Otium - The Emperor's New Clothes

I’ve enjoyed some dishes at Barrel & Ashes, Chef Tim Hollingsworth’s first L.A. restaurant. But the newly opened Otium in Downtown L.A. is supposed to be the flagship; the main restaurant he’s wanted to open. Formerly of The French Laundry, and seeing some hits at Barrel & Ashes, I was mildly curious what Otium might be like.

Then thanks to @J_L’s first report, my expectations were tempered. How I should’ve listened more carefully…

Sitting in front of the new Broad Museum with a gorgeous courtyard, walking to Otium inherently builds expectations.

Once inside, there’s a sleek, modern design and nice open kitchen.

The menu reads simply and intriguingly. Dry Aged Beef Tartare, Lavash, Bulgur, Yogurt, Mint:

It sounds pretty awesome. Then we eat it: All you taste is a heavy blast of Middle Eastern spices, tart Yogurt. The Dry Aged Beef might as well have been omitted from the dish, you couldn’t taste ANY of it. :frowning: Disappointing.

Foie Gras Funnel Cake, Strawberry, Fennel, Balsamic:

This dish sounded ridiculous and interesting, so we had to try it, LOL. :laughing: Surprisingly it worked! The Foie Gras was woven into the cream and added just a touch of the buttery, savory aspect to a sweet Funnel Cake. This could’ve been dessert, but either way, it started to grow on you.

Cauliflower, Grapes, Almond, Cilantro, Sultana:

The Cauliflower had a nice char. Seemed fine, but nothing to get excited over.

Donabe Smoked Hiramasa Pastrami, Beet, Potato, Rye, Thousand Island:

The presentation is gorgeous: A large earthen pot is brought to the table, and the waiter removes the lid, revealing a waft of smoke as you see the Yellowtail Amberjack “Pastrami” slices. Everyone at the table got excited.

Unfortunately, the Hiramasa was just… OK. There’s a light smokiness, the fish is sliced competently, but it never elevates beyond the individual ingredients. It tasted like you were eating a bit of fish, a bit of potato, a bit of beet.

At this point, the kitchen completely forgot about our Oysters (and other orders). We waited 45 MINUTES before our next dish came out. With no apologies given either. :frowning:

Oyster, Shallot Mignonette, Horseradish “Snow”:

It was only after it arrived that I remembered @J_L’s massively disappointing experience with this. Why, oh why, didn’t I remember that when ordering? :sweat:

The oysters were just like what JL mentioned: Super overpowered by the Mignonette, and the Horseradish Snow made each oyster feel sub-zero, iced up. Awful! :frowning:

Anson Mills Polenta, Marscarpone, Black Truffle:

This showed up 45 minutes later, but thankfully it was pretty delish! It was a creamy Polenta, and the fresh-shaved Black Truffles really elevated the dish. Even with all of that, I thought it was a bit too salty, but solid.

Spaghetti, Cauliflower, Curry, Sea Urchin:

I’m always glad to try a new incarnation of the famous Japanese pasta dish “Uni Pasta,” so I couldn’t wait. Sadly, this was just oddly tart, the Curry overpowering what should be the star of the dish (Uni (Sea Urchin)). Compared to Raku’s Live Uni Udon - one of the BEST dishes I’ve had in 2015 - and it wasn’t even close. Raku’s Uni pasta dish elevated the Uni and was sublime. Otium’s version was just no bueno. :frowning:

50 Day Dry Aged Beef Ribeye, Bone Marrow, Bordelaise:

Fancy presentation with homemade Mashed Potatoes, topped with Oven Roasted Fingerling Potatoes (those were spot on, creamy, excellent), and Bone Marrow, which was great as well.

But the real surprise was the 50 Day Dry Aged Ribeye: Just AWESOME! :smile: THIS is the type of execution I was expecting when visiting Otium, and seeing Chef Hollingsworth’s experience at Barrel & Ashes. There was a gorgeous sear on the Dry Aged Ribeye.

