Barbayani Taverna has installed an ideal al fresco dining room at the very top of Main Street in Los Altos.
Large white umbrellas hover above chairs covered in blue and white striped caning. It’s a parklet reimagined as a landlocked version of a cruise ship—one that’s temporarily paused and floating somewhere in the Aegean Sea.
On a recent weekend afternoon, it was quiet enough on the patio to eavesdrop on the conversations of people strolling by and to hear the exclamations pouring out of the sports bar across the street.
Diners who ate at Nemea Greek Taverna in San Jose, which closed in 2020, should be able to recognize some of the same dishes that now appear on Barbayani’s menu.
Executive chef Aytaç Işik (his name appears as Allen Işik on the website) was the general manager at Nemea, and he’s Dino Tekdemir’s business partner at Palo Alto’s Anatolian Kitchen.
The food is listed in groups of starters, soups and salads, and entrées, featuring familiar Greek dishes such as spanakopita, taramasalata and moussaka.
A similar plate of imported Greek feta ($13)—under the “mezeths” heading—still lingers in a photograph at the top of Nemea’s Yelp listing. Two triangular wedges of cheese are stacked and sprinkled with oregano flakes. Bathed in extra virgin olive oil, a variety of tangy olives anchor the right side of the plate. Pita bread appears in the Nemea photo but it’s not included in the item’s description at Barbayani. When I asked for pita bread, our server said he’d make sure to bring some to the table but he didn’t make it clear if customers have to ask for it.
Our batch of pitas were undercooked. If they’d been served to Paul Hollywood, The Great British Bake Off’s bread expert, he would have expressed his disappointment to the amateur baker by poking at the center layer of raw dough.
Barbayani’s kitchen is still bedeviled by the details since opening in October. Avgolemono soup ($9) is the Greek equivalent of a comforting chicken noodle soup, but made with egg, lemon, chicken and rice. The texture is usually rich and creamy. This version of the soup tasted vinegary and thin, not hearty or luxurious. The small portion was served in a bowl not much bigger than an egg cup.
Another meze, zucchini cakes or kolokithokeftedes ($14), were burnt nearly black. I’ve made Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for zucchini cakes several times. I’m guilty of having burned an occasional batch of them in a pan of bubbling hot frying oil. But a cook or waiter who serves a burnt plate of food in a restaurant is either indifferent to the job or not paying close enough attention to the dishes that make it into the dining room.
Brunch may not be the best meal to highlight the Mediterranean specialties offered at Barbayani’s. The dinner menu consists of at least a dozen more substantial items than the Greek toast ($19) we shared. Topped with an avocado spread, scrambled eggs, olive oil and fresh herbs, the dish must pale in comparison with the lobster linguine ($42) or the moschari souvlaki ($32), a beef filet served with an orzo pilaf.
Barbayani Taverna, open daily for lunch 11:30am–2:30pm and dinner 5–9pm, Fri and Sat 5-9:30pm, 388 Main St., Los Altos. 650.405.6087.