Dine LA week has me venturing out further than usual in my hunt for great places to eat and when I saw the menu at Tiara, I had to add it to my eating itinerary. The only downside was its’ location downtown, so I made a 1:30 pm reservation figuring that was late enough to avoid the 12-1 pm downtown lunchtime crowd. Parking in the area wasn’t difficult, especially now that the meters have been replaced by pay machines that accept credit cards and change. To use the parking machine, you punch in your space number from the sidewalk and pay, but there are drawbacks; the machines do not like Amex business credit cards and ate some of my change without applying it to my time. You can pay a garage if all this seems too daunting, but it’s hard to beat $3 an hour street parking in that area.

Finding the entrance to Tiara was a bit of a challenge since the front door of the cafe is actually also the door to their market, but it is evident once you walk in the door that this is a fashionable, eclectic place buzzing with energy and fun. The hostess was the only negative part of my dining experience; she seemed annoyed that I had made a reservation, seated me facing a huge column (I switched my seat so my back was to the column), and “forgot” to give me the Dine LA $16 menu until I asked for it (she was also annoyed to find one to give to me). The restaurant was full so it took a good 10 minutes before anyone came by my table, but once my waiter Arturo arrived, everything took a wonderful turn for the better. He was obviously happy to be there, to talk to customers, and he was thoughtful beyond belief (I will explain later).

For my appetizer I chose the Thai Cobb Salette, made with grilled spice marinated chicken (which can be replaced by seitan for the vegetarians), spinach, spicy mixed greens, green papaya, eggs, Nuskes apple smoked bacon served with a spicy Thai dressing. It was as delicious as it looks. Other choices were the house smoked spicy salmon fresh’wich, made with the house smoked & grilled salmon (seitan can be substituted), Persian cucumbers, chiffonade of lettuce, avocado, all wrapped in a thin rice paper and served with an avocado dipping sauce, or for beef eaters, the smoked brisket chili, made with 3 different organic locally grown roasted chillies, all cooked with organic heirloom tomatoes, spices, and served with corn bread muffins.

For my main course I choose the Burrata pizzette because I wanted to taste the dough that they allow to rise for 24 hours. The menu said the pizzette is made with heirloom tomato confit, locally made fresh burrata cheese, greens, and caramelized onions, but mine had mushrooms instead of greens and peppers instead of onions. Other entree options were the grilled chicken and tamale, made with achiote marinated chicken breast grilled, a fresh corn tamale with roasted poblano chilies, grilled zucchini, red beans & dirty rice served with a yellow tomato habanero sauce (they will replace the chicken with grilled vegetables and make it perfect for vegetarians & vegans), or a grilled ahi tuna, made with Japanese togarashi spice marinated sushi grade tuna, scarlet quinoa, grilled fall farmer’s market vegetables with a light curry sauce (they can use seitan to replace the tuna or change the tuna for curry grilled shrimp).

Details aside it was delicious and the dough was fantastic. I could only eat two of the six slices after polishing off the entire salette, so my wonderful waiter Arturo suggested I take my desert home along with my uneaten pizzette slices. I chose the Key Lime with vanilla bean meringue and caramel sea salt ice cream. Other choices were peach cobbler , with a brown butter custard bottom, last of the season fresh peaches, topped with a crumbly cobbler crust & served with a 50/50 peach sorbet & vanilla ice cream, or a chocolate molten cake, a warm chocolate cake filled with an oozing ganache, served with a 50/50 chocolate & vanilla ice cream. Arturo even packed the key lime dessert container saying that it would have ruined it if he had tried to take it out, and sorry no baked vanilla bean meringue & caramel sea salt ice cream, becasue it would melt to a mess as I was taking it to go.

It’s wonderful to find a place that uses organic and local ingredients, offers vegan substitutions, and thoughtful service, even if it is downtown.