News

Zibibbo restaurant shutters after 17 years in downtown Palo Alto

Upscale Mediterranean restaurant closure signals end of an era

Longtime Palo Alto restaurant Zibibbo has shuttered after 17 years, owner Rowena Wu confirmed Wednesday.

"Zibibbo has closed for good," she said, refusing to comment further.

Jose Sandoval, a San Jose resident who's been a cook at the restaurant for five years, said he was told last Friday that the restaurant was closing. He said the restaurant filled 80 reservations that night and had 85 more on Saturday, but those were cancelled.

The upscale Mediterranean restaurant, housed in a 12,000-square-foot yellow Victorian house at 430 Kipling St., opened in 1997. The huge space, with several dining rooms, actually spans from Kipling to Waverley Street another block over.

Zibibbo is the name of a grape used in Italy's regional dessert wines. A Weekly review from the year it opened hailed the restaurant as setting a "new standard for dining in downtown Palo Alto." It mentioned plates like dried fruit and Swiss chard fritters, fresh seafood platters, pork tenderloin, sand dabs, half ears of corn with red pepper butter served standing upright, "grilled husks and all."

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A June 2010 review revisiting the restaurant noted that Zibibbo had won the Wine Spectator magazine's prestigious Best of Award of Excellence. The award is the second of three tiers offered by the magazine and is bestowed on restaurants with wine lists that offer 400 or more selections, "along with superior presentation, and display either vintage depth, with several vertical offerings of top wines, or excellent breadth across several wine regions," the magazine's website says.

In January 2012, Zibibbo hosted vice-president Joe Biden and a group of tech leaders for a dinner.

The Palo Alto restaurant was the sister restaurant to Wu's Restaurant LuLu in San Francisco, which is still open.

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Zibibbo restaurant shutters after 17 years in downtown Palo Alto

Upscale Mediterranean restaurant closure signals end of an era

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Apr 9, 2014, 9:26 am

Longtime Palo Alto restaurant Zibibbo has shuttered after 17 years, owner Rowena Wu confirmed Wednesday.

"Zibibbo has closed for good," she said, refusing to comment further.

Jose Sandoval, a San Jose resident who's been a cook at the restaurant for five years, said he was told last Friday that the restaurant was closing. He said the restaurant filled 80 reservations that night and had 85 more on Saturday, but those were cancelled.

The upscale Mediterranean restaurant, housed in a 12,000-square-foot yellow Victorian house at 430 Kipling St., opened in 1997. The huge space, with several dining rooms, actually spans from Kipling to Waverley Street another block over.

Zibibbo is the name of a grape used in Italy's regional dessert wines. A Weekly review from the year it opened hailed the restaurant as setting a "new standard for dining in downtown Palo Alto." It mentioned plates like dried fruit and Swiss chard fritters, fresh seafood platters, pork tenderloin, sand dabs, half ears of corn with red pepper butter served standing upright, "grilled husks and all."

A June 2010 review revisiting the restaurant noted that Zibibbo had won the Wine Spectator magazine's prestigious Best of Award of Excellence. The award is the second of three tiers offered by the magazine and is bestowed on restaurants with wine lists that offer 400 or more selections, "along with superior presentation, and display either vintage depth, with several vertical offerings of top wines, or excellent breadth across several wine regions," the magazine's website says.

In January 2012, Zibibbo hosted vice-president Joe Biden and a group of tech leaders for a dinner.

The Palo Alto restaurant was the sister restaurant to Wu's Restaurant LuLu in San Francisco, which is still open.

Comments

Hulkamania
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 9, 2014 at 9:45 am
Hulkamania, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 9, 2014 at 9:45 am
Like this comment

My wife and her friends went to Zibibbo a number of times for lunch. I always wished I could afford to go to a place like that.


not surprised
Downtown North
on Apr 9, 2014 at 10:21 am
not surprised, Downtown North
on Apr 9, 2014 at 10:21 am
Like this comment

Zibibbo peaked in about 2002. I'm surprised it lasted this long.


Chris
University South
on Apr 9, 2014 at 10:26 am
Chris, University South
on Apr 9, 2014 at 10:26 am
Like this comment

It will be interesting to see what happens with that large unusual space.


Dean
Midtown
on Apr 9, 2014 at 11:02 am
Dean, Midtown
on Apr 9, 2014 at 11:02 am
Like this comment

That's too bad. I went there on Friday (apparently their last day) for the first time in years, ate at the bar and really enjoyed it.


