MacArthur Park (Palo Alto)
Definitely old school. Not my kind of place, but it was quiet and good for conversation.
Salmon and mashed potatoes were fairly tasteless with very minimal red wine sauce. Came with a little pile of green beans, carrots and red peppers. They were cooked competently but soooo boring. Companion had the 1/2 BBQ chicken (bland), with fries and coleslaw. The coleslaw was a little spicy and was his favorite part. Fries were huge, but crispy outside and creamy inside, so not bad. Other companion had chicken breast with honey mango glaze on rice. He thought it was okay, but a little too sweet. They shared a huge brownie with ice cream and whipped cream.
The restaurant feels uncomfortable with the space and doesn't really use it well. I'm not sure how it could be better, but I think a good designer would know.
The menu is heavy on comfort food and seems at odds with the white tablecloths and fairly formal atmosphere. On the other hand the butter is in little foil packets. (The sourdough bread is quite good) The service was a similar mix of formal and tacky. The server upsold us on the wine, asked if were were still working on our food and removed dishes before everyone at the table was finished. Also -- why did she ask if it was a special occasion and then do nothing about it? (It was a belated birthday.) We didn't care, but why ask?
One last slight complaint is that TV was on over the bar, though no one was sitting there. It seems to be awfully hard to get away from TVs in Palo Alto.
Anyhow, can't really complain about the food since I was warned!
The one in SF was a sister restaurant. I've had numerous meals in the SF location but only a few beers in the PA location while waiting for the train. (It's right next to the train station.) Based on recent visits, I'd say happy hour seems pretty quiet. While it technically has a University Ave. address, it's a little out of the way and probably gets a lot less foot traffic than other restaurants on that street.
There is talk of knocking down the building to put in an office building. The office space right in that few blocks (such as the "lucky google building") fetches a good price. It looks like the restaurant is still up and in business. I've eaten there once and it was a fairly old-school sole-and-steak kind of affair, but they've brought in a new chef several times since then. Probably best for a beer and enjoyment of the room.
Article about various proposals regarding moving the building, or not