Juicy, tender, beefy. Seriously better than most Steak Houses I’ve tried in L.A.

The service was non-existent for most of the night. We seriously didn’t see our server for extended periods of time, nor even busboys. They forgot 2 dishes completely, took 45 minutes between dishes, and offered no apologies.

And yet we were charged 18% “Service Charge” on our bill, with no recourse. THIS is why I hate this new trend with restaurants forcing automatic “tipping” on the bill. We clearly had bad service, bad mistakes throughout our meal and a sub par meal overall (most of the dishes), yet we’re forced to pay 18% tip (Service Charge) for that experience. :unamused:

In the end this meal was almost $450! The place was packed, and everyone seemed to be laughing and smiling. But all we thought was, “What a waste of money and an evening.” :frowning: For us this was like The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Lastly, Google Maps will get you lost (check the address note below):

Otium
(Do NOT use this address to GPS / Google Map it. It’ll take you someplace else.)
222 South Hope Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Enter in this Address instead and it’ll take you up to the proper Entrance and Valet:

225 S. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tel: 213-935-8500

http://otiumla.com/

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Good report, although your experience sounded not so good. Is there hope though? It seems impossible that a chef of his pedigree would struggle so much, but I certainly believe your and JL’s reviews…

It would be awesome if he figures things out sooner rather than later. Downtown could always use a spot like this.

One of the challenges for this restaurant during dinner is the very large menu which I think made the execution of each dish somewhat of a challenge (can’t comment on lunch because I only tried dinner). I agree on the oysters and the uni pasta (both did not work for me as well). However, we had 3 of the raw fish dishes and we liked them a lot. The ribeye was definitely the high light of the dinner. I think the restaurant needs a bit of time to work on the menu and possibly simplify it. I plan to return in a few months when they have some time to settle in on the dinner menu.

Our service was spot on when we were there on 12/23.

Was the bucatini with clams and bacon not available? For me it’s the best sounding dish there and neither you nor JL ordered it. You guys have me reconsidering my res there next week.

Noted: Avoid the oyster dish.

You have the same recourse you do at any other business where you got bad service: complain to the manager.

Sounds like they were understaffed, didn’t properly cover for servers on their meal breaks, and the kitchen was in the weeds. The people responsible for those problems wouldn’t get tips anyway.

At Bouchon (ironically a TKG restaurant) they totally forgot my entree of all things. I was sitting there eating pomme frites so I asked where my food was. The manager came by and gave a massive apology and asked if there was anything they could do to rectify the situation. Being a fan of their bakery, I asked for just a simple assortment of pastries (love the apple croissant and cheese Danish) which they gladly agreed. But they also sliced the next table over and brought out copious amounts of food for my dining companion to eat so I wouldn’t be eating alone as well as food for me to eat so I wasn’t just sitting there. And I am not talking 1-2 dishes, but like 5-6 different things on top of my pastry assortment packaged to go. Then we get our bill and it was comped. No charge. They packaged all of the uneaten food to go as well and we had a great meal leftover. I left a huge tip and as I sit here now telling this story, it is free publicity for them in what they turned a horrible experience into a memorable story.

Says a lot about how important customer service is. Even acknowledging they were wrong and a gracious apology goes a long way, especially if you are paying $$$$$.

I almost felt guilt for taking all of the free food (almost) they gave me. Perhaps I did, given that I left a generous tip.

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Nice report @Chowseeker1999

How big was your party? Not sure if you mentioned it or not.

And sorry to hear about the poor service.

Thanks @set0312. Hope? Perhaps. I definitely see some flashes of brilliance (the 50 Day Dry Aged Ribeye is fantastic, truly). The Foie Gras Funnel Cake is fun, odd, yet works. The vast majority of the other stuff was disappointing or just tasted like “gussied up” dishes to show off.

