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Iberia ... Menlo Park

I've been meaning to try this restaurant ever since it moved to Menlo Park from Ladera. Tapas options are virtually non-existent on the Peninsula ... and yes, I agree with HHC's review of Cascal below -- not authentic, mediocre food at best. So ... off to Iberia on a Friday night. Upon arriving, I immediately thought "wow". This restaurant has the best ambiance of any place I've been to recently: it's tucked away behind the MP train station, located in a lovely standalone building with at least 2 outdoor patio dining areas. The bar is split by a wall and extends into a back room with fireplace and small tables. The main dining room is well-lit and equally inviting. Good so far. I looked at the posted menu when I entered and thought "wow" again. A very wide range of tapas, reasonably priced, reminiscent of trips to Sitges on the "Spanish Riviera". http://www.iberiarestaurant.com/

The reviews of Iberia on this site have been fairly consistent -- really good food, really bad service. Well ... I can't speak for the food. I took a seat at the front bar ... there was one other patron there. The bartender walked by 3 or 4 times without acknowledging me. Thinking I was committing some sort of faux pas, I waited 5 minutes, moved to the back bar. One other couple there. Bartender ignored me again. I have a rule that if I don't get acknowledged within 10 minutes of entering a restaurant, I leave. So I left, ran some errands, came back an hour later, hoping that the bartender shift had changed. Came in, sat down, waited 5-10 minutes, same results. The entire time, the owner?, Maitre D? was standing 20 feet from me, motionless and smiling. Interesting concept for a restaurant. Great site, great food selection, but just try to order something. Guess I'll never be able to gauge the food properly, as I will NEVER return.

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  1. The tapas in the bar are quite good. You do have to be assertive with the staff, I mean that in a friendly way. The odd thing about that place is they will let you sit there all night without talking to you or even serving you. Did you try talking to them or were you sitting there quietly waiting? Just curious because that style of service is reminiscent of many casual places I've been to in Europe. The nice thing is you can hang out for as long as you want, but as you experienced, it can be frustrating as well. I go there all the time and found that they are quite friendly and helpful once you get their attention. But you do have to speak up. I guess you could be mad that they weren't solicitice, or enjoy the completely uninterrupted, relaxed atomosphere as you control the pace.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sgwood415

      Interesting. I don't know ... I've spent lots of time in Europe and am familiar with the sometimes glacial pace of things, but there is a huge difference between being allowed to set your own pace and being completely ignored. This was the latter ... too bad. One of the reasons I dropped by was to scout locations for a wedding pre-party. This would have been perfect, but no way, given the service rap. 50-60 guests, $75/head with wine ... well, that's how restaurants go out of business.

    2. The thing is, if you want to try the food you just have to ask for service- I know this should be unacceptable, but this is what this place is like. We love the atmosphere in the bar, but we know the service is crap going in. I think I will write the owner a letter. It is kind of a bummer because somehow I feel like I am not respecting myself when I eat there, but I want some bay scallop fritters!

      1 Reply
      1. re: P. Punko

        If you know the owner, you might just give him a printed copy of this thread ... or any of the other threads on Iberia -- I think they are similar. From all accounts, this should be a destination restaurant for good, legit Spanish cuisine, but knowingly or unknowingly the owner is blowing it; most people don't have alot of tolerance for crappy service -- it's no fun to work all day, go out to relax, and then have to fight for your food. Good luck with the owner. ps ... I ate at Iberia maybe 10 times when it was in Ladera & never had any service problems like I've experience/read about at the Menlo Park site.

      2. Haven't been there for a few years, but certainly had some hearty, comfort-food dishes (Iberian style) in past years, both locations -- this didn't change in the move from the Portola Valley area. It's still the regular favorite of one friend. The guy you probably saw is named J. L. Relinqué, whose distinctive, tongue-in-cheek radio advertisements last decade were a pleasant side angle of the restaurant.

        Unfortunate that they seemed to show a blind spot over welcoming a new diner. I also believe that were you to get past that initial quirk, it would seem later like a minor if eccentric distraction. The more so if you already knew the place from the old location. (To give a parallel, I know a neighborhood restaurant elsewhere with close-knit staff who were all immigrants, and seemed a bit formal and distant to newcomers, which turned some customers off. To those customers' misfortune, because if you did proceed past that initial reaction, and got to know the place, the people were extremely warm and would go out of their way for customers -- and it was some of the best food of its type in the area, at modest prices.)

        1. We've eaten at the bar, it is possible that service is better in the dining room, or at least more formal. Once in the bar, service was atrocious, another time is was passable, but being on edge about possible bad service does affect dining. Food was worth it both times.

          1. He probably has no idea. I'm sure when he's there it's a different story. I'm a fan of this place, but yes, the service is not good. They do a formal, we thought slightly stuffy style in the dining room, which is a completely different feel than the bar area. The bar is lovely and the food is so good. But you have to flag them down any time you want a thing. But I agree with the others who say it's worth it for the food.

            3 Replies
            1. re: sgwood415

              If he didn't know before (and how could he not if he's a good restauranteur) he knew after I told him, rephrasing comments I've seen here?