CrescentParkAnon.
Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2014 at 11:08 am
CrescentParkAnon., Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2014 at 11:08 am
Like this comment

I used to go there on Sunday for brunch in the bar ... they made great omlettes ... really good. But, that said, I think they were overpriced and overrated ... but still sorry to see them go. The problem with any restaurant in Palo Alto is the parasites in them. There are these parasites that suck up all the money and force owners to raise prices, reduce service, raise prices again, hire the cheapest people, raise prices again, lower quality, keep raising prices so that in a place that you would think should have some very excellent eating places we get mediocre with hugely high prices and lot of attitude to make up for it. The rents are so high in Palo Alto that nothing of quality can survive without way overcharging, so it tends to foment new trendy places that quickly die out when the prices overcome the novelty or the quality droops a bit.


Rezoned
Community Center
on Apr 9, 2014 at 11:10 am
Rezoned, Community Center
on Apr 9, 2014 at 11:10 am
1 person likes this

Is there any doubt that is going to turn into offices for some startup? How can ground floor retail compete? Turning it into offices means more traffic from commuters, more parking issues, and one less place for a new restaurant that makes the University avenue area worth visiting for actual residents. A band aid was put on the problem of the loss of ground floor on Emerson some time back but Hamilton, Lytton and other streets in the area are still losing ground floor retail space to startups.


HappyHourPaloAlto.org
University South
on Apr 9, 2014 at 11:46 am
HappyHourPaloAlto.org, University South
on Apr 9, 2014 at 11:46 am
Like this comment

There goes one of the most generous happy hour offerings in town. Such a great place to try expensive whiskies, wines, and digestives without killing the pocketbook. Many an afternoon we enjoyed with friends in the cozy window seats. Sad to see it go. -the citizen reviewers at HappyHourPaloAlto.org


resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2014 at 11:56 am
resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2014 at 11:56 am
Like this comment

Again this is an example of short-term thinking by downtown property
owners. Zibibbo expanded into the space occupied by the Barbie Doll Museum
on Waverley in 1999. We lost a unique attraction in Downtown Palo Alto,
now they are both gone. The popular Empire Vintage Clothing left that same block a few months ago and went to Mountain View.


neighbor
another community
on Apr 9, 2014 at 12:20 pm
neighbor, another community
on Apr 9, 2014 at 12:20 pm
Like this comment

I also have good memories of Zibbibo. But they didn't have enough business to pay their growing rent. The Palo Alto boom raised rents and brought in a lot of new restaurants. (Young computer engineers don't cook)

Note that we all buy in (literally and philosophically) to the capitalist system. The same market forces that have inflated the value of your home have pushed up the value of commercial property in Palo Alto.

In the last decade, the value of your house has tripled. If you were to rent it out today, you would charge the market price. If you owned commercial property, you would charge current rents too.

Do the citizens of PA want to subsidize commercial property owners so that their renters can pay 1999 rents? How about subsidies for residential property --- I haven't seen any generosity towards low income or elderly tenants.

BTW: the doll museum's demise led to the years of prosperity for Zibbibo, and had nothing to do with its demise,


Judith
Menlo Park
on Apr 9, 2014 at 12:40 pm
Judith, Menlo Park
on Apr 9, 2014 at 12:40 pm
Like this comment

I was there with friends on Friday night. All of the booths in the dining room were reserved (unusual), so we ate at the window seat in the bar area. We ordered from the happy hour menu, and it was perfect (especially the hummus and dates with bacon). There are fewer and fewer reasons to go in and round University Avenue. With the exception of the Stanford Theater, the character and charm have disappeared.


Naphtali
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2014 at 1:14 pm
Naphtali, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2014 at 1:14 pm
Like this comment

Sorry to see it go. Besides having good food, well presented, it offered an interesting space with a sense of place.


CrescentParkAnon.
Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2014 at 2:26 pm
CrescentParkAnon., Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2014 at 2:26 pm
Like this comment

Judith: With the exception of the Stanford Theater, the character and charm have disappeared.


The Stanford is a wonderful and unique place, ... knock on wood.


Neighbor said: Do the citizens of PA want to subsidize commercial property owners so that their renters can pay 1999 rents?


Well, when you look at what the city is going for businesses, giving them tax breaks, forgiveness or ignoring city building codes for them, what's the difference. That might be sensible if it led to more revenue, but I'm really not sure what it leads to except alienated residents and a lower quality of life. Meanwhile many if not most of the corporate officers who use Palo Alto for the prestigious business address do not even live here, so why should they care?

