Tempo interior.Newcomer restaurant Tempo (in the challenged 5th Street space that was home to Ventana) was much anticipated as we watched renovations and preparations for months. While its opening may have been overshadowed by the Commonwealth phenom, our initial meals suggest it’s a promising addition to the downtown dining scene and worth a visit.

You’ll first notice the decor, which people seem to love or hate. It’s like upscale Parisian bordello meets nouveau riche in the mountains. There’s paisley silk and cow print and even an enormous water buffalo head reigning over the bar. It’s a little too busy for my tastes, but I can appreciate that it doesn’t look like most other minimal brick interiors these days.

Chocolate dome.On our first visit as we perused the eclectic dinner menu, we asked our server about the concept behind Tempo. Her reply? “It’s all about a European service experience.” Ummm, okay. I’m not sure European service is the first thing that draws American diners in, but we were willing to give it a try. Unfortunately, our experiences to date have mostly reinforced that skepticism. The servers have been friendly but inconsistently attentive, veering between nowhere to be found and overly intrusive, such as asking us if we were ready to order every minute after we said we would need awhile. Jed ordered the headcheese terrine, which we had heard good things about, and our server brought him the cheese plate instead and seemed unwilling to believe him that it wasn’t the terrine. The service has been nice but lacking a certain professionalism for a place where you’re paying that much, so I hope that’s one area that smooths out over time.

But the good news is the food saved the day. On our first visit, I adored a simple homemade riccotta appetizer with delicious grilled peasant bread, lemon, local honey, and blackberry. The tempura shrimp was another starter standout. For main courses, my grouper was just okay and Jed thought his pork chop and spaetzle was undercooked and unimpressive, but our friends’ ribeye and scallops were delicious. We sampled the desserts extensively and both the lemon tart with toasted marshmallow and blackberry and warm chocolate dome with whipped nutella are worth repeat visits.

While I think Tempo will be a nice dinner option for a fancier night out in line with other upscale downtown prices, we’ve both enjoyed it more for lunch. The quiche was delicious and perfectly cooked, and the salmon BLT earned high marks as well. It’s a great lunch alternative to Hamilton’s or other business favorites. Conveniently, they also serve the warm chocolate dome for lunch and I can report that it’s just as good in the daytime.

Jed says: “The atmosphere isn’t for everyone and the service is strange, but the food is above average – especially the quiche at lunch – and the overall experience is campily unique.”

award_star_gold_3 16Rating: Erin: Jed:

thumb_up 16 iconPros: Good food and nice upscale option downtown.

thumb_down 16 iconCons: European service has room to grow.

money_dollar 16 iconPrice: Dinner appetizers $7-19, Main courses $18-29.

car famfam 16 iconParking: Usual downtown options.

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