              1. re: lintygmom

                Thanks, lintygmom. I hope it gets through, although it seems like they've always been this way. I feel they have us over a barrel- they have some of the nicest Jamon Serrano- and sometimes you really just want some tomato-rubbed bread with Jamon Serrano. (sigh)

                1. re: lintygmom

                  Any idea if it's the same owner that has the BBC on the other side of the tracks. It seems there are some similarities. While BBC is just pub food, the service style is the same as Iberia.

              2. My only visit to Iberia was about 3 years ago, and I ate in the dining room. The service was quite poor, and they charge you 19% automatically! I don't know if that is irony or extortion.

                I do want to go back to try the tapas; I guess I'll bring a little Spanish flag and waive it to get the attention of the wait staff.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Hapa Dude

                  Well, don't expect it to change any time soon. I emailed them to politely inform them of my personal experiences with their service, as well as to give them a heads up about the general consensus. I received a couple of mildly defensive responses. They seem to be unwilling to address/accept our feedback. Maybe if a few more people contact them, they'll start to listen.

                  In the meantime, what are some other options for good tapas?

                  1. re: sgwood415

                    I guess you can't cure stupidity. Obviously the owner doesn't care and I guess that he is not all that concerned about financial success. Maybe he's just running the place as a hobby. I was in there last Friday nite and the place was virtually empty. Given the high quality of the food and the beautiful venue, Iberia has the potential to be packed every night. The Peninsula has so few interesting destination restaurants. Too bad ... a huge waste ....

                2. Iberia used to be one of my family's favorite places for special days like birthdays when it was in Ladera. However, I had a run in with the owner over his corkage fee and never went back -over 10 years ago. His attitude was, you can afford it. It was his contempt for his customers and his arrogance that turned me off. Too bad, I have to go to Albregias (sp?) on Lombard to get first rate Spanish food.

                  1. This is an interesting discussion. Like alot of people in the valley I am used to the high-tech culture where vendors listen very carefully to what the customers are saying about their product. Alot of times my first response was to blow off customer feedback as "uninformed". More times than not, the customer was telling me something that I really needed to hear. The Iberia owner, if he was open minded, could turn all this into gold. One friendly, competent bartender & 1 word to the servers would do it. I think the results would be amazing -- this should be a great place. One side note to my visit on Friday. While I was sitting at the bar being ignored, a 10 y/o kid came in to sit while his parents were parking. He made the mistake of sitting at the (near-empty) bar to wait for his parents. The bartender, who had ignored me, instantly appeared and told him very bluntly that he was not allowed to sit at the bar & made him go stand off to the side to wait for his parents who appeared in about 10 seconds. Now ... I personally am not a fan of kids sitting at bars, but ... 1) the way the bartender handled the situation was flat-out rude, and 2) as of a couple of years ago anyway, a restaurant could not legally deny service to an accompanied kid at a bar if the bar was not the primary business and the kitchen was open. To me ... just more evidence of a really bad attitude at this place.

                    1. all this discussion reminded me of an unfortunate visit - my first and only. We had carefully not eaten all of one entree intending to have it for lunch the next day. Carefully asked to have it wrapped to take home.
                      When I asked for it - I was told they had thrown it out! No apology, no attempt to make the situation right. Well - I did enjoy the food and had planned to go back but after that experience I changed my mind. Seems like they never did get the service right -and it also seems as if the owner just doesn't care. Too bad.

                      1. Here's the tag

                        Iberia Restaurant
                        1026 Alma St, Menlo Park, CA 94025

                        1. Not to pile on, but...

                          You didn't miss that much on the food either, from what we saw on our first and likley last visit. Despite being the house being only 1/3 full the Paellea took way too long and came out burnt and dry- clearly it had been done 10-15 min. earlier and left to toast under a heat lamp while the waiters cooled their heels elsewhere. After telling us it was "supposed to be that way", we sent it back and at least they did remove it from the bill. Never a good sign when you leave dinner and the first words are "where are we going to get some food?"

                          I guess given the utter lack of Spanish food in a 25 mile radius they keep getting first time visitors, but otherwise I have no idea how they stay open.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Navin R Johnson

                            Cascal in Mountain View had good Spanish food. At least it did when I ate there some years ago. All the food we had there was delicious, and the Paella was a one-person size, which was great. Maybe somebody has an update on that place

                          2. Let me give a Dec. 2008 update in hopes of saving other poor suckers from going to this restaurant. I've lived in the area for 26 years and had wanted to try this restaurant for as long as it has been open -- in both locations. Well, finally did. As noted above, the service stinks. I would've walked out after the first 10 minutes too, but I was with somebody who seemed to be irritated with my irritation at the unbelievably bad (nonexistent) service. The "server" made no effort to recommend anything to go with my Fino Sherry (finally ordered after trying to find a server for afore-mentioned 10 minutes) ,so no tapas as it seemed that although they were labeled small plates, they were probably bigger than a little tapas sort of thing I would've liked to have with my glass of sherry. Again, my dining companion didn't seem interested in looking through the list and expressing a desire to share any of the small plates. The food was really ho-hum. The Paella was pretty greasy. And, as mentioned, the real kicker was the 19% service charge !!! I have never seen this for a party of two and I am irritated at anything over 15% when added for groups. We should've refused to pay it. I would never, ever go back here.