When the ex chef de cuisine of The French Laundry, Tim Hollingsworth, moves to LA to open shop people pay attention. It’s not too often the fine dining chops of a Michelin caliber restaurant lands in a city better known for its great ethnic eats and taco trucks. However, the early reviews seemed to fall short of the high expectations. As a result, I never made it a priority to visit Otium, but still kept it in the back of my mind. Luck would have it that I would be invited to dine here just this past weekend, and on someone else’s tab no less. How could I refuse?
The dining space is stunning. It is modern, but still warm.
We had front row seats to all the action. That’s pretty much the best way to dine in my opinion. We had a very large party of 10 guests. The dining format of Otium is small shared plates, which always makes it a bit tough to gauge portions. I picked the dishes, but let the waiter determine how many multiples of each dish to order. I think he went a bit overboard. The cuisine of Otium is definitely New American. Everything from Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East finds representation on the extensive menu.
Hiramasa romaine, korean chili, shishito, ponzu
We started with these Korean inspired lettuce wraps. There was a lot going on here, flavor and texture wise, which I appreciated. The main components, the hiramasa and the gochuchang, made the dish. It was a good start.
Amberjack yuzu, plum, chicharron
I don’t think I have ever had raw fish paired with chicharrones and fresh fruit. It was a unique combination of ingredients that worked.
Hamachi coriander, avocado, lemon, dill
This was definitely my favorite of the cold raw starters. I loved the creaminess of the avocado and all the other components which basically made for a deconstructed guacamole. The large crispy base was rich, possibly deep fried, and somewhat reminiscent of a wonton crossed with a pita chip. The hamachi probably got lost in all the other flavors but I didn’t mind too much.
Dry Aged Beef Tartare lavash, bulgur, yogurt, mint
While the last few dishes had “Asian” written all over it, the beef tartare definitely found its roots in the Middle East. It was a fine dish, but not something I would order again. The heavy dollop of yogurt was too much tang and goop for my liking.
Burrata Tart tomato, basil, curry, truffle
I didn’t realize some of my fellow diners didn’t eat raw things or appreciate cheese, so too bad for them because the burrata tart was delicious. The creaminess of the cheese paired against the tart tomatoes and fragrant basil was delightful. I wished for more truffle flavor.
Foie Gras Funnel Cake strawberry, fennel, balsamic
This is easily the WORST thing I have eaten all year. First off, the funnel cake was soggy! I ate it pretty soon after it arrived too. The oddly thick foie gras mousse did not go well with the sour strawberries and sweet sour balsamic goop. It’s September, so strawberries are no longer in season. Please do not serve mediocre strawberries. I really wanted to like it, but it was obvious that very few people at the table enjoyed it. We ordered 3 for the table and probably only 1 1/2 were finished. At $27 a pop, this was such a rip off and still makes me angry.
Ravioli ricotta, salsify, swiss chard, hazelnut, truffle
There were 4 pasta offerings, and our waiter recommended the ravioli. The pasta was well made, but the sauce was too acidic and distracting.
Falafel eggplant, cucumber, meyer lemon, chickpea
I don’t typically like falafel’s but someone else ordered these. They were actually pretty good, being very moist.
Duck kabocha squash, chestnut, brussels sprouts, cranberry relish
The waiter highly recommended the duck breast, lacquered in a sweet savory glaze.
It was carved tableside for quite the show.
The duck breast was well done, really quite juicy and meaty. There were some complaints that the skin could have been rendered better, but I don’t think that was what the chef was going for. I’m not sure the squash and Brussels sprouts were a harmonious combination with the duck.
Scallop endive, almond, passion fruit, garden cress
The Annoyer and I were quite fond of the scallops. They were extra seared on one side.
Donabe Barbequed Eel avocado, black rice, ponzu
The donabe is a Japanese earthenware pot. Tonight it contained eel and avocado that made me think of a fancy dragon roll. There wasn’t anything wrong with this dish, but at $36 it was severely overpriced.
Lobster green curry, fried mushrooms, scallions
I wished I had more stomach space to enjoy this beauty. The lobster was fresh, sweet, and perfectly cooked. The curry sauce had some kick and definitely brought something more exotic to the whole dinner. I’m not sure how the fried mushrooms fit into the picture, but they were good nonetheless.
St. Honore coffee, salted caramel, hazelnut
We were all pretty stuffed. But when it came time to order dessert I exclaimed “We’ll take one of each!” because I could. Because the meal was free. Coffee lovers would appreciate the delightful coffee cream. The puff pastry component was very crispy and almost difficult to stab through with our forks. The mini cream puffs were overwhelmed by a crispy caramelized sugar shell. Overall, good flavors but sort of difficult to eat.
Chocolate Torte plum, cocoa nib, olive oil
As fancy as it sounds, this was just a deeply rich dense chocolate cake. Good but nothing too interesting here.
Banana Cream Grand Macaron
I don’t like bananas too much, but this was tasty. Sandwiched between the macarons was lightly sweetened cream with bites of moist banana bread. Grand was certainly an appropriate description given the size of this thing.
Peach Leaf Ice Cream smoked peaches, honey meringue, pistachio almond crumble
The “ice cream special” was my least favorite of the desserts. The peach leaf and pit were made into this creamy concoction though it tasted more like almond extract than anything peach. I don’t like almond flavored things like this. The smokey peaches were reminiscent of a smokey ham or bacon. It was odd and unappealing. Thumbs down.
Summer Melons cheesecake mousse, chartreuse, honey
This was my favorite dessert. The icy granita tasted like candy, like Jolly Ranchers. The melons were a sweeter counterpart. The cheesecake mousse was a creamy component to round out the fruitiness.
Otium had some hits and misses. The cold and raw appetizers were solid. Things began to falter with the tartare and hit a low point with the terrible foie gras funnel cake. The scallops and lobster were solid. The price point of the eel and duck made those dishes very unsavory. The desserts were nice enough but nothing was too “wow” for me. I get that New American cuisine draws its inspiration from the global melting pot that is modern American culture. But somehow there needs to be some sense of focus or direction and I felt like Otium was globe trotting to its detriment. What is Otium about? The best I can conclude is nice ambiance, kinda ok food, and high prices. I don’t need to come back for that kind of experience.
10 – You NEED to eat here
9 – Awesome
8 – Very good
7 – Good
6 – OK
5 – Average
4 – Not bad
3 – Not good
2 – Terrible
1 – Do NOT eat here