Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Otium, Los Angeles

I was recently in Los Angeles, downtown Los Angeles, for a business trip.  Not exactly an area I want to hang out, but, luckily (?), my days and nights were incredibly full (I was there for work after all!), so it didn't really matter where I was anyway.

I sadly had only one meal that I got to arrange for myself, the night of my arrival.  My choice was a no brainer - I was going to Otium. 

Otium is the restaurant of Chef Timothy Hollingsworth of French Laundry fame (he was chef de cuisine, worked his way up in the restaurant over 12 years, competed in the Bocuse d’Or, etc, etc).  But Otium is his concept, not anything like The French Laundry.

I might have picked which hotel to stay at partially based on proximity to Otium, so I could easily have dinner there my first night.
Satisfying Meal for One.
The concept at Otium is all about being "social".  You see this in the wide open floor plan, including the kitchen and raw bar integrated into the space, in a way that goes far beyond the standard trendy "open kitchen".  You notice it in the menu, every dish designed as share plates.  You hear it in club/lounge like pumping music.  The entire place has a "we are all in this together" vibe to it.  They succeeded at the theme.

They also succeeded at creating a place that isn't too formal, although the food served is of high caliber, with a matching price point.

The service was excellent.  My main server was friendly and extremely knowledgeable.  She had actually tried every dish on the menu herself, which really helps.  And her excitement over some dishes (and drinks!) was genuine.  My dishes were promptly cleared by another staff member once I stopped eating.  The server who brought out each dish described them in detail.  Great service.

It was a great meal all around, although I dined solo, which was not ideal.  I'd gladly return with a group, as it clearly was meant to be a shared experience.


The restaurant is stunning.  Let's just get that out there.  They clearly worked with an interior designer, and clearly went big budget.

And it worked.  The environment captures everything I think they were going for: elegant yet comfortable.  Just like the cuisine.
Back Garden.
This was the back entrance, but it is where I accidentally entered.

Not a problem really, it meant that I got to see the outdoor seating, surrounded by landscaping, with ample heat lights for the "chilly" Los Angeles evenings.

The outdoor garden vibe continues through the interior as well.
Side Bar.
Continuing my journey of entering backwards, I walked through the side bar area, with counter seating along the bar, and several small tables.  This area is all reserved for walk-ins.

You can see some of the stunning interior design, with shades of black and gray hexagon tiled flooring, a back wall with a hidden phrase that invokes the garden feel, and gorgeous cabinetry housing the liquor.
Raw Bar, Coffee Prep.
The bar continues around the corner, with additional stool seating.  This area however is the raw bar, with seafood on display on ice, and the coffee station.

If you were seated in this area, you could easily watch all the cold app prep action (or the coffee making I suppose, but that is far less exciting!).

More fascinating decor elements like the yellow tiled backdrop, and light figures made from pipes.
Open Kitchen.
And finally, the large open kitchen.  On one side is the wood fired oven, in the back, many prep stations.  I love an open kitchen, and, particularly as a solo diner, this was a great opportunity to just watch some of the action.  Right near the man in the middle is an ice cream machine, but I never saw it go into action while I was there.
Place Setting.
The place settings were very appealing as well, with what looked like custom ceramics, little candles, fresh flowers in a little vase, on lovely wooden tables.

Food & Drink

Otium is open for lunch and dinner during the week (closed Monday), but also open for brunch on weekends.  I wish I could have visited for brunch, as the menu sounded fantastic, but alas, my visit was on a Sunday evening, for dinner.

Still, there were plenty of menu items I was excited about.  It wasn't just the chef's background that drew me in initially.  It was the menu.  Well, in particular, it was two menu items.

On a menu full of heavy hitters, there were two I just couldn't get past: foie gras funnel cake and uni over tofu sorbet.  Um, seriously?  I adore foie gras and uni (hence the labels on my blog for these items alone), I equally adore funnel cake/fried dough/donuts/etc and frozen desserts.  Although, to be clear, these weren't desserts - these are savory main dishes.  And I knew they wouldn't be gimmicks, coming out of a kitchen of this caliber.

The hard part for me however is that the menu is designed entirely as share plates.  Some are smaller than others, but, everything is meant to be shared.  It is a social restaurant after all.  And I was a solo diner.

I knew this wasn't ideal, and decided I couldn't really take down the foie gras funnel cake all by myself (as much as I was tempted ...), but I still wanted to try the restaurant so badly I ignored this fact and went alone.

It worked out ... ok.  But really, you want to come here with others.  Which I will.  Next time.
Ancho. $16.
"Lola Mezcal, Pineapple, Sal De Gusano, Lime." 

This was an excellent cocktail.  I could tell as it was presented that they take the cocktails seriously; a huge perfect square ice cube in the center and colored salt rim let me know they mean business.

I loved the salt on the rim.  I loved it slightly less once I looked it up afterward ... do you know what Sal de Gusano is?  I thought it was just seasoned salt, but, uh, it is sea salt, and it does have dried peppers, but, this key component?  Dried mezcal worms.  Slightly not appetizing.  Yet I licked every bit off.

The drink itself was a perfectly balanced mix of boozy, sweet, and spicy.  It had moments of sweet from the pineapple, but the ancho chiles always countered it back.