It's about time we quit applying loaded terms in loaded ways and started to look at the bottom line problem instead of the verbal jousting over nothing.


local foodie
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2014 at 3:26 pm
local foodie, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2014 at 3:26 pm
Like this comment

I only tried it once, and maybe it was an off night, but at those prices, I never went back. I don't remember any especially memorable dishes, but I do remember the food I did have as being overly fatty and salty and I didn't feel well afterwards.

That said, I had the same experience at the first two or three times I went to what eventually became one of my favorite dim sum place locally. But I didn't go back for years until rediscovering it, and the foot was much better then so I went back.

Inconsistent quality is the death knell for anyplace with high prices. Well, 17 years is a good run. I wish them the best in future endeavors.


local foodie
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2014 at 3:28 pm
local foodie, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2014 at 3:28 pm
Like this comment

Ha ha, I do eat chicken feet, but that was not my meaning in the above slip...


35 year resident
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2014 at 3:44 pm
35 year resident, Old Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2014 at 3:44 pm
Like this comment

@local foodie....that made me laugh!!!!!! I love chicken feet. Closest available at Fu Lam Mum on Castro street, otherwise it's Joy Luck Place in Cupertino.


Nora Charles
Registered user
Stanford
on Apr 9, 2014 at 8:29 pm
Nora Charles, Stanford
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2014 at 8:29 pm
Like this comment

There was a Barbie doll museum in Palo Alto?! I feel terrible I missed that by a few years.

And I agree completely with CrescentParkAnon. and Judith.


Restaurant
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2014 at 8:44 pm
Restaurant, Old Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2014 at 8:44 pm
Like this comment

Does anyone actually read these stories? This closure had nothing to do with the rent. The restaurant owner owned the building and has already sold it. Part of it will become office space.


Jay Park
Mountain View
on Apr 9, 2014 at 9:39 pm
Jay Park, Mountain View
on Apr 9, 2014 at 9:39 pm
1 person likes this

@Restaurant is correct.

Rowena Wu is/was the property owner of the Zibibbo building (Kipling St), as well as the building that housed the departed Barbie Hall of Fame (Waverley St). There are publicly-available county property tax documents that list her as the assessee.

Wu acquired the Waverley Street property in the mid-Nineties and unsuccessfully tried to have the Barbie museum owners evicted because the doll museum impeded Wu's desire to expand the restaurant property (which ultimately happened). When the lease expired in 1999, the Barbie museum owners sold their collection back to the Mattel Corporation and left.

Wu is still the property owner of Restaurant LuLu in San Francisco which was a hot restaurant in the early Nineties. She has also owned other real estate around that same block (800 Folsom).


Jay Park
Mountain View
on Apr 9, 2014 at 9:42 pm
Jay Park, Mountain View
on Apr 9, 2014 at 9:42 pm
Like this comment

Here is a Palo Alto Online article about what a nice person Rowena Wu was:

Web Link

Enjoy.


resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2014 at 10:51 pm
resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2014 at 10:51 pm
Like this comment

The Barbie Doll museum was a strong attraction, was so unique but also
so unexpected in Downtown Palo Alto,known as a tech center.In a way, that is
what made it so special. David Letterman on his program actually commented about the museum closing. It was a big deal except here. The City Council and the rest of the business community as far as I know did nothing to help relocate the museum, whereas offers of free rent/space came in from other places.The Council/staff/business community didn't get it then, and they
don't get it now, that's for sure.


resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2014 at 6:29 am
resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2014 at 6:29 am
Like this comment

clarification to comment "the business community" didn't get it then and
doesn't get it now. This is meant to refer to the big players, the
developers/property owners, not the independent small business owners
who are the victims.


Nayeli
Midtown
on Apr 10, 2014 at 9:01 am
Nayeli, Midtown
on Apr 10, 2014 at 9:01 am
Like this comment

On that note:

Are there any good affordable dining options left in Palo Alto? By "affordable," I mean places where a couple can go and eat a meal where the cost per plate is less than $10? What is the best affordable restaurant in Palo Alto?

The last time that I asked this, someone told me In-N-Out in Mountain View.

:-\


Cynthia
Crescent Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:44 am
Cynthia, Crescent Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:44 am
Like this comment

It's been written already, but worth repeating:

Palo Alto isn't losing it's charm, it has LOST it.

Why can't City Council help preserve unique retail stores - even give them a discount, so they can thrive? Why can Los Gatos, Menlo Park and Mountain View figure this out but we can't?

Just look at the long-abandoned Varsity building. What an eye-sore and right downtown.

Council should be ashamed of themselves for letting the greed of a few ruin what was once a great town. Now, we have marginal restaurants, rug shops and office buildings. Too bad. Let's hope the new Calif Ave remodel doesn't follow University's footsteps.


Jay Park
Mountain View
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:47 am
Jay Park, Mountain View
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:47 am
Like this comment

@Nayeli:

Not a lot of "cheap eats" options in Palo Alto: the commercial real estate is too expensive, labor is also expensive as well.

Taqueria Sancho's on Lytton. Kirk's Steakburgers in Town & Country.

But really, if you want affordable eats in Palo Alto, cook for yourself or cross the border into Mountain View.


janisw
Stanford
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:11 am
janisw, Stanford
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:11 am
Like this comment

Glad to see them finally go! Ever since their nastiness with forcing out the Barbie museum I swore I would never go there... and I didn't. Good riddance.


neighbor
another community
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:17 am
neighbor, another community
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:17 am
Like this comment

janisw -- the Barbi incident was over in 1999, this is 2014. Does that 1999 event give you a license to be "glad" (your word...along with "Good riddance") to see all those people out of work now?


Kenny
another community
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:25 am
Kenny, another community
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:25 am
Like this comment

Is there a statute of limitations on bitterness?


neighbor
another community
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:51 am
neighbor, another community
on Apr 10, 2014 at 11:51 am
Like this comment

Yes -- time to stop being bitter about the loss of the Barbie dolls in 1999 and have some empathy now for the Zibibbo workers. It takes a lot of folks to run a restaurant --- so hostesses, waitstaff, cooks, cleaners are suddenly out of work.


musical
Palo Verde
on Apr 10, 2014 at 12:07 pm
musical, Palo Verde
on Apr 10, 2014 at 12:07 pm
Like this comment

Are these the workers who cannot afford to live here and thus were forced into expensive long commutes? Just goes to show no matter how bad things are, they can get worse, and probably will.


Jay Park
Mountain View
on Apr 10, 2014 at 12:18 pm
Jay Park, Mountain View
on Apr 10, 2014 at 12:18 pm
Like this comment

@kenny:

Due to the lack of congressional foresight on the matter, the answer is no.


litebug
another community
on Apr 10, 2014 at 6:21 pm
litebug, another community
on Apr 10, 2014 at 6:21 pm
Like this comment

(former 38 yr. resident) I agree with Cynthia. P.A. had already "lost it" when we moved to OR in 2008. Downtown vibe was finished when they allowed The Cheesecake Factory to build that pretentious building that stuck out like a sore thumb. All the reasons I once spent a lot of time downtown disappeared, same with Calif. Ave., Stanford and Town & Country Shopping Centers. All got so "upper crusty" and expensive that I could and would no longer shop there. I got to feeling increasingly like a stranger in a town I'd lived in for nearly 4 decades.

"Neighbor" stated that property values had tripled in the last decade. I guess the crash of 2008 didn't affect him and his property as much as it did us and ours! We had the misfortune to go on the market 10 days before Lehman Bros. took the economy down. The real estate market, which had started to soften, went into the tank and our property fell a great deal in value during that time.


My Take
South of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:10 pm
My Take, South of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:10 pm
Like this comment

I did forget about the Barbie thing. Went to Zibibbo over the years and have wonderful memories of the atmosphere and good service. They could have refreshed the menu more often, and seemed to get kind of complacent, but I'll miss it. It was more of a dot com boom place than what ever this current boom will be called, ie social media explosion? Heart worm inflorescence? Patent Troll Insurgence? Anyway, Thank you Zibibbo for many a fine evening. I still wonder why all those different wines tasted exactly the same. . .


neighbor
another community
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:49 pm
neighbor, another community
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:49 pm
Like this comment

litebug -- It's too bad you couldn't hang in there, because PA property values have come back like gangbusters. A shack goes for $2mill


musical
Palo Verde
on Apr 11, 2014 at 2:14 am
musical, Palo Verde
on Apr 11, 2014 at 2:14 am
Like this comment

"A shack goes for $2mill" -- only if title to a 6000 sq ft lot is included.


