Crustacean's famous garlic noodles aren't on the menu, but they'll turn up a couple of times a month, albeit only at happy hour, says Helene An, the family matriarch and executive chef. Tiato, which is run by her daughter Catherine, will go its own way with a menu heavy on informal breakfast and lunch dishes.
But one thing is certain. The herb tiato, which is Vietnamese perilla (think shiso), will appear in many dishes because it's An's mainstay. And she has only to step into Tiato's spacious garden to pick all she needs.
Big pots of it stand in a cart along with other herbs she relies on--red-stemmed Asian basil, rau ram, which is sometimes called Asian coriander although it's nothing like cilantro, and kinh gioi, which is also known as Vietnamese balm. A pot of Vietnamese celery, a round-leafed plant unlike ordinary celery, serves as a doorstop. And a kaffir lime tree stands nearby.
Tiato occupies a soaring, window-lined space inside the MTV/Lions Gate building. This means it will have a built-in clientele of office workers and more customers from the other large office buildings that make this part of Santa Monica a sort of industrial park. People in a hurry can pick up a quick meal from a salad bar, a prepared foods counter, a bakery section and shelves of snacks in Tiato's market.
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The main dining room has a wine bar (try the Rising Sun cocktail made with tiato-infused sake), an area for serious dining and plenty of space for casual diners. The garden/patio provides still more places to sit. The menu is a mix of east and west with a grassfed beef burger, turkey meatloaf and wild snapper ceviche salad keeping company with Vietnamese style sandwiches, a curried kabocha squash bisque and a Vietnamese rice noodle salad.
At present Tiato is open Monday through Friday and soon will open on weekends. It does not serve dinner, but tapas plates are available at happy hour.
Tiato Market Garden Café: 2700 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica; (310) 866-5228.