot couscous without a heavy sauce to obscure its essential flavor. A bowl of fusilli with chicken and mushrooms in an earthy sauce was tasty but neither unusual nor extraordinarily good—stick to the dishes you couldn’t find at Bertucci’s.
After FM’s photographer snapped some shots of our half-eaten meal for posterity, our cover was blown. We had already observed the service and tasted our food without arousing suspicion, so our unveiling led only to something positive—dessert, on the house.
Our waiter presented us with a plate of glazed apricots, stuffed with luscious mascarpone and slivered almonds, swimming in a shallow pool of ambrosial rosewater syrup. This fruit truly was divine, and worth the trip up to Somerville all on its own.
Name: Sabur Restaurant
Location: 212 Holland St., Somerville
Price Range: Entrees $15-20
Website: www.saburrestaurant.com (There’s a 15%-off coupon on the website.)
Hours: M-F 5pm-1 am, Sa-Su 11 am-1 am.