Hotel dining is not known for good value. Openaire, the newish poolside restaurant that replaced Roy Choi’s Commissary at the Line Hotel in Koreatown, is no exception.
The portions are small, carafes of sparkling water cost $5, the avocado toast is $16, and there is no validated parking.
In Openaire’s defense, that avocado toast is a beauty: a thick mortarboard of chunky, thickly spread avocado on seedy bread, lavished on top with emerald curls of freshly snipped herbs and thin-sliced chiles.
You are paying a premium to dine in one of the loveliest rooms I’ve sat in all year: a tall, light-filled greenhouse canopied with a jungle of cascading greenery. The view is of Ktown skyscrapers and stylish strangers drinking glasses of Loire wine at long marble communal tables. The aquamarine glow of the hotel pool is in your peripheral vision. The restaurant is as noisy as it is pretty, thrumming at most hours with music and conversation.
Openaire debuted last year under the aegis of chef and restaurateur Josiah Citrin, who took over the hotel’s food and beverage responsibilities from Choi. Citrin may not seem the obvious choice to lead a boutique hotel kitchen in Koreatown; he is best known as the Michelin-starred chef behind Santa Monica’s swank fine-dining temple Mélisse (temporarily closed for a retooling).
But in recent years, the native Westsider has branched out in intriguing new directions; his current projects include the retro Culver City steakhouse Dear John’s, the modern Venice grill house Charcoal, the new Coast in Manhattan Beachand a gourmet hot dog stand inside Staples Center called Dave’s Doghouse.
At Openaire, Citrin only briefly alludes to the flavors of the neighborhood — as when a sauce of garlic, brown butter and doenjang catalyzes a rich, ruddy sirloin steak into something flagrantly lush.
Citrin and executive chef Richard Archuleta — a hotel fine-dining veteran who most recently cooked with Jean-Georges Vongerichten at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills — lean into the vastness of modern New American cooking.
Dinner may include odes to the tapas era (grilled octopus tentacles with saffron aioli), farmers market flourishes (cheese-smeared wedges of late-season peaches and plums with shiso), fresh pasta (pistachio-dusted tagliatelle with duck ragout), the globally eclectic small plates thing (grilled bass with a tomato-coriander chutney) and something for the steakhouse crowd (a tender dry-aged New York strip with crispy onions).
There are some beautifully calibrated dishes: Tuna tartare, served with a bowl of elegant, wispy sweet potato chips, is a round, citrus-bright cake capped with a custardy layer of avocado mousse. Swollen lobes of corn agnolotti break open in a gentle slosh of sweetness and butter. A whole branzino steamed with ginger and soft herbs is succulent and fragrant.
A light salad of heirloom tomatoes, wax beans and lemon cucumbers perfumed with a tangy lemongrass vinaigrette is lovely. Wilted Bloomsdale spinach, flecked with smoked bits of bacon and drizzled with Kombu honey, evokes the flowery-spicy tones of strong tea.
But then, in a rude turn, come the letdowns, and they are pronounced: There’s a soggy prawn toast, a rubbery shrimp cocktail and a dish called crispy suckling pig that turns out to be a crab-cake-like preparation of shredded pork with a strawberry rhubarb XO sauce. The most disappointing thing about the dryish pork cake, which is topped with a messy heap of citrus slaw, is the yawning gulf between what you expect and what turns up at the table.
To drink, the menu swerves from herb-y Moon Juice-inspired cocktails such as the Midnight Margarita, dyed velvet-black with activated charcoal, to funky Northern California wines and Dom Perignon.
Lunch favors efficiency; the two-course prix fixe “express” menu offers a starter and entrée for $25, a rare value. Breakfast is a modern-day L.A. morning communion of chia seed pudding and an excellent plate of huevos rancheros.
The beautiful setting is not enough to sustain Openaire’s weaknesses, which include sluggish service at dinner and an uneven menu that flirts with greatness on occasion but is hobbled by inconsistencies.
More to the point, hotel food can be a hard sell, but the challenge is magnified in a restaurant-dense neighborhood like Koreatown. Why constrain yourself to a hotel salad when you are surrounded at every turn by a dizzying constellation of cafes, restaurants, bars and food-centric mini-malls?
The short answer is waffles. Brunch is the thing that holds the various strands of Openaire together. Come on a weekend and you encounter a different restaurant altogether. The staff — keyed up for the large crowds — is balletic and responsive. The cooking displays a playfulness missing from the dinner menu. Everyone will tell you to order the crisp-edged French toast spackled with shards of corn flakes; they are indeed uncommonly delicious. Smoked tomatoes, smeared on toast with a mash of Rancho Gordo beans and summer squash, is minimalist and wonderful. Korean fried chicken and waffles is exactly what you want: hot and crisp, a gorgeous blitz of crunch, fat and salt. Dunk the chicken in gochujang-spiked maple syrup sauce and the dish sings.
At brunch, the tenor of the room is louder, cheerier, and it is impossible to stand in one place very long without ending up in somebody’s group selfie, if that sort of thing bothers you. But brunch — bougie, basic, exuberantly delicious — is an expression of joy, and there’s no greater value than that.
Openaire (inside the Line Hotel)
Location: 3515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 368-3065, thelinehotel.com
Prices: appetizers $10-$22; vegetables $12-$16; salads $15-$19; pasta & grains $21-$54; mains $29-$36; large plates $68
Details: Credit cards accepted. Full bar. Valet parking. Wheelchair accessible.
Recommended dishes: Ahi tuna tarare, sweet corn agnolotti, whole steamed fish, sirloin steak, smoked tomato toast (brunch menu)