Los Angeles is a city of art lovers. There are museums galore, galleries to suit any taste, murals around every corner, and exhibits so popular that lines form down the block on a regular basis. One such wildly popular attraction is The Broad, a giant perforated marshmallow of a museum in Downtown Los Angeles that houses works from some of modern art’s most notable figures. A visit requires advance tickets, a schlep through traffic, and some predictably expensive parking. It is fortunate then, that located just beside the glowing white behemoth is the pretty little wood-and-glass cube that is home to Otium, where the artistic experience extends beyond the visual and into the pleasures of the palate.
Inside, Chef Timothy Hollingsworth has created a gallery of his own. Every surface and detail of the restaurant has been carefully curated; handcrafted pottery and custom furniture is displayed alongside large-scale art installations. Food preparation is on display for all to see, as chefs roll out sheets of fresh pasta just inches from seated diners and a mid-meal leisurely stroll past the wood-fired ovens in the open kitchen is encouraged. As Hollingsworth discusses in a video series created by Life & Thyme, Otium is at its heart a collaborative effort - each element has been lovingly made by an artisan, each inspired by the passions of their fellow makers, all adding up to a singularly unique experience.
Served atop hand-thrown ceramic plates and bowls, Hollingsworth’s food is as much an artistic statement as any piece in the museum next door. On paper, each dish is a simple list of ingredients; in person, an inventive assemblage worthy of a canvas. The level of artistry displayed is most commonly found in fine dining establishments, yet Otium offers it in an approachable, relaxed manner appropriate for a casual family dinner or a quick lunch after perusing the galleries nearby.
Brunch is a perfect time to experience Otium’s offerings, when mid-morning light floods the airy space and the outdoor patio overlooks views of families gathering in the grassy park out front. Refreshing summer cocktails are offered in abundance, and a menu full of small, shareable dishes encourages a slow, relaxed dining experience.
We started our recent brunch with a simple cocktail called a Maid, in which vibrant green cucumber and mint mingle with vodka and simple syrup to create a bright, refreshing sip. Served with a block of crystal-clear ice and a sprig of fresh mint, it was beautiful in its simplicity. We also sampled some lattes made with almond milk - in to-go cups, so we could sip them slowly and take them with us - a delicious option for those looking for a bit of caffeine with their brunch.
Our group of three shared four dishes, the first of which was a salad with avocado, beets, wild rice, amaranth, grapefruit, radishes, and miso. The clever preparation of the ingredients - grapefruit char-grilled, rice crisped, sauce pooled underneath - transformed a simple salad into something unexpected.
Next was the Mole: blue corn tortillas and fried eggs smothered in a rich chocolatey sauce, drizzled with crema, and sprinkled with cotija and cilantro. With an ingredient for every color of the rainbow and its array of sauces arranged with painterly flair, this dish felt the most like it deserved to be framed and hung on the wall. Its flavors lived up to its beauty, as well - the richness of the mole, the runny egg, and the avocado played nicely against the spice, tang, and crunch offered by the dish’s colorful toppings.
We couldn’t resist the Hoe Cake (both its name and description charmed us immediately), a crunchy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside cornmeal cake that hovered somewhere between sweet and savory. On top, it was festooned with generously dressed kale, thin slices of bright red peppers, and crispy fried nuggets of chicken. This dish’s unexpected texture combinations proved satisfying and fun, and its flavors were paired expertly.
Last but certainly not least, we opted for a side of crispy potatoes with lemon salt, Aleppo pepper, and crème fraîche. When visiting an art gallery, it’s important to remember that it is not always the largest painting in the room that is the most impressive - sometimes it’s the tiny little portrait tucked in the corner that will leave you awestruck. These potatoes are that portrait. Hiding so humbly at the bottom of the menu, you might pass them by without a second thought - but that would be a grave mistake. These are perfectly prepared, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and seasoned with aplomb. On the side, a velvety dipping sauce, whipped to creamy perfection with a generous amount of spice. They’re heaven in a side dish.
Providing sustenance for both the eyes and for the belly, Otium is the perfect ode to a city that is nearly as obsessed with its art as it is with its food.
222 South Hope Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012