• ‘Mundaka’: Spanish for ‘slow or no service?’

    Awwwwwwwrighty now, pay attention.  I know that Mundaka is not Spanish for slow or no service, ok? Mundaka is a beautiful beach resort area in the North of Spain that is a well-known place for the surfer-set. I just thought I’d grab your attention right off the bat with the headline.

    Before trekking to Carmel’s newest ‘restaurant-of-the-moment’, I told at least three or four friends that I was headed to Mundaka for dinner. They all said, WHERE? And I repeated, “Mundaka- you know, the new tapas place in Carmel. ”  Their responses were hilarious, “What’s a Mundaka? Isn’t that like one of those colorful African pieces of clothing?”  Two others said, “Wow, There’s a TOPLESS bar in Carmel??”   to which I responded, ” Tapas not Topless!” In defense of my friends, I’ve got to say that these are people who are generally well traveled and into food and wine, so their collective responses were a little shocking to me.

    Americanos have recently been enlightened to the joys of eating communal, small plates of food with friends as opposed to chowing down in their usual format – Appetizer (12 hot wings, with ranch dressing and celery for color), Entrée (24 oz. Porterhouse Steak, a baked potato the size of a football filled to brimming with butter, sour cream, fake bacon bits, and chives served with the tri-color mélange of broccoli, cauliflower & carrots that nobody ever eats and a side of Lipitor) and Dessert ( a six inch high slice of triple fudge, ice cream pie with whipped cream) all sloshed down with a specialty house cocktail ( 32oz Blue Curacao Slushy with five shots of liquor, a slice of pineapple skewered with a bright pink umbrella).

    So into the almost warm spring evening I ventured to Carmel in search of the tiny 40 seat, Mundaka for my tapas experience (no, I did not go TOPLESS, ok?)

    Ohhhhhh, Spain. Land of the all night party, Arbequina Olives, Serrano ham and manchego cheese.  A glass of Tempranillo or Rioja, a couple of little plates of Pintxos and a macho, raven-haired guitarist strumming away in a darkened corner.  Roaming from tapas bar to tapas bar enjoying a bite of this and a nibble of that served up by friendly, genuinely hospitable people who are enjoying the party almost as much as you are.

    This is the point where you hear the sound effect of a needle being pulled across the record…wwwwwwerrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

    And Here’s The Review Part…

    Mundaka Spanish Restaurant & Tapas


    San Carlos Between Ocean & 7th

    Open 7 Nights from 5pm

    About The Menu: In order to work out what Tapas are, it might help to understand where the word Tapas comes from (at least this is the most commonly accepted version). It’s actually a Spanish verb (tapar), which means, “to cover”. So, a Tapa was a snack (usually free) which was placed on top of a drink “to cover” it from flies, insects, and dust.  So, not wanting to attract flies, insects or dust my co-diners and I decided to try some of the Pintxos that are placed on the bar at Mundaka. A pincho (Spanish:  literally, thorn or spike) or pintxo (Basque)  is a small slice of bread upon which an ingredient or mixture of ingredients is put and held there using a stick, (in this case a large toothpick) which gives the food its name.  They charge $2.00 apiece for these little bar snacks and according to the menu you ‘help yourself on the honor system’. Basque country Pintxos usually consist of a variety of savory toppings served at room temp on top of slices of bread that are just about the right size to cover your glass to ward off those dangerous Carmelian insects (aka tourists from all points East and/or West). Our glass covers (4 of ’em) were topped with chicken pate, mashed potatoes w/chorizo, hake and octopus, and one was a little baguette with jamon and queso.  None were notably delicious, but they would’ve definitely done the job as glass covers. In my mind…if these are your bar snacks and are probably what every patron would start their dining experience with, they should be drop dead great or the patrons will sip one glass of wine, cover their empty glass with their Pintxos and hit the door. OK. Enough about the Pintxos.

