The first clue was the table.
Despite securing reservations, my party of four was sat at possibly the worst table at Taverna Agora in downtown Raleigh, out on the first floor enclosed patio, directly next to the swinging doors that brought the seasonably cold February winds charging inside with the arrival of each new guest.
After we requested to change tables to another table in the vicinity (there were plenty that were unoccupied), our server chuckled and commented that “yeah, it’s hard getting anyone to sit at that table”. Not a rousing start to what would commence to be a very mediocre night at the Greek restaurant.
The appetizing evening then restarted at a different table, with a clearly under-the-weather server, who coughed and sniffled into his hands furiously before touching the glass pitcher to fill our water glasses. The server extolled the Ribeye Mosxarissia Brizola ($24.95) and convinced one in my party to order the steak medium-rare after he claimed that “we’ve been told that our steak is better than Angus Barn’s”. Not a gambler myself, I thought it was rather high stakes to compare their cut of meat to a well-venerated steakhouse in the area.
The eggplant spread ($6.95) mezze, the Melitzanosalata, was enough for a pair to share, a small schmear of creamy roasted eggplant drizzled with EVOO and a blend of herbs and spices. It was served with several points of warmed pita and mandolined slices of cucumber and carrots that proved to be a refreshing segue into the evening.
Later that night, the Souvlaki ($14.95), though, neither impressed nor disappointed. Tender nubs of marinated pork came skewered in this main dish, laid onto a mattress of fluffy rice pilaf and surrounded by a mound of ho-hum vegetables that included string beans, a tangy dollop of Tzatziki and, yes, more pita points. It was a rather safe choice to make from Taverna Agora’s menu, and will likely not leave much of an indelible impression either way afterwards.
A bright spot was found in the Scallops Santorini ($23.50), however, at the Greek kitchen and bar. A generous portion of sauteed sea scallops swum inside a crimson pool of robust tomato basil sauce replete with mushrooms, spinach and orzo pasta.
Though, the lone bright spot of the night was immediately dimmed by the lackluster ribeye steak, previously lauded by the server, which was not prepared to medium-rare, but instead was cooked to near medium-well. The server did apologize profusely for the mistake by the kitchen, and the manager did bring by another steak minutes later–cooked to the proper temperature–and added, crouching by the tableside, that the steak would be comped at the end of the night. Regrettably, my friend had to eat the steak and his lemon roasted potatoes hurriedly at the of the night when everyone else had already polished off their meals.
Luckily, that time gave me a few minutes to reflect and take in the warm ambiance at Taverna Agora, which intermittently was interrupted by occasional celebratory exclamations of “opa!” from the other side of the dining room. I had a prior experience at Taverna Agora when it was located at its old locale on Glenwood Avenue, but distant memories, good or bad, of the fare were clouded by various shots of grappa that night.
This time, my memories from the night are crystal-clear and I don’t think my night warranted a return visit anytime soon. It’s too bad, primarily because I’ve heard good things about the upstairs outdoor patio and its brunch, but I’ll have to use my imagination to think what could have been at the newest iteration of Taverna Agora.
TAVERNA AGORA | 326 Hillsborough Street Raleigh NC 27603 | 919.881.8333