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First Bite: All the paella and tapas at Otoño in Highland Park

First Bite: All the paella and tapas at Otoño in Highland Park
The Mariscos paella, with prawns, mussels, squid, lobster fumet and sherry aioli, at Otoño in Highland Park. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Otoño is the new restaurant from chef Teresa Montaño, formerly of beloved Pasadena Spanish spot Ración. Most of the menu is in the tapas section, a mix of vegetables, seafood and Spanish jamón; larger dishes include paella, fideuà and market-driven mains.

Where you are:

On the trendy stretch of Figueroa in Highland Park, in one recently renovated piece of the massive crater created when Frank’s Camera vacated the location in 2015.

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The new complex is home to Triple Beam pizza and Hippo restaurant, and in the block or two south there are bars, boutiques, two record stores and one breakfast taco spot.

A view of the dining area of Otoño in Highland Park.
A view of the dining area of Otoño in Highland Park. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Where you’re sitting:

The best seats are at the bar, particularly if you can snag the stools at the end. From there you can look into the kitchen on one side and down the length of the winding room on the other, taking in the street art-style mural on the north wall, the rustic-chic décor that meticulously manages to feel haphazard, the exposed brick and mile-high ceiling, and the menagerie of well-heeled locals digging into plates of house-cured tuna confit, patatas bravas fried like churros, and wide, shallow pans of paella.

What you’re eating:

Start with the tapas, particularly the expertly fried croquetas, especially those filled with jamón serrano and cow’s milk or sweet corn and mushroom with goat’s milk. The breading is thin but resilient and will maintain its shape even after you’ve taken a bite and the filling has started to run down your fingers.

The Vaca Vieja, 10-ounce dry-aged, mindful meats organic dairy beef New York strip, beef fat and charcoal potatoes and black garlic at Otoño in Highland Park.
The Vaca Vieja, 10-ounce dry-aged, mindful meats organic dairy beef New York strip, beef fat and charcoal potatoes and black garlic at Otoño in Highland Park. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

When you wade deeper into the menu, look for a dry-aged strip steak with beef fat potatoes and black garlic sauce, a beer-braised octopus tentacle with summer beans, and a chilled almond and garlic soup.

The other reason to sit at the bar

The cocktails are fabulous, especially the Gin Tonics. On the menu, each is described simply with a gin, a tonic and a little twist such as a dash of olive brine, a sprig of rosemary smacked to order, or a pod of star anise resting on a thick cube of ice in an impossibly thin-stemmed wine glass. Each adds a layer of complexity, sharpening the drinks in a way that complements the food too..

Oh, right, paella:

Though it may be tempting to spend much of your time at the top of the menu, at the bottom of the page is the section of paella and fideuà, with three options that can be made with either rice or noodles. The Mariscos includes whole shrimp and other sea creatures resting on a bed of oceanic, lobster-infused rice. Negra is black with squid ink and bolstered by the addition of dashi; the Verduras is full of vegetables and brightened by the addition of salsa verde.

Whichever you order will arrive in a wide pan, the rice spread thin across its bottom. Underneath whatever headlining topping you’ve ordered you’ll find the miracle known as socarrat, a crispy, savory crust of almost burnt rice at the bottom of the pan that is the true reward of properly made paella.

Otoño: 5715 N. Figueroa St., Highland Park; www.otonorestaurant.com.

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