Some time ago my wife and I found ourselves at a restaurant that was little short of a museum piece, where every detail dated to the early '70s, from the hi-lo shag on the floors to leatherette banquettes to the burgundy waistcoats and the Shrimp de Jonghe appetizer. We took one look around and fled as politely as possible, never to return.
Taverna inspires in me a similar sort of reaction. The décor isn't yet dated, but it's heading that way. It so blatantly epitomizes everything which is trendy now that it can only get old from this point on. The style is, for want of a better description, California Suburban Mall: burnished dark woods with complementary earth tones, accented by artfully arranged twigs in clear vases. It's very feng shui, but I find it irritating and soul-less, as if the design came from a Restaurants-R-Us catalogue with barely a hint of human input.
In a setting like Broad Ripple, Taverna begs the simple question: why? Restaurants around here are known for their individuality and personal flair. Taverna is more of a chain waiting to happen. Perhaps that's the point: I can easily envisage identical establishments popping up in Dayton or Columbus, but based upon the uninspiring dishes on offer I don't think that's likely.
Not that there's anything glaringly wrong with the food. Meat and fish are fresh (there is no freezer, I'm told), which is admirable. Preparation is correct, in the sense that temperatures are good and things don't come out over or under cooked. Unfortunately the recipes and execution fail to take advantage of the ingredients, inviting constant comparisons with the sort of middling hotel food to be found in any metropolis.
The menu appears to have been created by a committee, because it's all over the place, as if everyone had to get his or her favorite in, regardless of national origin or culinary style. For example, four gorgeous and succulent sea scallops arrive perfectly cooked, but they are sadly undermined by a very '90s wrapping of commercial-grade bacon and finished with a lackluster attempt at beurre blanc. For $17 I would expect a lot more.
Main courses are in a similar vein. The predictable meats and fish are well represented. Poached sea bass in miso broth ($32) harkens back to the early days of Pacific Rim fusion, while a jerk chicken vies with a pork chop al pastor for the best entry in the traditional and spicy category. Both these dishes ($18 and $24 respectively) are admirable for the tenderness of their meat but are also let down by the shallow and tentative saucing. Vegetables, which I somehow forgot to order, add a further $8 to the bill.
Although the cocktail menu is well thought-out and certainly worth a visit, the wine list is stacked in favor of big-name behemoths, the sort of wines you find (again) on chain hotel lists. It's disappointing to run your eye down the page and know you have tasted everything there. Like the food, it's old before its time and already in need of a fresh coat of paint.