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Zibbibo - Take Two

RR | Mar 6, 2004 04:08 PM

When Zibbibos in Palo Alto opened some years ago (6?) it started out great, but after a second visit it qualified for the Downhill Alert. A few weeks ago I read that they hired a new chef so after many years we gave it another try.

It was a Friday night, when you could expect to starve waiting at most places worth eating, but the “new and improved” Zibbibos is still a secret and the restaurant is huge. We walked right it. That’s usually a bad sign, but I was hungry enough to stick with the plan.

We had such a wonderful evening! Things started out with some of the best service I’ve seen in a long time. Our waiter Charles was welcoming, enthusiastic, an obvious pro, and he knew everything about the dishes, making one sound better than the next. We started with drinks. They have various martinis, but we were worried they would be sweet. Charles said no problem, and he gave special instructions to the bar tender who came through like a champ. My partner had the Lulu Tang and I had the Pomegranate Kiss. The drinks were too good – we each ended up having 2 and never got to the wine.

At Zibbibos you can do small plates and/or entrees. That night we did the small plates. We had the Oven Roasted Moroccan Spiced Prawns, the Sauteed Calamari with Polenta, a lentil soup and the Roasted Apple Salad. The prawns were exquisitely spiced, cooked perfectly, and I wanted to mop up every last drop of the spiced sauce left behind. Did I mention the delicious house made bread? The calamari was cooked just right and the polenta must have had sinful things in it because it was some of the best I’ve ever had, with a sauce that made me reach for the bread again. The soup was a delicious mix of flavors. The salad was unique with delightful ingredients, but I’m a savory salad person, and this one was a bit on the sweeter side with the apples. The dessert menu looked delicious, but we were out of stomach real estate by then.

Last night we were looking for a place to eat and decided to try the Cantankerous Fish in MountainView. The wait was 45 minutes. When we saw the microscopic print on the sign “A Scotts Seafood Restaurant” and noticed that the menu looked a lot like a Scotts menu, we decided to move on and try it another night - been there, done that. Cascals is delicious and down the street, but another 45 minute wait, so we went back to Zibbibos – this would be our 2nd Friday in a row.

We walked right in again. Nadia, the Maitre d’ with warmth and welcome to spare, took us to our seats as though she was bringing us into her own living room. Of course we asked for Charles’s section again. Not to be disappointed, his service was even more personal – he remembered us from the week before and brought us those delicious martinis just the way we like them. His knowledge of the menu was intimate, and his recommendations made everything sound delicious again. He talked me into the halibut, which I never order because I’m tired of eating dry, disappointing halibut in restaurants. I also ordered a mixed green salad. My partner ordered the selection of 3 antipasti: the marinated chickpea salad, the cured salmon, and the eggplant, as well as a half a dozen oysters. My salad was perfectly dressed, sans that unappetizing pool of dressing so often left behind. The halibut was extremely fresh, perfectly cooked, and the sauce with blood oranges was to die for. More bread, more mopping. The marinated chickpea salad was like tabouli with chickpeas instead of cous cous. It was a good dish with a pleasing mix of herbs and spices, but I wouldn’t be compelled to order it again – mostly because chickpeas don’t do much for me. I didn’t get to taste the salmon because it disappeared too quickly. The only disappointment was the eggplant - too sweet and vinegary and not enough eggplant taste.

This time we tried the desserts. We had a Blood Orange and Fromage Blanc Tart and the Chocolate Profiteroles. I’m generally not a dessert eater, but these were exceptional, and I’ll try to leave room for dessert every time I visit Zibbibos.

When Charles pointed out the chef, we gave a thumbs up and he came over to talk with us. Chef Matthew clearly loves his work, and his excitement for the new dishes he’s doing this spring will definitely draw me in. He says he’s worked all over, from Manhattan to Napa and he brought some of his team with him to Zibbibos. You can tell it’s a tight team that enjoys working together. They take pride in their work and they put all their creative energies into their dishes.

One oddity is that our check both times had small but noticeable mistakes on it – you might want to look yours over a little more carefully than usual.

The menu is extensive, and we’ve only tasted a fraction of it. In that small sample, I would order most dishes again, one or two I’d pass on. Statistically, I’m not sure what that says about the rest of the menu, but I’m willing to eat my way through it to find out.

Charles and the rest of the staff have treated us to 2 wonderful evenings, but keep in mind we haven’t ventured to other servers so I can’t speak for the service as a whole. The bus person was very professional and attentive – I take that as a good sign. I’d be interested to hear others’ experiences.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that the professional, personal service is pervasive, that the rest of the menu is as good as the dishes we’ve tasted so far, and that Zibbibos can sustain it this time. If they do, I’m sure we’ll no longer be able to just walk in on a Friday night, but it’s a price worth paying for a good restaurant.

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