Otium at The Broad

The last time my husband and I explored The Broad, we strolled over to the contemporary urban Otium restaurant designed by architect Osvaldo Maiozzi. With its striking box-like design, we peeked inside and admired the soaring ceiling and handmade glass pieces that resembled falling raindrops. The open elegant kitchen is near a long bar with floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with bottles lined up like soldiers. Bartenders were climbing and pushing the tall, rolling ladder from side to side to grab bottles up near the top. It was lively and fun, so we made a note to come back another time for dinner.

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Grilled octopus is brightened with a squeeze of lemon and complemented with tzatziki spread. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

With tickets in hand to the opening night of “Jersey Boys” at the Ahmanson Theatre, we decided to make an impromptu visit to Otium for a pre-theater dinner. Without reservations, we were seated at a long communal table next to another couple from Manhattan Beach. It was their first time dining at Otium too, before seeing a show at the nearby Walt Disney Concert Hall.

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We told our server we had theatre tickets for the 8 p.m. show and needed to leave by 7:45 p.m. He assured us that he would do his best, and recommended a few dishes that could be prepared quickly.

The chef of Otium, Timothy Hollingsworth, was once the chef de cuisine at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, earning the distinctive James Beard Rising Star Chef award in 2010, so we were expecting a great meal.

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Even though we were dining indoors, it was near the outdoor patio, offering views of the 100-year-old olive trees gracing The Broad’s park-like plaza. Looking up, we gazed in wonder at the restaurant’s open mezzanine with a private dining area and vertical garden created by LA Urban Farms. Hollingsworth utilizes its herbs, vegetables and edible flowers to enhance each menu item.

The wine list offers more than 20 wines by the glass – some as much as $22 per glass – and an extensive offering of bottled wine. If you prefer to bring your own bottle, a $35 corkage fee applies.

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Freshly baked bread arranged in a cloverleaf pattern arrived in a mini cast-iron skillet glistening with butter, chopped chives, herbs and a sprinkling of sea salt.

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A plate of wood-fired octopus arrived next with a long tentacle sticking straight up saluting us. Hollingsworth combines octopus with a variety of spices, maybe a bay leaf, a pinch of thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. I’m sure he squeezed fresh lemon before and after grilling. The octopus was served on tzatziki spread with thinly sliced cucumber medallions and pickled red onion ribbons with a few arugula leaves offering a peppery enhancement.

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Another dish from the sea was the ceviche made with a combination of kanpachi (Amberjack or Japanese yellowfish), sliced squid, chopped green tomatoes, shrimp and avocado. A few squeezes of lime juice, chopped parsley, salt and thinly sliced aji peppers dazzled the fresh and chunky ceviche served in an artistic blue Irving Place Studios hand-thrown ceramic bowl.

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Avocado and grapefruit salad.

Our waiter recommended the falafel plate, with four deep-fried, ground chickpea balls placed on a puree of chickpea and eggplant with cucumber, Meyer lemon, parsley and micro greens. There wasn’t anything spectacular about this small mezze plate for $17. I’m unsure why our server singled it out, however his suggestion aboutthe grapefruit avocado salad was a winner, with ancient amaranth grains, thinly sliced radish, a sprinkling of sesame seeds and glaze of miso dressing.

Even though the service was friendly, our dishes took longer coming out of the kitchen than we had hoped. While apologizing repeatedly, our server inquired in the kitchen about my husband’s poached halibut several times, before finally bringing it out. At almost $40, it was a disappointing piece of bland fish, with an unmemorable Green Goddess glaze on top of a jardiniere of mixed vegetables and caramelized onions.

We paid our bill and ran to the theater as the lights were dimming. Fortunately, the show was better than our experience at Otium and the evening ended on a high note.

The restaurant is open for weekend brunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., lunch from Tuesday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., snacks Tuesday through Sunday from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., and dinner nightly starting at 5:30 p.m. Closed on Mondays. $$$ 222 S. Hope St. (213)935-8500.

