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Ciudad: Metropolis of Flavors, Mecca of Bad Service

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LAist promised that we'd let you know when we went to check out Ciudad, Milliken & Feniger's downtown abode for inventive Latin American food. In fact, we're such keepers of our words that we even made our reservation via OpenTable.com, which earned us some more dining points. We'd been excited about this trip for some time now; we've been fans of the Border Grill for years, and were waiting for just the right time to head to the corner of 5th and Figueroa. The meal had a brilliant start, with their savory flatbread crackers and bread we dipped in their truly tasty tapenade, and our deliciously pink Guava-Cachaca (liquor made from sugar cane) cocktail. Our server was on her game (in thankful contrast to the patron reviews left on the Citysearch profile) and seemed to be training someone, although why this doesn't seem to get mentioned anymore in restaurants is a mystery to us. It left us feeling like we had a server and her hovering, silent, helpless shadow, and, much later, when the level of service began to dwindle, and the shadow was spotted serving on his own, we wondered why two people now couldn't manage the job of one.

But before things got bad, we ordered up. We warmed up our tastebuds with the Butternut Squash Empenadas, which came with a zingy chipotle crema. The light, puffy exterior gave way to the delicate, flavorful interior that oozed with velvety goodness. Our table then dined on three outstanding main courses, each one an exciting balance of flavor, spice, texture, and color. The Slow Cooked Boneless Beef Short Ribs were so tender that no knife was needed, and came under a blanket of panca BBQ sauce, and on a bed of a light red cabbage slaw. The Squash Rellenos were found to be remarkably light--in contrast to the typical thickness and density of a relleno breading, and the Pollo Ciudad earned raves, particularly for its inclusion pickled tomoatoes. As we contemplated dessert, we noticed the place had filled up to half capacity; this was the time that our table, tucked in the back, got lost entirely in this mis-managed shuffle. Water glasses sat empty as we finished our spicy entrees. The two regular coffees arrived, but our Cuban Latte (enhanced with cinnamon, orange, allspice, clove, and piloncillo) did not. Someone had set down dessert plates and forks, but where was dessert?

After an exceedingly long wait, our dessert arrived. One of the best things about Ciudad is that they allow you to custom assemble a sampling of desserts. We opted for the small version, with three selections: Souffled Lemon Cheesecake with Strawberry-Guava Coulis and fresh berries, Pastelitos San Sebastian (pastry puff with coffee ice cream and chocolate sauce), and the Rainforst Macadamia Nut Brownie. We dove in, oohing and mmming with every bite. The puff pastry was our favorite, as it wasn't too sweet, and the coffee ice cream was a great pairing with the light pastry and the rich sauce. Of course, our Cuban Latte hadn't come, and we were ready to settle the bill. We'd handed the coupon to the server, but when she returned with the draft to be signed, we realized the discount hadn't been applied (and with their prices in the ballpark of $25 per entree, every penny saved counts!). By this time we'd had to ask for the Latte in a to-go cup, since we had tickets to the Redcat and the clock was ticking. Things were eventually straightened out (although they never did ask if we needed parking validated), but the spottiness of the service was truly unforgiveable. On a busy night, sure. On a half-full Monday...it just leaves a bad taste.

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Overall, we like Ciudad, mostly because we've long respected and admired those Too Hot Tamales, and their food shows their powers of invention and command of ingredients. But the service needs to step it up, or soon folks won't be likely to step in. We suggest you hit them up for just drinks and appetizers, or coffee and dessert, or an entree only meal.

Ciudad 445 South Figueroa Street (213) 486-5171