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Review: Marmalade Cafe, Calabasas

Marmalade is a small chain of breakfast-brunch-lunch cafes in the San Fernando Valley, and it's one of those places that prides itself on a nice ambiance and a beautiful patio, which is nearly always the case; many restaurants concentrating on ambiance and d├ęcor forget about the food, but we've usually had reasonably good luck at Marmalade -- nothing earth-shaking, but usually reliable.

The food was passable -- my chopped Italian salad with champagne vinaigrette was fine, if uninteresting; others seemed to enjoy pancakes, turkey sandwiches, grilled vegetable plates, steak and omelette. No-one was wowed; no-one complained about the taste of the food. It was perfectly fine, just nothing even slightly special.

The service, however, was unprofessional. I hate it when waitstaff pull up a chair as though they're joining you. I used to wait tables, I know how badly one's feet and knees can hurt after standing up all day, but it still bothers me, and it bothers me when they can't remember your order (as evidenced by the fact that they had to ask my sister-in-law how she wanted her eggs ten seconds after she'd ordered) and won't write it down.

Those of you who have read my posts on the NAF board over the last few years know that one of my biggest pet peeves when dining out is the auctioning off of the food when brought to the table. ("Turkey sandwich, no mayo, who's got it, what am I offered for this turkey sandwich with no mayo?") Well, at Marmalade Calabasas, not only was the food loudly auctioned off, but even the drinks couldn't be got right. The waiter who brought the drinks seemed to be accustomed to the barnyard rather than an indoor venue, because from the doorway he bawled, "DID SOMEBODY ORDER AN ICED TEA? NOBODY? ICED TEA?" without pausing for breath.

The next service foul-up was special requests. Now, it drives me nuts when I hear things like "I'll have the ham sandwich, but on seven-grain bread, only lightly toasted, no mayo, butter on the side, with turkey instead of ham...", but there was a whole discussion because the menu advertised Egg Beaters and there were not, thus one of our party ordered an egg sandwich with only whites, which the waitress assured us was perfectly fine and not out of the ordinary, but the sandwich showed up with both yolks and whites. Two people, yours truly included, asked for salad dressing on the side (out of experience, because salads are ALWAYS overdressed at restaurants), but to no avail. The waitress was chagrined but didn't offer to fix it.

Their choice of tables is poor; they are glass-topped tables, which do allow you to see the very pretty stone floor below, but which mean that service which would seem normal on tableclothes seems loud, rude and abrupt... dishes being dropped an inch or two on a tablecloth don't make much noise, but on a glass top they clatter and give this sense of "here, you pigs, here's your slop, now eat". Either tablecloths or a bit more care when setting down plates would go a long way.

They suffer from what Mrs Ubergeek calls "New Jersey Diner Syndrome", or "damn New Jersey" for short... meaning that they don't refill your drink when it's empty, but when it finally does get refilled they're practically hovering with the pitcher. It took 20 minutes to get a refill on iced tea (the glass contained mostly ice and, I'd estimate, 6 oz. of iced tea), but once I got it, all of a sudden they were topping it up every two minutes.

The prices aren't out of line for a nice-looking cafe in one of two shopping areas in the Yuppie Forest, and unfortunately I wasn't paying so I couldn't adjust the tip downward (and speak to the manager) without causing a big, embarrassing scene.

We'll still go -- it's close to the in-laws' house, the food is fine, the menu accommodates all the weird food needs of the family -- but next time, I'll pay so that I can have a quiet word with management about the service on the pretext of using the restroom.

Marmalade Cafe
Calabasas Commons
Calabasas Rd and Park Sorrento
Calabasas, CA 91302

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  1. I've also had absurdly bad service at the Rolling Hills location. Food was ok, I like their breakfasts more than lunch or dinner.

    1. Go to Cosmos across the street. It's relaxed. The new dining room has a casual, stylish, understated grace and the food is quite fine.

      The dining room is rarely full (owing more, I think, to people losing sight of any possibility more than 2 dozen paces from the movies than any failing of the food). It is, consequently, much quieter and more conducive to converstation.

      I think the prices are comparable.

      1. You give that outfit more credit than I do. I have tried to like the Sherman Oaks location, and just finally gave up, as the food and service were not even up to the standards set by the mediocre Mel's Diner nearly next door.

        1. the one in malibu has friendly service & smelly tables

          1. Food nothing special (and frankly I think overpriced), but neither the one in Calabasas or the one in Malibu ever gets my eggs right (whether I order them medium, medium well, or tell them specifically how I like them, I get them "easy" and runny)... (ok, this is one of my pet peeves)
            good thing is that if you go early, it's a kid-friendly place.

            1. i've eaten at the grove location 3 times maybe in the 4 years it's been open. the first time it was okay - it was soon after they opened and i had a seafood salad. the second time was nothing special - a normal chopped salad. the last time was definitely the last time. whatever we ordered- had absolutely no flavor.

              1. I've been to the malibu location and nothing spectacular for high prices.

                1. I've only been to the Malibu location - several times in fact, and have never been disappointed with the food or service. They almost always honor my special requests; if they forget, it's promptly changed. Food is fast, and portions are large. Service is friendly, too.

                  1. I actually prefer the Thousand Oaks/Westlake Village location, though if I'm in that neck of the woods, I'd still prefer the faux Tuscan restaurant mere feet away from Marmalade.

                    1. Exactly my thoughts on Marmalade in Sherman Oaks--not bad enough to complain about, not good enough to want to go back.

                      1. Pancakes were heavy and nothing special. Very expensive for breakfast even if you do bring a coupon. Don't bother!!!! Calabasas.

                        1. Now that the founder has sold a lot of the Marmalade business to a development group it's probably difficult to say who is really running the place. You used to be able to count running into him in the Sherman Oaks, Santa Monica, Malibu, or Calabasas outlets on a daily basis.

                          1. I hear you. I ate at Marmalade in Calabasas two times. The service was lousy every single time. I while back I had their Sea Bass special. It was terrible. The fish was frozen, thawed and pan seared. I knew right away that it was frozen because the fish did not flake. The nerve of them to serve frozen and not fresh fish. It's a shame that this pretty restaurant has no culinary direction. I guess the owners never bothered to try the quality of the food for themselves.