Lachie Mac
Greater Miranda
on Apr 11, 2014 at 8:59 am
Lachie Mac, Greater Miranda
on Apr 11, 2014 at 8:59 am
Like this comment

We have found nothing but fixer uppers in the 2-2.6 million price range!


Jimmy
College Terrace
on Apr 11, 2014 at 7:37 pm
Jimmy, College Terrace
on Apr 11, 2014 at 7:37 pm
Like this comment

You'd think they would provide a but more notice, both for the employees and for folks like me that would have definitely taken the opportunity to eat there one last time -- those skillet muscles were awesome!


resident
Stanford
on Apr 27, 2014 at 12:46 pm
resident, Stanford
on Apr 27, 2014 at 12:46 pm
Like this comment

It's so sad! I love Zibibbo, it's the best restaurant in palo alto!


Mr. Rogers
University South
on Apr 27, 2014 at 9:48 pm
Mr. Rogers, University South
on Apr 27, 2014 at 9:48 pm
Like this comment

Up until 2002, Zibbibos had fantastic food, had an incredible wine list and stellar service. Given their stratospheric prices, one would expect no less. After the dot com bust in late 2001, their service began to suffer and went from bad to horrible. The food was still excellent, but I once tried ordering champagne and they were out of the first three selections. The same thing happned six months later. That nonsense is very bad form at any restaurant, but inexcusable given the prices Zibbibo was charging. After 2006, I refused to go there at all.

@Nayeli, Madame Tam's has many menu items for $10 or less. So do Cafe 220, Gyros Gyros, Pizza My Heart, Pluto's, La Morenita, the Peninsula Creamery on Channing and Subway. All are downtown. If you are expecting something a little more upscale for $10 a plate, good luck finding that anywhere in the Bay Area.

@Cynthia wrote: "Palo Alto isn't losing it's charm, it has LOST it."

You sure got that right. Greed and iffy city governance seem to have trumped common sense in our fair town. To be fair, some of the (remaining) restaurants are quite good, but many are way overpriced. So many restaurants have come and gone in the last few years. It seems like many last only a short time nowadays.

Downtown Mountain View is the next downtown Palo Alto, has plenty of parking and is a 10 minute drive away. Just go there instead.


Mr. Rogers
University South
on Apr 27, 2014 at 10:26 pm
Mr. Rogers, University South
on Apr 27, 2014 at 10:26 pm
Like this comment

@resident, it *was* the best restaurant in Palo Alto at one time. Unfortunately, Zibibbo jumped the shark a long time ago. At a very upscale restaurant, outstanding food and service are both mandatory. For a great restaurant downtown try Evvia. You need to make reservations well in advance. Reposado is also very good, as is Joya.


Zibibbo NO
Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 28, 2014 at 9:34 am
Zibibbo NO , Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 28, 2014 at 9:34 am
Like this comment

Actually, as a Crohne's Disease sufferer, I am the canary in the coal mine when it comes to food that is not quite fresh or properly cooked...it doesn't take a lot of bad bacteria to set off an attack and put me in the emergency room ( which is why I seldom dine out lately).

But the restaurants that most recently sickened me were Jing Jing, China Delight, Spalti, Crepevine, and Zibibbo. Prior to that it was NoLa, Blue Chalk Cafe, Chevy's, and Miyake.

The shocker, though, was when my brother was taken to lunch at Zibibbo for a business transaction, and both parties fell ill! This was very recently, and I cannot help but wonder how many times this has happened to others, and if it was a factor in the decision to close it.


Ducati
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2014 at 11:08 am
Ducati, Old Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2014 at 11:08 am
Like this comment

[Post removed.]


Ducati
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2014 at 11:09 am
Ducati, Old Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2014 at 11:09 am
Like this comment

Link to my above quotation:
Web Link


Zibibbo NO
Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 28, 2014 at 7:04 pm
Zibibbo NO, Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 28, 2014 at 7:04 pm
Like this comment

Duc-- I developed Crohne's from an overdose of intravenous antibiotics given to cure septicemia ( from a burst internal abscess). It damaged my small intestine.

I never ate uncooked fish at Miyake. I have vegetarian sushi. I have been a vegetarian since age 18.


HUTCH 7.62
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2014 at 7:33 pm
HUTCH 7.62, Old Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2014 at 7:33 pm
Like this comment

Downtown sucks anymore. I hope the 'new' California Ave does not follow in it's footsteps.


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