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Apr 27, 2009 06:32 AM

Iberia in Menlo Park update (not good)

This place has been plagued with complaints of lousy service. We went back this weekend to re-visit, hoping they addressed the issues. Nope. We actually ended up walking out after being ignored. IMO, this place is on the avoid list.

We were there early Saturday evening, about 6pm. The place was nearly empty except for a four top in the bar and a group of 8-10 on the patio. There were three workers chatting in the bar when we walked in. They all looked up and then quickly went back to their conversation without welcoming us. We sat ourselves in the bar area and waited. And waited. Finally a waitress came by and dropped off menus without saying a word. We decided on 4 tapas and wine. And then we waited and waited some more. Finally another worker came by and plopped a log on the fire, looked at us with our closed menus and ducked away as we were trying to get his attention. What is wrong with these people? We figured they must have some system where the waitress is the only one allowed to take our order and maybe he was going to get her. So we waited some more, then gave up and left hungry & annoyed.

This place boggles my brain. They have good food. A lovely space. But it's the most aloof service in the bay area. Never going back. Never recommending.

Iberia Restaurant
1026 Alma St, Menlo Park, CA 94025

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  1. Shane - I had exactly the same experience once, walked out after being ignored. There is that funny thing they do where they look you up and down.

    Two other times I had reasonable service. Was I dressed better? Was I with someone more stylish? Just different people in the house? Did I just care less because I was meeting friends?

    Someone on chowhound always makes an excuse for them. "must have had a bad night" or something. But the experience I had, like yours, is rather mind boggling. 20 minutes no hello that one time.

    My current theory is they expect a hearty "hello" from you. But I don't know. Certainly an odd situation.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bbulkow

      Adding to my comments below- we always try to "announce" ourselves that we're just going to order some tapas at the bar. They very much seem to have unwritten rules.

    2. We eat here about 4 times a year. Our first visit the service was terrible. Subsequent visits have improved. We will likely eat there tonight. The last 4-5 times we've been the service has been adequate to good.

      Our last visit was our first with a party of 4. We only ever eat at the bar for tapas. We were able to order the bread rubbed with tomato topped with jamon serrano because they've changed the order to 10 pieces for 15 dollars or so. I have to say that I think they've ungraded the quality of jamon, because this was some of the best I've had. It tasted comparable to the 60-80 dollar a pound stuff Dean and Deluca has. Nutty, very smooth. Completely delicious.

      Will report back.

      The manager expects those who complain to speak directly to him. He doesn't understand that people don't want to have confrontation in the middle of their supposedly relaxing meal. I've had somewhat contentious e-mails with him relating criticism that has appeared on Chowhound. He simply will not consider any anonymous criticism legitimate. He has a huge blindspot and I feel it will eventually hurt his restaurant, and then we'll lose my favorite space (the bar area) of any restaurant I've ever been to. It is just that comfortable and beautiful. Very unfortunate.

      7 Replies
      1. re: P. Punko

        I've tried to communicate with him as well and also found him to be contentious. He was quite nasty in his appraisal of negative feedback. What he fails to realize is that we are rooting for Iberia to improve. But alas, after yet another major miss in the service, I am done with them.

        Worth noting is that gratuity is automatically included in your bill, which may contribute to the poor service quality.

        1. re: Shane Greenwood

          I agree with everything you say. The owner expressed the idea that he views the criticism as coming from people that have a vendetta against the restaurant, which couldn't be further from the truth. Their uncompromising philosophy does nothing to help their cause. As I mentioned, they moved one of my favorite tapas from a four piece order to a 10 piece order (with no compromise), so we can only order it if we have four people. They also added gambas al ajillo to the tapas menu (this is always a popular tapas at restaurants) but it is 14 dollars and they require a minimum of two orders. 28 dollars is a stretch for one tapas.

          I think they would also prefer to have an empty dining room than do the unthinkable and offer tapas in the dining room (because this is just not supposedly done in Spain).

          The only reason I don't feel like I am degrading myself to go there is that there are so many other restaurants in the Bay Area that are dirty, freezing or both.

          1. re: P. Punko

            I just don't get how they stay in business. Years ago they threw out an uneaten entree that I had asked to have to go (maybe one or two bites taken), when I asked for it - IN PERSON WHILE I WAS THERE - the answer was "sorry I guess we threw it out". No offer to replace, no reduction in bill! Never been back- never will go back.

            1. re: estnet

              I can so see them doing that there. If that attitude bothers you, I agree you should be elsewhere.

