By Laura Riggs
Sam and Kiley Efron opened Taverna in 2009 and have consistently won some of the best restaurant awards locally and nationally. The couple has brought a fresh perspective on Italian dining with seasonal menus focused on simple ingredients and an incredibly curated wine selection. Whether visiting for a special occasion, or an everyday meal, Taverna offers an upscale dining experience with an approachable atmosphere. It’s never pretentious and always inviting. Their second restaurant is no exception.
Although it’s only been open for a few months, Taverna Oceana has quickly become a neighborhood favorite. “We initially wanted the second restaurant to be an Asian-inspired noodle house,” Kiley explains. As with most of us, the pandemic delayed those plans. Fortunately, Taverna rebounded quickly after the pandemic, and Sam and Kiley were able to refocus on their next project. Given the challenges restaurants have endured the past few years, the couple thought it best to simplify their approach. They reinvented the concept to be more of a natural extension of Taverna.
Instead of finding a location farther away, they decided on something closer to home. Luckily, they had the opportunity to take the spot right next door to Taverna. Plans for the restaurant shifted from more than a hundred seats to 70, and the menu was redesigned to highlight the abundance of seafood available throughout Florida. As part of Taverna Oceana’s build-out, Sam and Kiley also expanded Taverna’s kitchen to accommodate both restaurants while allowing for eventual expansion into more catering options. “You can do a loop all the way around both restaurants,” Kiley adds, “making it easier to share resources between the two.”
Chef Sam has incorporated Latin and Asian flavors into Taverna Oceana’s menu, most notably the kimchi mignonette and a decadent soy glaze over the cooked-to-perfection, melt-in-your-mouth, buttery Chilean Sea Bass. In addition, one-third of their offerings now features an extensive raw bar with oysters from all over the world to give Jaxsons a variety of flavors you can’t often find in Northeast Florida. Food is paired with a list of premium sakes, excellent champagnes, cocktails inspired by simple ingredients and crafted to perfection, and a wine selection that is utterly divine.
“It was important that we have some creative play with the menu, but we also wanted options for everyone,” Sam says of the menu arrangement. He prefers to layer flavors together to easily accommodate guests with food allergies or sensitivities. “Cooking from scratch allows me to add or remove flavors easily,” he explains. Early in their marriage, Kiley began to develop a gluten intolerance, along with allergies to nuts, seeds, and rice. Sam began experimenting with modifications to their favorite dishes that she could comfortably eat, which has translated into a menu welcoming of anyone’s flavor preferences.
After all, hospitality isn’t merely the ability to provide food or drink to guests; it is also the act of being kind and friendly. Having spent most of their careers in the restaurant service industry, Sam and Kiley are equally passionate about providing good hospitality as they are stellar food. Good hospitality trickles down—customers can sense when people are happy in their jobs. Whether a guest or team member, Sam and Kiley believe in taking good care of people and treating everyone with respect regardless of circumstance. Many of their team members have worked with them for over five years, and many guests have consistently dined at Taverna for just as long.
It may not sound sexy, but it’s consistency that guests rely upon. It’s the word most often used in all their five-star reviews. Whether you dine at Taverna or Taverna Oceana, the consistent delivery of excellent hospitality will bring you back time and again.
1988 San Marco Blvd, Jacksonville, 32207,
(904) 398-3005. Reservations can be made via Resy.
2017 Shibumi Knoll Chardonnay
Notes: Crème brûlée, pears, white peach, vanilla bean, and spice
Salmon Smoked and Baked with Creamed Leeks and Poached Fingerling Potatoes
For full receipt …