Not many wine programs show off their wine racks quite like Otium, the lavish new restaurant flanking the Broad museum in downtown Los Angeles. Its wine stash isn't tucked away in an air-conditioned closet. Instead, it's virtually a centerpiece, adjacent the open-air kitchen, a glass walled, temperature-controlled room equipped with rolling ladders and towering racks — a two-story, above-ground cellar.
Otium's multifunction wine program consists of a medium to large selection (300 and counting) that bridges new and old Old World and the newest of the New World, staying abreast of chef Timothy Hollingsworth's eclectic menu while forging new territory all its own. Elizabeth Huettinger's list is grand in spots — deep in white and red Burgundy, in American Pinot Noir, respectable in Bordeaux and in Napa Cabernet. Many other wine regions get a nod, including Argentina, Austria, Slovenia and Spain, with a special fondness, it would seem, for South Africa, in particular the spectacular wines of Eben Sadie.
Huettinger is an alumna of Spago, where she assisted master sommelier Christopher Miller. Huettinger herself is credentialed and is sitting for her master's theory test in March. Prior to Spago, she directed the wine program at the Addison at the Grand Del Mar in San Diego and at Aubergine at l'Auberge in Carmel — every one of these a flashy, award-winning or award-worthy wine program.
Otium's is no different. And yet Huettinger's two-pronged list is only half highfalutin — the intention, it seems, with both the food menu and the wine list is to attract the well-heeled and the flip-flopped, to reflect, in part, the zeitgeist of Angeleno dining. Among Loire whites, for example, the wines of Loire legend Didier Dagueneau are represented. On such a high-profile wine program you'd expect this, but you wouldn't expect a Saumur such as the Domaine des Roches Neuves "L'Insolite" (insolite means unusual), a razor sharp, natural-leaning, bistro-style Chenin Blanc that might indeed be considered unusual for such a high-profile list.
Two other things make the wine service at Otium stand out. The first is simple but helpful: If you order a wine by the glass, Huettinger or one of her floor sommeliers, Jessica Edson, Ryli Bose or Blair Power, pours it tableside so you can see what you're drinking and make a connection with the wine you've selected. Obviously this takes more time, but it's a wonder more restaurants don't do this.
The other innovation is subtler and possibly more controversial. When you arrive at Otium, you're presented with a menu and a beverage card, a four-fold list of spirits, cocktails, beers and ciders, and wine — not just by the glass, but an abridged sampling — about one-fifth of the full wine list appears there. It's neither the most accessible nor the least expensive — the Little List amounts to a littler cross section of the Big List. Is this helpful? To the guest who doesn't want to spend time poring over a longer document, sure. To others, it may seem short shrift, a book that invites you to judge it by its cover.
The wines and staff of Otium restaurant
Wine director: Elizabeth Huettinger
Floor sommeliers: Jessica Edson, Ryli Bose, Blair Power
Number of wines on the list: approximately 300, 60% red, 40% white, 20% domestic.
Least expensive: $40 (2013 Hugel Pinot Blanc and others)
Most expensive: $2,400 (2012 Chateau Petrus)
Median bottle price: $85
Number of wines by the glass: 21
Particular strengths: Red and white Burgundy, Oregon and California Pinot Noir, top tier South African wines.
Food-wine pairing: Huettinger pairs chef Timothy Hollingsworth's foie gras on funnel cake and strawberries with a sparkling, off-dry Patrick Bottex Bugey-Cerdon from the Savoie region of France. "It echoes some of those balsamic strawberry notes of the dish while breaking up the fat with a hit of acidity," she says.
Most exciting wines by the glass: A delicate, dry Chenin Blanc from 2013 Beaumont in the Bot River region of South Africa; a splendid Nero d'Avola from the esteemed Sicilian producer Cos, a saturated red with gorgeous cherry fruit, firmly expressed, with lip-smacking acidity.
Wine the chef has with his/her meal: "Riesling of all kinds," Huettinger says. "Recently I've been pouring him Ovum 'Memorista' from Eola-Amity Hills in Oregon; it really works with his food, plus it's super clean and refreshing after the shift, very easy to drink."