Gone but never forgotten.

Iberia 2

New Year’s Eve the Rocket Scientist and I went to one of our favorite restaurants, Iberia, in Menlo Park, California, for the last time. We have been to Iberia dozens of times over the years, but this time we were there to say goodbye.

Iberia closed on New Year’s Day, a victim of the insane Silicon Valley and Peninsula real estate market. The land will be turned into yet another bland office park or corporate campus.

The owner went around and said goodbye to all the frequent patrons who crowded the place their last night. He stopped and said goodbye to us, and I wanted to tell him just how much his restaurant meant to me, but there wasn’t time. He is going to open a new restaurant in Belmont further up the peninsula, but it will be smaller with a simpler menu. I have no doubt that the food will be great, but it won’t be Iberia.

I am still trying to wrap my head around “Iberia is closed.”

No more tapas in the bar. No more deviled dates that I would sell my firstborn for, no little warm cheese scones, no juicy shrimp swimming in red pepper and garlic, no wonderful gazpacho, no sangria that tasted like good red wine with some fruit juice rather than fruit juice cut with red wine.

No more paella.

No more snuggling into the leather armchairs while watching the fire across the room. No more confidences shared over the small tables in the womb-like wooden booths. No more lounging on the patio in hot weather.

Iberia was the first place I tasted Spanish food, a good year before I went to Spain for the first time. Iberia might have been the place I started falling in love with my favorite country outside my own. A country’s cuisine offers a sight into its soul, and Spain is no exception.

Iberia was our restaurant of last resort; the place to go when you look at each other and say, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” The place to go when you needed somewhere comforting because of all the crap hitting the fan. The place to go when you were so tired you didn’t want to think about what was on the menu, but could just order what you wanted.

The place to go to have serious talks about what was going on in our lives.

Restaurants become markers for our psyches. Memories tie themselves to food and to place — tapas at Iberia, the Brussel sprouts at Alexander’s in Cupertino, knishes at Nathan’s, ice cream with mix-ins at Steve’s (the original Somerville location, where a group of juniors took a green Wellesley freshman on a cold evening in February), the grouper sandwiches at the Hurricane on St. Pete Beach, the insanely good Smoke burger with duck fat fries at Alewife in Baltimore — and weave themselves into the fabric of our being. I look at some of those names and smile, and look at others and sigh.

I will miss Iberia greatly. I don’t know what I will replace it with.

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