Overall, great, and I was glad to pick it.
Dinner Menu.
The diner menu is arranged into sections that aren't quite self-explanatory.  The top section contained only a single item: their signature bread.  Next was what turned out to be mostly raw seafood items (although the shrimp was poached).  Next up?  Uh, "other" smaller plates, some cooked, some cold, mostly non-seafood.  Next, pasta.  And finally, the much larger main proteins, a mix of seafood, white meat, and red meat.

All dishes are designed to be shared, which certainly made things interesting for me as a solo diner.  I was told that they normally encourage 1-2 dishes per person, so, I should do that, but, beware that some would be far too large (e.g. something like the whole fish, or, sadly, the foie gras funnel cakes).  My server was happy to talk through all the dishes I had questions about though, and volunteer which she thought made sense as a single person.

The menu had many dishes I would have picked if I was sharing with others, but, given the limitations of being alone, I ended up picking things that weren't actually near the top of my list.  In retrospect, maybe I should have just ordered what I wanted, and been ok with not finishing it?  That's just not my style though.

I selected one dish from each of the top two categories (well, not the bread category, because, as glorious as a cast iron skillet full of freshly baked rolls slathered in garlic and butter sounded, uh, I can't imagine me taking down a whole skillet of bread alone!), and skipped the pasta and main entree categories entirely, although I nearly went for the scallops with pork dumplings, mushroom, bok choy, and XO sauce from the mains, as that just sounds like such a Julie dish.
Ora King Salmon. $18.
"Yuzu Creme, Meyer Lemon, Pluot."

The raw seafood section was pointed out to me to be a good place to base my selections, as it contains the smaller, lighter dishes.  The only problem?  Well, I just havne't been into raw seafood lately.  I'm not sure why.  This is the section that *used* to have the uni with tofu sorbet dish, but alas, now had uni chawanmushi (which, when I asked about, my server confirmed that it was very egg forward, much like quiche, and, well, I'm just not an egg girl).

One seafood I still enjoy raw is salmon, and, particularly after my visit to Tokyo with incredible salmon, I was interested enough in this dish to order it.

It came with yuzu creme fraiche at the base of the plate, with 5 slices of salmon rolled up, drizzled with meyer lemon vinaigrette, and garnished with cubes of pluot and micro greens (including micro celery!)

The salmon was fine.  Fresh enough, well trimmed, but, it wasn't nearly as intensely flavorful as that which I had in Tokyo, and was a bit of a letdown.

The yuzu creme fraiche was creamy and tangy, a really creative way to give the standard salmon + cream cheese + lemon pairing a serious upgrade.  I really liked the flavor to the creme fraiche.

The meyer lemon vinaigrette was tangy as well, but also sweeter.  I enjoyed the flavor.  The dish overall had a good salt level, and I think it came from this element.

The little cubes of pluot added freshness and lightness, as did the garnish of what I think was micro celery.

Overall, while the salmon itself might have bored me, I did like the other components on the plate, and scooped up every last drop of creme fraiche, vinaigrette, and fruit.  It *almost* felt like I was getting my dessert first!  Fruit and cream?  Yes!
Octopus. $19.
"Tzatziki, Cucumber, Red Onion, Arugula."

My next dish came from the smaller plates section, a standard dish on the Otium menu, one my server said was one of her favorites.

I love octopus, but I almost didn't order this because I'm not fond of yogurt and cucumber, so the Greek treatment wasn't very appealing.  But after her rave endorsement, I decided to risk it.

I think I'm glad I did, although, it was a mixed success.

The dish came with tzatziki at the base, then a layer of thinly sliced cucumber (like zucchini noodles, but, uh, made from cucumber), pickled red onion, and then the octopus.  The menu said arugula, but, I didn't see any, and the server who brought it out didn't mention it either.

I ended up loving the tzatziki.  It was very garlicy, such a great flavor, and good thick consistency.  I did not like the cucumber noodles on top of it though, as expected as I'm not a fan of raw cucumber, and it was a bit hard to avoid them and get all the tzatziki.  The tzatziki was also a bit of an odd pairing for the octopus, at least, I wanted more of a lighter, sweeter sauce.  But that all said, I really liked the tzatziki.

The red onions were pickled, intensely vinegary, and added great acidity.  They were also crisp, and I liked the crunch they added.

So, the tzatziki and pickled red onions, both very Greek, actually were elements I liked.

Now for the octopus.  It is where the dish was really a mixed success.  I'm not quite sure how it was cooked. It almost seemed tempura'ed, or deep fried, except I know it wasn't.  The exterior was intensely crispy, particularly the thinner pieces and particular where the suckers were.  I really liked the crispy suckers, but the thinner pieces just seemed overcooked.  Which actually, was the problem.  About half of it, all the smaller pieces, just seemed overcooked.  They were very dry, and very chewy.  Not chewy like rubbery octopus (the usual problem), but chewy like leather.  But the thicker pieces were meaty, and although crazy crispy on the outside, weren't too dried out or chewy.  I liked those pieces. 

So ... I'm still not sure what I thought of this.  I enjoyed some things, and not others. The prep of the octopus, whatever it was, was certainly unique.  But, some bites were really not enjoyable.

The portion was larger than my first dish, but not overwhelming, so that was a good fit, although I did grow pretty sick of the octopus about halfway through.  Better for sharing I suspect.
Otium Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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