          2. re: Shane Greenwood

            FYI-the automatic gratuity on all bills is 19%

          3. re: P. Punko

            I don't complain because I don't know what there is to complain about. They have some set of unwritten rules I'm expected to follow, and I haven't been able to figure them out. That's my problem, not theirs. The quality and type of food is a result of an uncompromising attitude, which brings people back. Their same uncompromising attitude regarding greeting and seating and ordering pushes people away. They're still in business, so I guess they've figured out a decent balance, but that's their problem, not mine.

            I have every sympathy for a business owner following a dream. You get it into your head that you should make concessions to the locals, and what happens next? The quality of the ham?

            If I'd make a request, it would be a little blurb on the menu stating their expectations regarding the bar area. Announcement? Look for a server? Just sit down? Hovering vs putting ones name in? I've tried all of those and just get scowls and shrugs. My current theory is they just scowl and shrug at everything, and I should just do my thing and not worry.

            Maybe a note on the menu is even too much of a concession.

            1. re: bbulkow

              We went the other night like I mentioned. We greeted the bartender and she came over and gave us menus. Most of our tapas arrived relatively quickly.

              We finally tried the gambas al ajillo (28 dollars worth). It is a simple dish. I would guess there were 15-20 large (not jumbo, but large) shrimp. Their version is less obviously oily. Theirs is more tart from I guess a larger splash of sherry than some and the sauce with the shrimp instead of being olive oil with garlic and red pepper, was colored red from pimenton and had a nice spiciness. The garlic flavor was not dominant, but there was a good amount of sliced garlic in the dish. There was also the traditional bay leaf. I thought the shrimp were perfectly cooked and that the dish was excellent. Because the two orders are mandatory for this tapas, we ordered accordingly- we treated this as a larger plate for each person and didn't order as many others.

              The bay scallop fritters were very good as were the deviled dates (chorizo stuffed, wrapped in bacon).

              I checked the price on the pa amb tomaquet I pernil—$16.95- this is for 10 pieces and is very high, but as I mentioned above, I am convinced they have upgraded the quality of the jamon. Each piece of bread has one to two small pieces of jamon hand sliced off of the leg that sits at the bar. The slices are thicker than the usual extremely thin slices, but the meat is very smooth and wonderful.

          4. I have to concur. I've boycotted this place because I thought the owner arrogant. In a forgiving mood, we tried again. Service was TERRIBLE. It took an hour and a half for our entree to be served and I had to ask after everything I got, water, bread, food, wine, and bill.
            Then I found a 19% service charge on the bill.
            I crossed it out and took half of the tip off before signing.
            As everyone says if it weren't for the good food no one would go there! Zarsuela excellent but costly.

            2 Replies
            1. re: gb44

              It's worth taking a look at their page on Yelp. Lots of people post the email feedback they get from the owner when they try to give him feedback. It's pretty amusing, but also gives you an insight into how this guy views customers. He expects us to feel honored that we are allowed to eat there. Anything short of that is a sign of our own ignorance in his eyes. When I tried to get through to him, he called my comments about the poor service, "picayune" and asked me why I would try to destroy instead of build. Huh? Strange guy, bad hospitality, pretty damn good tapas if you can actually get them.

              1. re: Shane Greenwood

                too bad as the Zarsuela was to die for, though we were starving when it arrived.

                I see his resentment and the lousy tips the waitstaff received has morphed into a 19% automatic service charge as in Europe.

                Alas its back to S.F. for good Spanish fare - unless there are places I don't know about.

            2. Stopped by today. This place just doesn't change.

              The place was really cozy on an evening where GF was feeling a little cold-ish. Big fire in the fireplace.

              We had bacalao fritters, very tasty, mushrooms in garlic - cold, it turned out, served from a vat behind the bar, a wild-boar chickpea stew. And an order of patatas bravas. Everything was well cooked, the wild boar was fun. Nothing was exceptional, but we felt very satisfied after only a few dishes.

              It seems they don't want to reprint the menus, so the wines are out of date, and they have quite a few new dishes on a supplemental bar menu.

              I'm more at ease with the service. You just find a table at the bar area. I heard some folks come up and ask for a server to drop by - they had been waiting for 20 minutes or so. It's still an unusual place, more of a lounge where you're not rushed.

              The price seemed high - $90 for 2 people with 3 glasses of wine. But it's a good place to remember, a place where you're certainly not rushed.