Last weekend Jack and I attended his 20 year high school reunion at the Angeles National Golf Club in Los Angeles. We had a really great time – Jack enjoyed catching up with old friends, while I got to make new ones. We typically stay in west L.A., but given the location of the reunion, we decided to explore an area of Los Angeles that neither of us have visited much: Downtown L.A.
Once we booked our hotel (the Westin Bonaventure – such a strange and dated hotel that apparently was in True Lies?), I went ahead and made a dinner reservation for us at Otium, which was recommended to us by a friend when we were visiting Lala Land over Christmas. We received so many great dining tips at that time and I’m glad I had the foresight to organize them by neighborhood in my blog post “L.A.’s Best Restaurants.”
Otium is located adjacent to The Broad (pronounced “brode”), the contemporary art museum founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad. It was a short walk from our hotel – once we figured out how to use the footbridges to get up the hill and around various freeway off ramps (hint: don’t rely on Google maps – ask your hotel concierge for directions).
This is how Otium describes itself on its website: “Otium strips away the formalities of dining while focusing on the quality of food, warm service, and relaxed casual ambiance. It is designed to be a social restaurant with an open kitchen merging indoor and outdoor spaces. The restaurant’s name, Otium, has its roots in Latin, a word that is meant to emphasize a place where time can be spent on leisurely social activities.” We were there on a Friday night at 9:30pm and the place was hopping with large groups of folks socializing and starting the weekend off right.
The menu at Otium consists of tapas-style share plates, with a variety of sizes and prices. In my opinion the menu was too long – it was incredibly overwhelming to choose 4-5 dishes out of 35+ menu items. Luckily, our waiter was knowledgeable, warm, and professional, and he gave us many suggestions to help us narrow down our choices.
We each started out with a cocktail. Jack had the Old Fashioned (fig leaf, Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Rum, coffee) and I had the margarita (grapefruit, elderflower, Birdseye chili, Tequila Blanco, Nasturtium leaf). Both were excellent – not too sweet, sour, or boozy – just right.
Our first course was the octopus with peanut, mole, and sweet corn. Octopus is definitely “the new uni,” as it seems every new restaurant is serving a dish featuring this eight-armed mollusk. When octopus is done right, it’s delicious – crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. But when it’s bad – chewy, or sometimes “fishy” – it’s pretty awful. This octopus was delicious – it seemed like it had a light breading or crust (flour? Corn starch?) on its surface to make it extra crispy, and it was cooked perfectly. I always love a good mole sauce, and this flavor combination was rich and tasty, and a unique preparation for octopus. The portion size was also very generous. We ended up being very pleased with our first taste of what Otium is dishing up.
The second dish we ordered was the burrata tart with tomato, basil, curry, and truffle. This dish blew me away – burrata, like octopus, is ubiquitous at many of our favorite restaurants these days. But this was such an incredible preparation: buttery, flaky pie crust topped with creamy burrata, seasonal tomatoes, and fresh basil. There was a sweetness to the dish, and I’m not sure if it was solely from the tomatoes, or if there was honey or another sweetener added. The truffle and curry were subtle and ever so balanced. I would love to be able to recreate this dish at home – it was a knock out.
Next we had the lobster with green curry, fried mushrooms, and scallions, as well as the buckwheat bucatini with Dungeness crab, sake, and lime. The lobster was a bit of a splurge, but it was worth it – like the other dishes so far, the preparation was unique, with flavors I don’t often encounter, paired with lobster. The green curry was fragrant and not too spicy and the lobster was rich and flavorful. The mushrooms were battered and fried, crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside. The whole dish was topped with fresh scallions and cilantro (my favorite!). As for the pasta, I was very on the fence about which pasta dish to order – the bucatini was recommended by our server and it was a light, tasty dish that paired well with the rich lobster. Unfortunately, we scarfed down the pasta before I could snag a picture – but it was delicious!
When it came time to order dessert, I was bummed that the restaurant was out of the St. Honoré with coffee, salted caramel, and hazelnut. I didn’t know what a St. Honoré was (according to Wikipedia, it’s a classic French dessert comprising a “circle of puff pastry at its base with a ring of pâte à choux piped on the outer edge”), but I’m always down for salted caramel. But, given that we arrived at 9:30pm, and we are leisurely diners, I was not surprised that their dessert options were running out. We instead opted for the “ice cream sundae,” which apparently changes regularly; this particular night Otium was serving a vegan coconut ice cream with pineapple and lime (“like a piña colada”). It was heavenly – I suspect the fat from the coconut milk was responsible for the creaminess. It was the perfect way to end a great meal.
We had a fabulous meal at Otium and I highly recommend it as a fun, social spot with great food. We only had time for one dinner out during our quick weekend trip, but we really loved the overall vibe in Downtown L.A. During the day we ventured to Grand Central Market (also walking distance from our hotel – but nobody walks in L.A.!), a Chelsea Market/Ferry Building/Pike Place/stuff your face experience that was delicious, crowded, and vibrant (the cookies and cream/salted chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich at McConnell’s was to. die. for.) Unfortunately we were a couple weeks too late to see the Liquid Shard installation at Pershing Square, but we had a great time and would definitely stay in this part of town again.
Otium: www.otiumla.com 213-935-8500
Address: 222 South Hope Street Los Angeles, CA 90012
Hours: closed Mondays (as is The Broad); Brunch: Saturday & Sunday: 10:30am – 2:30pm; Lunch: Tuesday – Friday: 11:30am – 2:30pm; Dinner: Sunday – Thursday: 5:30pm – 10:00pm, Friday – Saturday: 5:30pm – 11:00pm. Reservations via OpenTable.