At this price point it’s very hard to consider to return for now. I wish them the best and perhaps things will change.

@KTLA thanks for your report back as well. Sounds like you didn’t like the oysters or uni pasta either. :frowning: Glad you liked the Ribeye.

I think you’re right about the # of dishes on the menu and trying to execute them all, well, during the first month or two.

@Porthos: The Bucatini with Clams was available. It did sound interesting, but I love any type of Uni Pasta and was very curious what Chef Hollingsworth might do with that dish (sadly, not something very good).

I trust your thoughts Porthos, so give it a try, but order with caution. Yes, avoid the oysters LOL. :wink:

I would not cancel.
I have to disagree with @Chowseeker1999 I think the Emperor most definitely has some - spectacularly beautiful - clothes.
Yes, the place is working out kinks, not every dish works, but those that do are the majority and are a revelation - this is a first-rate addition to the LA dining scene.
I have not had any time to write it up but we ( a group of 6) had a fantastic meal there about a week and 1/ 2 ago.
The highlight was a pig foot stuffed with a divine pork, truffle, potato mixture. This dish could have easily fallen down through the ages, straight off the table of a 16th Century European King’s Wedding feast. It was incredibly hard to stop eating. Probably the best thing I ate in 2015.

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Pork foot looks amazing. Special order or was that on the menu?

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IIRC, it was an unwritten, verbally presented, addition to the menu; as in, "Tonight, Chef has prepared X number of […] and we have Y left."
I am sure you could request in advance.

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I agree that, if you’re that dissatisfied w/ the menu, you should send an e-mail to management. Even if you’ve written the place off (and I certainly wouldn’t blame you, after your experience), it at least gives them a chance to fix it for future diners.

This was another of the best dishes in 2015 for me as well.

We had plenty of beef on this and it was great.

PS @Chowseeker1999
I am not maliciously trying to contest your review - you had a so-so experience and that sucks, especially for what was likely expected to be a fire-cracker finale to a year of dining. It is just that I normally agree with your thoughts and love your posts, so I find dischtomy between your experince and mine worth highlighting, nothing personal but R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

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@CiaoBob thanks for your thoughts. Word.

Definitely agree, we usually see eye-to-eye and have similar experiences. :slightly_smiling:

Yah for us Otium was definitely a disappointment, but maybe we just ordered most of the bad dishes. The Ribeye was seriously amazing though, and the Polenta with Black Truffles were very good.

As an FYI, that Pig’s Foot dish you showed was not on the menu (nor as a special) when we went, so I guess it shows up randomly once in a while? It looked delicious.

With the misfire dishes (the majority), poor service, forgetting 2 dishes completely, bad pacing, and no apologies, and expensive bill, it just left a bad taste in our mouths.

I’d go back for the Pig’s Foot if I knew it was a special that day though. :slightly_smiling: Thanks.

@A5KOBE we had 3 people, so it was about $150 per person. Just felt lacking at that price point.

Thanks @robert. Definitely, I was thinking about letting the manager know… except the place was such a mad house that we couldn’t get a hold of a manager as we were leaving (the front of the house was mobbed with people, and after waiting around a bit (and not seeing anyone that looked like a manager in the area), we just left. We had other plans afterwards, so I couldn’t wait around too long.

Man, Otium remains controversial…just uploading photos to my Instagram of this place spark texts from multiple people wondering how it was lol

Otium is a strange place. I would have enjoyed it more without all of the hype and PR. What is it about this place that it is working so hard at selling itself based on every pretentious label imaginable? They have a “making of” video, and their website bills them as making “rustic cooking with wood fire…”, and also “Otium strips away the formalities of dining while focusing on the quality of food, warm service, and relaxed casual ambiance.” Ok, so, like every other good restaurant in LA?

