The spirit of Spanish cuisine wasn’t in the kitchen at the recently opened Palo Alto address of Telefèric Barcelona. It must have gotten stuck circling for a space in the absurdly overcrowded Town & Country Village parking lot. According to the menu, Telefèric “specializes in authentic Spanish bites, dishes and cocktails.” But the food only condescended to that particular set of promised flavors. The tapas we tried were as neutered and generic as the interior decor.

I could see and smell the liberal use of olive oil in every dish. That was the one box I could check off my list of “achievements in authenticity.” But the cooks are heavy-handed with it. It coats the plates as uneasily as it does the lining of the stomach. My first sighting of it was as tiny puddles forming across an unappetizing tray of pintxos ($3 each) that a server offered up. We weren’t tempted by any of these small snacks. They all looked wilted and too worn out to be wandering about in the afternoon sunlight.

Four Iberian ham croquetas ($8) showed up first at our table. Each one was perfectly formed and golden, the size of a golf ball. When I cut into mine, the coating gave way to a mixture of anonymous gray meats, ground together. Oozing cheese is the dominant texture, and it turns the outside crust to mush. I won’t use an unfortunate analogy to describe the taste of the meat, but it was bad enough that I sent it back to the kitchen. It needed acid, fresh herbs and spices to compete with, if not to entirely defeat, the saltiness—the only flavor that registered.

My friend was more pleased with the grilled octopus ($17) than I was, but that’s because I’ve always struggled with the sight of a lone tentacle, severed from its owner, floating on a plate. The last time I enjoyed the dish was at Palo Alto’s Taverna. They prepared it in such a way that I forgot I was gnawing on a sea creature’s former limb. At Telefèric I also didn’t love the addition of truffle oil or the mealy pimentón potato puree underneath (an unfortunate shade of beige). As I looked at the suckers, burnished darkly to a bruised color purple, it dawned on me that all of the plates would continue to lack intelligence, beauty and magic.

The patatas bravas ($9), usually such great comfort food, didn’t stand out as different from a side of breakfast potatoes served at every diner in America. Why single these out on the menu if the preparation would render them so bland? If they’d ever been crunchy, the indistinctive brava sauce and aioli made them even soggier.

Covered in zucchini, mushrooms and tomatoes, and drenched in that ubiquitous oil, the Catalan flatbread ($13) was perfectly fine and perfectly forgettable. The vegetables were fresh, and arranged in a pretty way, but it didn’t stop me from thinking about a thousand other slices of pizza I would have preferred eating instead. None of the tapas could dislodge the memory of similar dishes I’d had in more inspired incarnations.

There are other sections of the menu to explore, which include larger entrées like the $98 tomahawk rib eye steak and four different kinds of paella. I did see an appealingly plated burrata salad pass by, brought to life from the long list of vegetarian options, but it seemed beside the point to order California cuisine here. I also didn’t want to order yet another version of Brussels sprouts at a Spanish restaurant.

We sat outside on the busy walkway, where an endless conga line of shoppers sauntered by. Telefèric Barcelona also indulges in telling the old wives’ tale that you can’t sit inside without a reservation. We asked how long the wait would be for a table and were told that we could only sit inside at the bar. Of course, as is the case universally, a few tables inside sat empty during our meal. A restaurant that’s interested in providing an experience for the diners tends to the individual. The specialty of the house here is customer turnover. It’s a hectic place that rushes past every important detail of a meal. The citizens of Barcelona would be hard-pressed to claim it as their own.

Telefèric Barcelona
855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto