To get to Otium, the newly opened and highly anticipated restaurant from Tim Hollingsworth, the chef whose credits include 13 years at the French Laundry, first you head to the Broad, Eli Broad's new museum in downtown Los Angeles. Even if you don't go inside the museum, you will go past it. This is not accidental. Otium opened a few weeks ago in partnership with the museum, which opened in September.
Thus you head to Grand Avenue, maybe past Disney Hall and the lines at the new museum, past the La Marzocco espresso cart that Otium has conveniently set up near the Broad's doors, past the copper heat lamps and fire pits and cabbages and rosemary and violets in the boxes that line the restaurant's outdoor patio, and into the restaurant itself. It is as beautiful as you'd think it would be.
Look up and you see hanging glass teardrops; look past the bar and you see a giant leafy wall mural that looks like a mash-up of things Neil Gaiman and Lewis Carroll would paint. Look past the cozy tables and into the open kitchen that dominates the space and you'll likely see Hollingsworth working near the wood-burning stove near the stacked firewood. The sense that you're inside the kitchen as much as outside of it is also not accidental.
Hollingsworth, who had moved from Los Angeles to open the Studio City barbecue restaurant Barrel & Ashes, says that partnering with both Eli Broad and Bill Chait, the prolific restaurateur who also owns Barrel & Ashes, was not exactly a tough decision.
"After leaving the French Laundry, it was my time to think," the chef said recently, standing in the center of his restaurant, a view of the Broad in one direction, Bunker Hill in the other. "Then this project came about, and it was too great to pass up." Otium is in a purpose-built two-story space that sits atop a bridge above Hope Street and has the windows to showcase the view. "Building your first restaurant on a bridge: Check that off the list!"
Hollingsworth says Otium is meant "to support the museum, to support the neighborhood. It needs to be more than just a restaurant." So inside, the kitchen and the dining room are fluid, the lines between the two purposefully blurred, the communal tables straddling both. There's an atrium upstairs with another communal table that will soon have a chef's garden, and where there will be cooking and gardening classes for kids.
"I'm reevaluating what I think fine dining is," says Hollingsworth, "and what's important. Everything has to have a purpose." Thus Otium is artful, but it is also pragmatic — both of which correlate nicely with the project of the museum and of Broad's other works. Or at least, that's the idea.
So there are vertical gardens from LA Urban Farms, tiles from Heath Ceramics, aprons by Hedley & Bennet, dishware from Irving Place Studio, as well as contributions from other local artists and providers. All those shiny pans? "Hestan nanobond technolog." Right. And then there's Hollingsworth's food, which is itself a pretty great example of practical art.
Hollingsworth is cooking what could be described as food that bridges the gap between his past and present, which is to say between the fine dining he spent most of his career cooking, the barbecue of his most recent restaurant (the Texas-born chef grew up in Northern California), and the somewhat more casual, market-driven food that describes the current dining scene in L.A. Thus, in those gorgeous ceramic bowls, he's putting ribbons of hamachi with avocado and tomatoes, or a salad of Little Gems with bottarga. And on the plates: a lobster roll with celery salt chips, or a tri-tip with fried egg rice and kimchi.
He's also playing with the many donabi pots that line the shelves in what might be described as his communal kitchen. A recent dish contained smoked sea bass collar that Hollingsworth served with a plate of banchan and sauces, which was about as pretty and well-wrought as you'd think it would be.
And if you still think Hollingsworth is only doing fine dining, consider that Otium not only has that espresso cart but weekend brunch to go with it. And that when the chef cooks with foie gras, he's lately been putting it into a funnel cake, a dish that would look right at home in the musuem's third floor, next to all those Jeff Koons balloons.
Otium is open Tuesday through Sunday (closed on Mondays, as is the Broad), Tuesdays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It will open for dinner on Dec. 8. 222 S. Hope St., Los Angeles, (213) 935-8500, otiumla.com.
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