    For our tapas experience we ordered the following: Bravas (really delicious fried up potatoes with tomato-chili aioli and béchamel), Serrano Ham with Arbequina olive oil (simple and rich), Banderillas (prime steak skewer with chili crème fraiche, &grilled scallion and the Croquetas (light, crispy croquettes filled with béchamel, ham & chicken that were very good as well). These nicely turned out plates cost between 3.00 to 8.00 apiece.  All were somewhere between good and very good. After, we noshed all of that up ( it is less than you think, when you divide it by three people) we opted to order the Cordero from the Fuertes section of the menu.  Five very thinly sliced, marinated lamb chops were served on a pile of the most deliciously, hot, crisp matchstick fried potatoes.  Order this dish !! For $19.00 this is the bomb, a bag of chips and ‘all that’ as they say on the Jerry Springer show. After we finished that plate up we decided to try one of the four desserts (all $7.00).  The Pan Chocolate was a ganache-y tablespoon load of quality chocolate, sprinkled with sea salt and served with olive oil and thin toasts to spread it on.  Again…so simple and soooo good!

    What About The Service?:  I was warmly greeted at the door and led to the table where my always prompt friend had been waiting for me for almost 15 minutes. She had not been offered a glass of water, wine or her traditional cup of coffee during her wait. In fact, no one had approached the table at all. First red flag…The third member of our party arrived ten minutes after me and we were still waiting for someone, just anyone to approach the table. No luck.  Five more minutes passed before one of the three servers who had been walking back and forth in front of us for now 30 minutes stopped dead in his tracks, looked up at us and said, ‘would you like to order something to start with? ‘ Ummmm….good question, since we are sitting in an eating/drinking establishment. Uh, yeah…we would.

    Still game and out to have a good time, we ordered a couple glasses of Cava and the traditional cup of espresso for our tablemate.  While we spent the next 15 mins. Visiting and catching up nothing appeared at our table. The curious part of this situation was that there seemed to be at least four servers working the 40 seat dining room but no one seemed to have any sense of urgency in their very laid-back behavior. I don’t mind casual, friendly service, but these folks were so casual that they were comatose and unresponsive to the needs of their guests. Our server (and the other three as well) looked as if he just climbed out of bed following a great weekend of surfing and partying.  Rumpled up T-shirt, low-slung jeans, topped by an equally low slung apron seems to the Mundaka uniform. The guys were also sporting two-three day growths of beards, hair that hadn’t seen a comb or brush for a good, long time, while the ladies managed to comb their hair and do their make-up or look otherwise, well groomed.  You don’t have to look glamorous to be a good server, but it does help the public’s perception if you don’t look unkempt or sloppy.

    What followed ‘service-wise’ during our three hour dining event went from unbelievably laid back to non-existent to down right sadly comical. Our table decided that our ‘server-dude’ must be doing things as they do in Spain.  That was our explanation and we were sticking with it in lieu of getting out of sorts about the 20 ,minute waits for a glass of wine, disjointed timing on how and when the small plates arrived with no rhyme or reason and a total lack of communication until it came time for us to pay the bill and leave a tip, of course.

    What I’d Do Differently: Train the staff to work smart by never walking around empty-handed and to make eye contact with the guests. Our server had the annoying habit of asking us a question, listening to about half the answer and walking away without uttering a word to us. Did he hear us? Was he coming back? Was there a medical emergency taking place somewhere in the adjacent dining room that he needed to attend to? He just ‘poof’ disappeared. Dude!  They should also ask the customers how they would like their tapas to be served- all at once, a couple at a time or??

    If the servers would’ve been on top of their game, they could’ve very easily raised our dinner check from 96.00 to at least 150.00 but no one seemed to want to sell us or suggest anything to us. The servers barely took the orders and delivered them to the tables. This is a shame since it marred the nicely prepared tapas that were coming from the obviously hardworking and conscientious kitchen staff. A tapas restaurant in America still needs servers who are willing to explain the concept and make good suggestions. I think our server had surfing and a couple of bong hits after work on his mind instead.  Since his rumpled t-shirt didn’t have a name-tag on it we decided to name him “dude’. Dude…you could make a whole lot more cash if you applied yourself to your job and listened to the guests.  Dude..you’ve got to NOTICE when people’s wine glasses have been empty so long that they need to get a new Pintxo to keep the insects out of them or when the plates have been sitting empty on the table since the Moors were in Spain and the customers are now talking about inventing a plate sized Pintxo. Dude.

    Overall Grade: B minus S (B for the above average food and minus S for the lack of Service.

    There you have it.  As I always advise, make your own decisions and follow your nose and gut.


    posted to Cedar Street Times on May 20, 2009

    Topics: Current Edition, Columns & Contributors


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