First, the service is perhaps too relaxed. It can take a long time for anyone to ask you if you want anything. It seems clear that staff are trying not to be pressing or pestering, but it comes close to feeling like you are literally at a friend’s house, and expected to make your own drinks, put together your own plate of food, etc… a little bit too far on the “hands off” approach. We were only asked how we liked the place twice, once before we had ordered anything at all, which I found strange. I responded that we hadn’t ordered anything so I had no idea how the place was as of yet, to which the staff member seemed bewildered and said, “No, I meant like, the vibe of the place?? Isn’t it amazing??” … I guess that tells you a lot about what kind of place Otium is, less of a restaurant than it is a relaxed “hangout” for the wealthy class. Good shit. Later we were asked how things were after finishing the meal, I remarked about a bit of grit in a clam in the pasta, which got zero return comment…as if the staff had not even been prepared for even the slightest hint of criticism about the food, so clearly it’s taken for granted that everything at the place is “amazing”.

The formalities of dining mostly remain as well, so it’s hard to figure out what formalities have been stripped away. I guess the only thing I will give them with their rustic definition is that there is a definition of the word that means “simple”, and if you can say anything good about the food it is that they do achieve a pleasant simplicity in most of the dishes.

To be honest, I will probably have to go back, as I was just there for a bit of comfort food, and I ordered fairly “safe”.

The Fluke was pleasant enough, although the brushstrokes of black sauce were really just to give the plate an appearance of a Motherwell painting, as there was no really good way to get the sauce onto the actual bites of fish on cracker. Still, despite how it looks, the simple juiciness of pear, bursts of brine from the roe, and earthy pungency from the nori cracker did not overpower the delicate fluke, and it ultimately was an enjoyable dish highlighting each of its ingredients in a colorful flavor palatate.

Shortrib Pierogi were by far my personal favorite dish. No one else makes great pierogi in LA sadly, so this struck a particular cord with me. These are about as good as pierogi get. Plated incredibly preciously, but no matter, they conjured up the sumptuous delights of pierogi served in dark taverns in Greenpoint Brooklyn so more than good enough for me. I would be super happy to just return to Otium to each several plates of these. Of course, at $6 a piece, one could potentially feel somewhat ripped off I guess.

Finally, the safe pasta choice of Spinach Bucatini with Clams, Bacon and Creme Fraiche. Simple, safe flavors, done well. Maybe the pasta could’ve been a touch more al dente, but had the proper chew for me. Everything blended quite well. Some might have liked more clam flavor, more brine, but I thought it was comforting enough to be solid. I enjoyed the more even mixture here to most other clam pastas I’ve had; kind of a lighter clam carbonara that was quite tasty. A bit of grit in one of the clams was only slightly marring/disappointing…and only because the restaurant builds itself up on being this temple of perfection.

Overall, I’d go back. But I haven’t seen anything ambitious yet other than the ambition to make pierogi when no one else will. It’s more like a sort of hangout spot for the wealthy, like eating in a modern art gallery basically. Highly enjoyable, but there are definitely certain pretenses at play, even if the food is not necessarily so. It would have been a million times better to just stumble into Otium without hearing all the hype, or reading all of the strange press about it… I’d say I’ll go back to dive in deeper as I didn’t experience any of the massive misses most people have been reporting, and that makes me think that at least they may be improving the cooking.

That’s a good sign (and nearly too much) - there is hardly anything more annoying than somebody reguarly asking “how everything is” in a restaurant

I actually tend to agree with you… but I would like to be asked how things are AFTER I have tasted the food, not within 5 minutes of sitting down before I’ve ordered anything at all. I would rather only be asked once at the end of the meal in that case. I felt as if I was expected to extoll adoration just based on the sleek design of the space, rather than the quality of the cooking or anything else for that matter. Not sure if that makes sense?

If you are someone that is looking for ambiance over cooking then Otium is fucking fantastic. I can hardly think of anywhere better in the entire city that is better, maybe only comparable. Personally, I just don’t dine based purely on atmosphere though shrugs

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