This review was also featured in the June 1, 2017 Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

Best Dining View Spot in LA – 71Above

The skyline in downtown Los Angeles has been transformed over the past few years. The US Bank Tower, erected in 1990, didn’t move or add more floors, but took things outside. OUE Skyspace opened the LA Skyslide in June, a 45 foot plunge outside of the building. The four-inch thick, clear glass slide, affixed 1,000 feet high to an open air observation deck is quite a thrilling ride.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

Also new to the US Bank Tower is the restaurant 71 Above, named so for its location on the 71st floor of the iconic building. Panoramic views from the sea to the mountains make 71 Above a must-see destination.

Dining is available in the main dining room, at the Chef’s table, in semi-private dining or at casual seating in the bar. All of the menus are prix fixe, with the option of adding wine pairings.

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

The Chef’s table experience offers multi-course modern American menus from executive chef Vartan Abgaryan (previously at Cliff’s Edge at the Sunset Triangle) and his culinary team.

In the semi-private dining area, with views stretching from the Los Angeles basin to the San Gabriel Mountains and the Inland Empire, I enjoyed a three-course lunch with a group of friends.

We started with a choice of starters that included a creamy sunchoke soup with a sweet garlic puree, creme fraiche, smoked trout and dill. Our server described the flavor profile as a bagel with lox in a bowl.

Salad photo by Jill Weinlein
Salad photo by Jill Weinlein

I ordered the sea salt roasted beet salad with golden beet wedges, thinly sliced pickled beet medallions dotting a colorful array of greens, tart pink grapefruit sections, and a side of pleasing white pistachio flan.

My friend shared her heartier ricotta gnocchi with slightly fried pasta, sweet and sour carrot slices, chervil cheese and a slightly spicy chorizo Bolognese sauce. It was delicious.

Halibut photo by Jill Weinlein
Halibut photo by Jill Weinlein

The entrées included a nice slice of pan-fried halibut with crispy skin on a bed of sweet heirloom tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and pearl onions. The dish was glazed with aged sherry and a little coriander and tarragon.

My friend Shaena ordered the scallops, three large pieces resting next to asparagus spears, wild mushrooms, parsley and pretty micro flowers. What made this dish dazzle was a splash of Banyuls vinegar, made from a sweet wine from the southern region of France that borders Spain, and is more mellow than acidic red wine vinegar.

Scallops photo by Jill Weinlein
Scallops photo by Jill Weinlein

Other dishes include a Southern-style pasta made with durum wheat conchiglie and topped with shrimp, corn, chive, lime and Creole spices.

Vegetarians at the table enjoyed a dish of roasted zucchini with sunburst squash, garlic, pine nuts and a generous heaping of Parmesan cheese.

For dessert, we sampled a caramel custard made with a white vanilla soy gelee with a truffle-almond praline and a scoop of coconut sorbet. A sprinkling of pork and maple powder gave it a umami essence. Peaches and cream with sliced peaches were topped with peaks of black tea mascarpone gels. Classic white chocolate cremeux, that is similar in texture to pudding, was also served. The plate also had a matcha marshmallow and a sprinkling of candied lemon zest to create a sweet, yet slightly tart treat.

Elegant dessert photo by Jill Weinlein
Elegant dessert photo by Jill Weinlein

For a special occasion dining experience in the tallest building in Los Angeles, 71 Above will thrill you in views, cuisine and dining experience. There is self-parking and valet parking at the entrance of the US Bank Tower. Valet is $10 for the first three hours.

Reservations can be made on their website, and payment in full gives you a “ticket” with the number of guests and time of the reservation. Pricing is variable and depends on the menu.

USB Building photo by Jill Weinlein
USB Building photo by Jill Weinlein

Open for lunch and dinner on Monday through Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. On Thursday and Friday, 71Above stays open until midnight. On Saturday and Sunday the restaurant is open only for dinner starting at 5 p.m. $$$ 633 W. 5th St. (213)712-2683.

This was featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on October 20, 2016.

