I’ve been to Sabur twice this month, which is more than usual but I’m starting to think not really often enough.  It’s hardly a neighborhood secret anymore, but Sabur is a cosy restaurant and lounge either in Teele square or just outside Davis sqaure, depending on your frame of reference.  It’s in a awful building which I think used to be an insurance agency, but they have done a good job of decorating two very different rooms – the dining room boasts an open hearth where lamb cooks away for hours, and the bar/lounge has funky low seating and a Balkan folk/hip-hop soundrack – and a patio.  There’s even parking for five or six cars.

Yes, but what about the food?  I’m glad you asked.  Sabur does a good job of never quite revealing what country’s food it represents, using vague statements about “Italy, Greece, Southern France, and the Balkans to North Africa and beyond”  I think they should be proud of wherever they come from, but there’s no reason to define the menu so narrowly.  That said, since there’s no shortage of Italian, Greek, French and even Moroccan places around, so I usually concentrate on Sabur’s Balkan roots when I go.

I spent a week in Croatia a few years ago and had a great time, not least when enjoying a flaky burek.  Sabur’s burek is the meat kind, with onions and potato in a flaky but supple dough, “hand-stretched” according to the menu, and sized such that you can share it, feel satisfied, and still have a main course.  A quick glance at the illustrations on wikipedia’s burek page reveals that Sabur dishes out the Bosnian spiral variety.  One day when I’m a big internet mogul, I’ll have a burek page, too. 

Other appetizers of note include the seasonal calamari not on the menu, the hummus with extra thick warm pita, and the zucchini & feta fritters with ajvar (a red pepper chutney or relish), which compare favorably with the delicious black-eyed pea fritters at VeeVee in JP.  Can’t decide?  Get the mezze and put yourself in the chef’s capable hands.

On the entree side, the signature dish is proabably the open hearth roast lamb, which is in fact prepared in an actual open hearth in the main dining room.  When I was there last, I asked how long it had been stewing, and they told me since around 4pm.  With stew, I think longer cooking is better.  If you like lamb, you should not leave Sabur without trying this.

I know that “wild mushroom guvech” just doesn’t sound great, but I can attest that it delivers.  I’m still not entirely clear on the concept of guvech, but it seems to be mostly tomatoes, onions and eggplant, plus some vegetables I’m less sure of, maybe squash?  But it’s the wld mushrooms that keep my interest.  Funky little crimini types, something portabella like, very possibly whatever was growing in the nearby woods.  Like a lot of Sabur, it’s got mediterranean polish but a distinctly slavic undertone. 

Less than excellent was the vegetable tagine over cous cous with sultanas, almonds, cinnamon and dates.   The vegatables were just not that exciting, and oddly for a tagine, the whole thing was on the cooler side of warm.  There are better tagines in this town, but don’t let that steer you away from Sabur’s mousaka or their really excellent roasted garlic polenta with artichokes, tomatoes and olives.  For a surprising use of sweet on salmon, try the salmon charmoula with apricot couscous and spinach.

In keeping with the mediterranean/balkan theme, Sabur’s wine list has a global selection from New Zealand to California plus some good choices from the usual European regions, and then throws a curve at you with wines from Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia.  Try the Temjanika (tem-yan-ee-ka) from Macedonia, somthing like a chardonnay without the oppressive oak, or the Istrian (Croatia, near Italy and Slovenia) red Teran Othello Kozlovic.  Oddly absent were wines from Croatia’s Dalmatian coast or Dubrovnik.  Maybe this summer, they’ll get a nice Plavac Mali, like the one from Grgić and we can drink it on the patio.

If summer ever comes, that is.