Contemporary Greek served with a twist at Taverna Blu

I’ll just say it up front, I really liked this place and would highly suggest you check it out if you are a fan of Greek cuisine; or, for those of you who are not, this would be a perfect place to become familiar with it.
First off a little history — A Taverna is a Greek version of a bistro or pub and they are everywhere in Greece and the Southern Mediterranean. True to the bistro concept, they feature wholesome, flavorful food at very reasonable prices and can double as a watering hole. Taverna Blu has added a bit of California cool to that and it works beautifully.
George Katakalidis is the proprietor and his name alone should instill confidence, and he is as Greek as they come. George is a former professional soccer player who, after his playing days, opened the first Daphne’s in San Diego in 1991 and helped to expand the chain to 81 restaurants in five states.
He was born in Greece and immigrated to Toronto in 1969. He was always in the kitchen helping his mother and learning her authentic Greek recipes. His vision and inspiration for Taverna Blu goes back to his roots and experiences with food, which was always a fun and communal time, shared with friends and family over a drink. I’d say George accomplished that and more with his restaurant.
Before I move on to the food and the great value at Taverna Blue, I have to mention that they really did a nice job with the interior. I’ll call it “California-Greek” as it combines design and color elements from both, a cool little bar, outside seating area, and clean, contemporary lines while keeping a warmth about it.
We tried a nice sampling from the menu that has small plates ranging from $3 to $6. The yogurt tzatzi was light and flavorful and the traditional flaming Sa-ga-naki was also a fun and delicious way to start the meal. They put their own twists on most of these dishes, which makes them even more appealing.
A salad selection is available for $7 or $11, if you add chicken, Gyro, shrimp or calamari. We split the mixed green salad, which was plenty for two and added the lamb Gyro, which made it even heartier. I’ll mention now that the feta cheese that accompanies most of these dishes is as rich and creamy as I’ve had.
We skipped over the pita and burger section but they looked fabulous and, at $7, is a value. We moved on to the garlic pesto-cine from the pasta section and added calamari, which brought it up to $13, but there was more than enough for two on this plate. We had to try a couple of the house specials, so we went for the slow braised lamb shank with Taverna rice and one of the Blue Plate chef specials of the day which was a half-chicken with horta (boiled or sautéed greens such as escarole and a staple in any Greek household).
They are dressed with a bit of olive oil and lemon and have a clean, pure taste that compliments most proteins. The chicken was also served with potato wedges and feta cheese and was wonderful. The lamb shank was also moist and flavorful and the rice that accompanied it was cooked perfectly. There is nothing over $19 on the house special portion of the menu.
Dessert was delightful as well, as we sampled the baklava vanilla ice cream sundae and the coppa mascarpone. I’d order both again but next time I’m also going to try the Greek yogurt with peaches and honey. All desserts are $5.
There is a wide selection of beer and wine, including some very interesting Greek wines. I’ll also add in a little teaser as George is in the process of reconstructing and putting his own touches on the Greek classic Mousaka. That may even be on the menu by the time this goes to print, so keep an eye out for it. Taverna Blu is at 12873 El Camino Real in the Del Mar Highlands shopping center. Check them out at tavernablu.com.

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