NOLA Cuisine in Downtown LA – Preux & Proper

IMG_0906I was sad to see Casey Lane’s gastropub, Parish close last year, because it was a fun spot to gather with friends in downtown LA. Guests walked upstairs to the main dining area to order Lane’s grilled 16 oz. Niman Ranch, bone-in, beef rib-eye marinated in a chimichurri sauce with warm caramelized figs. The waitstaff sure built up their leg muscles walking up and down the stairs from the kitchen to the dining room.

The beautiful, two-story Flatiron building didn’t stay vacant for too long, at the corner of Spring and Main. The owners of Hollywood’s New Orleans-style bar and restaurant, FiveOFour, Joshua Kopel and Mark Egland took over the building and made some renovations.

They hired Rebel Design Group known for their innovative hospitality work. Downstairs they created a lively bar serving frozen slush-style daiquiri machines, Punch bowls that serve four to six guests with flavors that include lemon smash, blackberry honey sour and drunken watermelon. Guests walk up to the counter for creative cocktail service and stay to socialize with friends and other guests.

Upstairs is another bar and sit down table service. The decor is a little New Orleans and a little Restoration Hardware. Wood floors below white paned floor to ceiling windows. Black banquette seating with white walls and boxed mirrors decorate the room. The ceiling is exposed with electrical wiring and wood beams.IMG_0909_2

Honoring New Orleans cuisine, the owners of Preux & Proper hired the talented chef Michael Ruiz, who cooked at Cobras & Matadors and the Morrison in Atwater Village.

Both Kopel and Egland didn’t like the idea of servers and busboys running up and down the stairs with hot plates and empty dishes. They felt it created an accident bound to happen, so they took installed two dumbwaiters to deliver Ruiz’s food from the kitchen up to the second floor oyster bar area in seconds.

Looking over the menu, we met our delightful server Jessica. I started my NOLA culinary adventure with a mint julep daiquiri served in a white Styrofoam cup with a straw. It wasn’t too sweet and very refreshing.

IMG_0905_2My husband sipped the pretty West Side cocktail with Grey Goose vodka, lime, Orgeat, cucumber, mint and angostura bitters. Both went well with the lightly fried smoked shrimp beignets served with a preserved lemon tartar sauce. They were filled with lot’s of shrimp pieces and fun to pop in our mouth.

On the share plates section they also offer a muffaletta board with cured meats, cheese, olive, fig jam and grilled bread. Guests get to make their own muffaletta creation.

Couples sitting near us were drinking moonshine-based cocktails, while enjoying crispy frog legs with chilies and coriander seeds, and a dish called debris hash brisket with belly potatoes and a bacon-onion jam with a soft egg.

The duo sitting right next to us remarked that the crab cakes had too much homny and crispy black corn and not enough crab flavor.
Of course this New Orleans-style restaurant has Po’ Boys. At Preux & Proper, they have a fried oyster Po’ Boy and lobster Po’ Boy. IMG_0916We selected the lobster served on a Bread Bar bun. It lacked big hunks of lobster and was more like a smoother lobster salad with a avocado-remoulade with a touch of hot sauce.

Almost everything on the menu goes well with the slightly sweet and tart pickles with sliced red peppers. The also make crunchy Cajun corn nuts that offer a kick and go well with cold craft beer.

My favorite dish was the heavenly warm kale and quinoa with shaved parmesan, chopped almonds and a dazzle of sherry. It was delicious.

We ended the evening with a satisfying slice of pecan pie bar with with Jameson ice cream.

Jessica told us the owners want to bring more of the excitement of Bourbon Street nightlife to downtown L.A. with themed events and music. They are hoping to attract Saints fans during football seasons.

The restaurant opens at 4 p.m. daily for happy hour and dinner service begins at 6 to 11 p.m. The bars stay open until 2 a.m. daily. Chef Mike Ruiz is planning lunch and weekend brunch service to be offered soon. $$ 840 S. Spring St. (213)896-0090.

This article was published in the February 18, 2015 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.