Otium - 360° Final Thoughts
222 S. Hope Street, Los Angeles
After four days of review posts, you've now learned all about the cocktails and wine we drank and certainly the food we ate at Otium so my job is to bring it all together to give you a real idea of what eat+drink thinks of this relatively new entry into the Los Angeles dining scene.
There are three keys to a great dining experience for me. First off, the food has to be great. I need to be tantalized by the menu in hopes of something wonderful to hit my mouth and the food must deliver on that hope. Secondly, the staff, one of the most important parts of a restaurant, has to make us feel wanted, expected and casually important. I'm sure you're wondering what "casually important" means - it means that every single person at a restaurant should feel important without being fawned over. Front of house staff should be responsive, fun, and interested in sharing the experience of their food with you. Lastly, the decor - in every aspect - must feel "real". When I walk in to any restaurant, I want the physical space to represent the food and feel that the designer put real thought into what they were doing. If it looks like some restaurant chain, you know there isn't any real vision at the core of the establishment.
As I'm sure you may already know, we thought the level of cooking and food at Otium to be quite high. The bar program is definitely on point with each cocktail hitting something new and fun that made us want to keep drinking (and unfortunately we did). The opening courses of hamachi, fish, and vegetables were delights. The pastas were incredibly special and we couldn't get enough. Our wine connoisseur, Christian, was picking stellar wines to match with the courses so no complaints there.
The front of house staff couldn't have been more delightful. Our waiter was EXTREMELY knowledgable about the menu and was not intimidated by our open-ended questions in any way. He quickly rose to the challenge giving us detailed explanations and was happy to recommend his favorite menu items in a way that allowed us to piece together our entire meal from his recommendations. We couldn't love him any more.
The proteins started to challenge us. They just weren't as exciting as the earlier dishes and felt incongruent with our meal. By this time, the noise was truly challenging. Noise is an issue in any space with lots of people and some great LA restaurants are not immune. One of my faves, Bestia, is insanely loud and I refuse to eat in their main dining room. Otium has a distinct noise problem. No matter how great the food is, you'll never want to bring that special someone here for a romantic dinner. The decor is really well done although the space overall feels more expansive than I really wanted. The open kitchen concept continues to be fun and at Otium, you can walk right through the kitchen to get to the bar or the restrooms.
As the desserts poured out, I finally felt Tim Hollingsworth's French Laundry influence. Macaroons and lots of tiny desserts is one of their signatures. It's like an explosion of confections and sugar after you've stuffed yourself with a 10 course tasting menu. They were wonderful but it got me thinking about the complicated, vast and confusing Los Angeles dining scene.
I had recently visited Gwen, Curtis Stone's latest entry into the LA food scene and marveled at the vast spectrum of customers they had - from the 60-something businessman in a chauffeured car to the tattooed couple looking for a quick drink on the patio. I wondered how they would manage to satisfy so many different wants and needs but realized quickly that somehow they were doing it. They've figured out a way to have a 10 course tasting menu but also more casual dining experiences on a walk-in basis at the bar and on the patio. It works. They meet their customers where they are and I wonder if it has something to do with the Stone brothers growing up in Australia and not in the US. It feels like they put a lot of thought into their business.
Otium has many excellent pieces that are still waiting to come together which ultimately gave each of us a mixed feeling. We couldn't fully put our finger on what we were missing or wanted to change. Ultimately, I think Otium is a combination of food from Northern California trying to find it's place in the vast complexity of Southern California. We are such a melting pot here in Los Angeles and often that is overlooked. We crave authenticity in everything we do, even though the rest of the country thinks that Hollywood makes our town "fake". Once you get past the initial superficial topcoat, the complicated city starts to be seen and our food reflects that. There isn't one type of food that we can't find here in a real, authentic way. From Ivy at the Shore to Tito's Tacos, we know exactly where to find what we want, when we want it.
I'm confident that Otium will continue to flourish and will be worth revisiting in another year to see what has changed. This is Hollingsworth's second LA spot and I'm excited to see what else he chooses to do here in LaLa Land. In the meantime, I'm happy to visit the bar for cocktails and small plates at Otium after visiting the Broad Museum next door.