By Blake Sharp
Tucked a few blocks off of University Avenue, across the street from Whole Foods in Palo Alto, a new Greek restaurant just opened with founders and chefs from Evvia, Kokkari, the Michelin-starred Village Pub and Mayfield Bakery. Taverna is named for the Greek word for tavern and intended to be a place to eat and drink in good company of friends and family.
I visited with a friend late on a Thursday night and was immediately seated at the last open table in the restaurant. There was a birthday party going on, so the waiters were busy but still very attentive. The staff was incredibly friendly and immediately served us dried and seasoned chickpeas as we looked over the menu. Since this was a Greek restaurant, I was really looking forward to some hummus, my favorite food group. However after glancing over the menu, I realized hummus might be a more Americanized-Greek good than I thought. Despite my initial disappointment, we ordered the tzatziki and pita to start, hoping it would satisfy the hummus craving.
Taverna is a relatively small space, which added to the cozy ambiance given by the warm glowing candles, soft geometric light structures, subtle blue and wooden accents and numerous citrus plants. Despite the comfortable and atmosphere, and since the space is small, the restaurant was very loud. I found myself shouting to my friend across the table.
However, this shouting was primarily us exclaiming how delicious the food was. The tzatziki appetizer came out and was absolutely delicious. The warm homemade pita bread drizzled with olive oil paired perfectly with the tangy yogurt dip. My only complaint was that I needed about five more pieces of pita.
We asked our waiter what he recommended for us to share, and he insisted on the grilled octopus and saganaki, a Greek flaming cheese. As we waited, our waiter remarked at how sad our wine glasses looked so empty. Acknowledging we were under 21, he insisted we try a traditional cherry soda, just so our wine glasses could be put to use. We laughed and approved. The cherry soda was sweet and bubbly and reminded me a little bit of a cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving dinner.
As we sipped our “wine,” we saw our waiter lighting a small black skillet on fire. The fire raged intensely for a few seconds as he set it in front of us along with a basket of bread. After the fire extinguished itself and our waiter added a flourishing lemon squeeze, a wedge of gooey cheese with grilled onions and peppers on top sat between my friend and me. We both smiled and immediately began generously lathering our slices of bread with the melting cheese. The oozing cheese with the sweet onions and spicy peppers made an irresistible combination.
The cheese absolutely took the prize for its presentation, but the deep purple octopus came out with an understated sophistication. The slight acidity balanced the smokiness of the grill perfectly. The octopus came on a plate with smears of Greek fava (which I thought was going to be fava beans but was in fact mashed split peas. Upon further research, fava beans are rarely used in Greek cooking because a significant portion of the population is allergic to them), capers and pickled radish leaves. The mixture of flavors and textures made this dish the most dynamic of what we tried and an absolute must if you are willing to try something a little outside the ordinary.
My friend was a little nervous about the octopus order (which she ended up loving), so she wanted our last course to be on the safer side. We ordered the “game hen” to finish our meal. The chicken was tender and cooked perfectly, covered in a flavorful skin to make for a delicious bite each time. The chicken came with crispy potatoes, which were reminiscent of very fancy french fries. There was also a carrot, asparagus and kale salad tossed on top of the chicken and potatoes. The salad was average and could have tasted a lot fresher if there had been less dressing coating the vegetables.
After all this food, both my friend and I were stuffed and happy. Our friendly waiter offered dessert, and the ice cream at the table to our left did look very tempting, but the fact that we were almost in a food coma kept us from ordering any ice cream, cookies or cake.
Taverna’s motto is that “every day is a gift,” and I can’t help but smile as I think how lucky I am to be at Stanford enjoying quality company and cuisine. This cuisine, however, does come at a pretty steep price — but the local ingredients and friendly atmosphere make the price worth it. That being said, Taverna just may have to be one of those restaurants you visit while your parents are in town.
Overall, the restaurant was wonderful. Sometimes new restaurants can take a few weeks to work out the kinks, but it was obvious that this restaurant was founded by seasoned veterans who intend to waste no time in having Taverna become a local, cozy staple.
Contact Blake Sharp at blakesharp ‘at’ stanford.edu.