Framed black-and-white photographs of statues and busts, taken by the owners' friend at the archaeological Acropolis Museum in Greece, hang on the dining room's walls. Dark blue bottles of sparkling water imported from Greece sit on tables, which along with the light blue wooden chairs were also brought to Palo Alto from Greece. Ceramic pots sourced from an artists' co-op in Athens line shelves high on the restaurant's walls. Co-owner Thanasis Pashalidis picked up the restaurant's narrow, bright-blue front door, which he said was made in 1935 (it's since been repainted), at a junkyard in Greece.
Pashalidis and co-owner Hakan Bala are opening Taverna with chef William Roberts. The team has strong local ties. Pashalidis and Bala, both Palo Alto residents, met working at Greek standby Evvia Estiatorio a decade ago. Pashalidis met Roberts at Mayfield Bakery & Cafe in Palo Alto, where Roberts worked as sous chef and Pashalidis as floor manager. They again worked together at Michelin-starred The Village Pub in Woodside, Roberts as executive sous chef and Pashalidis as captain server. Bala served Roberts when Roberts dined at Evvia; Bala would also often come into Mayfield and Village Pub, the three recalled in an interview this week.
Taverna co-owners and longtime friends Hakan Bala, left, and Thanasis Pashalidis in the dining room of their new restaurant. Photo by Elena Kadvany.
The owners describe Taverna as a "casual fine-dining" restaurant that will provide the level of service and quality of ingredients one would expect at one of their former employers' but in a taverna-like setting. In Greece, the taverna is a "neighborhood gathering place where friends can meet to eat, drink and enjoy life," the restaurant's website explains.
They encourage the sharing of dishes at Taverna, where the menu draws inspiration from different regions of Greece. Roberts visited Greece last year for a week-long research trip, guided by a friend of Pashalidis' and an "insane" itinerary that Pashalidis compiled.
The menu, split into bites, small plates and entrees, is an education in Greek cuisine, though many dishes offer a more modern take. Lamb chops, for example, are treated as a small plate rather than entree, served with spring onions and fried okra.
Roberts elevated an ancient Greek food of the poor, dako — a dried, nutrient-dense biscotti made from whole barley — by topping it with uni from Mendocino and keluga caviar. He softens the dried dako by hydrating it with fresh tomato water.
The bread baskets will come with local sourdough from Acme Bread in Berkeley and koulouri, a ring-shaped sesame bread.
Taverna's sausage is made from a recipe from Pashalidis' sister's butcher in Greece and the "fisherman mezze" appetizer, a seasonal chilled fish, is inspired by Greek fishermen who preserved food while out at sea.
All meat and seafood is sustainably sourced. The lamb comes from Superior Farms in Sacramento and custom ground beef for the Taverna burger from Bassian Farms in San Jose.
A custom-built wine room is stocked with about 150 labels, 40 percent of which are Greek, Pashalidis said.
Taverna is soft opening this weekend and will open to the public on Monday, starting with dinner service Monday through Saturday. The owners plan to add lunch in May.