By Aaron Downes
When it comes to restaurants, Fred Eric is a hands-on kind of guy. He owns the Tiara Café in the heart of the Fashion District on 9th and Main and was involved in everything from the design and décor to deciding on menu items and giving them quirky, unique names. He even slaved over the name of the café, which has been serving the health conscious employees of LA’s fashion capital for the past 6 years.
The Japanese Pop meets art nouveau eatery was originally Sam’s Deli, an establishment that had been around for over 50 years. When Eric first looked upon the generous interior with its high ceilings and a winding metal bar, he immediately thought of cafeterias: the traditional downtown-eating establishment. He named it Teria Café as sort of a dyslexic anagram, but the name seemed too vague and not very catchy.
“I looked it up in the dictionary and I was like ‘nobody’s going to get this,’” Fred says. “And then right next to ‘teria’ was ‘tiara’ and I was like ‘there’s so many women in the fashion district, of which most want to be wearing tiaras.’ So that’s what it became.”
The Tiara’s menu features an assortment of dishes with colorful names like Mac Balls, Bearded Mr. Frenchie and the Bon Journo Italian breakfast sandwich. Fred has been naming his dishes this way for so long, he can’t keep track of which dish belongs to what restaurant.
This naming process began almost 20 years ago with his first Los Feliz establishment, the dinner-only Vida restaurant. At the time it was pretty uncommon for any establishment to name a beloved dish like a hamburger anything but it’s Christian name. This was before gastro pubs and other eclectic eateries employed the same naming methodology to boost their Google and Yelp rankings.
Next month he will open the doors to a Fred 62-style sandwich bar in the annexed space next door. It will address the lunchtime needs of patrons looking for a quick yet savory bite. Asked to give an immodest preview of what to expect, Eric described the sandwich shop as “super stylized, tasty, better than anything.”
However, Fred has yet to find a suitable name for the shop. “Every time I think of something I do a [internet] search and I find out it’s already been taken.” though he is certain that in some random discovery will inspire him with the answer.
The Tiara’s gilded menu has a mission statement: Eat Healthier More Often, Diet Less.
“When we first opened the idea was farmers market, fresh, healthy organic food so it was a combination of preciousness and perishable,” explains Eric, whose current profession as restaurateur was preceded by a stint in farming.
Right out of high school he studied Biodynamic French Intensive farming, a style of agriculture developed by Alan Chadwick. He learned a great deal from Chadwick’s partner Alan York, learning how to yield the maximum possible crop growth using the least amount of space. But after two years Eric realized there was no way to make a living as an independent farmer, so he applied his knowledge of produce towards cooking it.
He would later go on to work for high profile chefs including Claude Segal at Ma Maison, Joachim Splichal at the Patina Group and Rich Melman from Lettuce Entertain You in Chicago. Eric toured the world to work for various high-profile chefs in Paris, Japan, Argentina and Brazil. His eclectic menus are indicative of those years he spent traveling and learning abroad.
During the week the restaurant is packed with people during the lunch and dinner hours. Tiara has many regulars; some who dine there 4 to 5 times a week and the majority of the clientele work in the wall-to-wall offices and fashion showrooms surrounding the café. They also receive a large international crowd of fashion hunters who stop in the Tiara whenever they visit LA, especially during fashion week when the café is a controlled madhouse.
In the main restaurant the most popular dish is a completely different take on the sandwich. The ‘freshwich’ consists of fresh vegetable strips rolled with meats and sauces like a burrito. Instead of a bun or wrap, the freshwich is tightly packed in a semi translucent rice paper, resembling an egg roll. It has become such a hit that Fred is currently revamping Fred 62’s diner menu with freshwiches.
An advocate of alternative approaches to healthy living, Fred has taken time to address nearly every dietary need, including most fasting regimens. This gives customers that are on a cleansing fast a place to go during lunch where the can recharge with a zesty broth of strained potatoes and fresh vegetables. It’s a high potassium recipe that he cooked up during a grueling 25-day cleanse.
Tiara also has a wide assortment of unique wines as well as a guilt-free dessert menu. One of Fred’s picks was the smookie – half cookie, half s’more. He developed the dish when a wedding he catered asked for a s’more station. Since the logistics of supplying DIY s’mores for a wedding congregation was messy, he baked his own graham cookie topped with chocolate, a homemade marshmallow cooked to a sumptuous caramel yellow and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Like all of the Tiara’s portions, its modest size belies a satisfying and palette-tickling taste.
The Tiara Café is open for lunch from 11 am to 2 pm Monday thru Friday and 10 am to 3pm Saturdays and Sundays. They are open for dinner Tuesday thru Saturday from 6pm to 10pm. Check the website tiara-cafe-la.com for special events.