Inside Bunker Hill’s Latest Gem, Otium
When the much-anticipated Broad museum was opened this past September, who knew that only months later, its adjacent restaurant would arrive with just as much fanfare? While museum restaurants often feel like an afterthought, Otium, which began serving in November, is quickly carving out a place as a worthy destination of its own. It’s where Chef Tim Hollingsworth is the artist in residence—the kitchen his studio, and the restaurant floor his exhibition. With 13 years at French Laundry under his belt, Hollingsworth’s pedigree is prestigious, having also represented the US in the culinary world’s most esteemed gastronomic competition, the Bocuse d’Or. Though his background is dominated by higher-end cooking, he grew up on his parents’ Texas cooking, and came to LA from NorCal to start Barrel & Ashes, the Studio City barbeque joint he opened in partnership with prolific restaurateur Bill Chait (Bestia, Republique, et al). The combination of fine dining technique and down-home sentiment is one that plays out fantastically at Otium.
Though the rest of the Bunker Hill neighborhood leaves much to be desired in terms of aesthetics, Otium, much like its museum counterpart, is gorgeous. As you enter, you’re greeted with a large Damien Hirst mural, crawling with greenery. Expansive windows take in an abundance of sunshine, and modern light fixtures extend throughout the restaurant with a crossword-like layout, accenting a wood-and-metal lined interior. It all lends to a distinctly Californian aesthetic, that mix of modern with a nod to the rustic-but-timeless idea of a meal well enjoyed. It’s fitting, then, that the restaurant’s name is Latin, meaning “a leisurely pace.”
A large space, the kitchen (complete with wood-burning stove) is in full view for all to admire, but one soon forgets the beauty and layout of the interior once the food is presented. The first dish, a hamachi crudo, is a sight to behold. Svelte slices crusted with nori are nestled in a bowl, given a generous smear of avocado, with spices sprinkled atop, and juicy sweet-and-sour blistered cherry tomatoes accompanying. It’s a dish that is gorgeous in presentation and tastes as good as it looks—the nori’s umami quality allowing the hamachi to meld together wonderfully with the bright, sweet tomatoes and creamy avocado. Next up: housemade bucatini, a decadent carbonara-like dish topped with an egg yolk glistening against the jade-tinted pasta noodles. The bowl is very hot, allowing the yolk to continue cooking as you mix it with the clam and bacon-dotted cream sauce. Delicious and perfectly al dente. Pastas and crudos are not uncommon offerings in LA’s restaurants, but Hollingsworth astute cooking elevates them with subtle tweaks in delivery that make the dishes even tastier for their refreshingly contemporary takes on the familiar.
As Hollingsworth tells us, “When I cook a dish, I want to base it off of a memory or a previous experience. Once I have that reference point, I try to be creative based on how I serve or prepare the dish.” Case in point, the next dish is a riff on a pastrami sandwich. Hiramasa “Pastrami,” served with beet, potato, rye, and Thousand Island, is a rainbow concoction of root vegetables—thin slices of magenta pickled onion, and slices of tender fish smoked atop a donabe, a Japanese clay pot that arrives with many pairs of eyes following it, wisps of smoke lingering in the air.
We’re not sure what to expect as we pick gingerly at the dish, but we find that it’s comforting and newfangled all at once, the vegetables perfectly tender, the Hiramasa fish delivering on its pastrami promise. It’s a tasty dish, and it’s here Hollingsworth really shines in his undeniable talent.
“It’s something that someone is going to remember because they’ve had it a thousand times, but then they’ll remember the donabe because it presents a memory in a different way.” A much-needed addition to DTLA’s dining scene, it’s no doubt Otium and Hollingsworth will be serving up many more memories to come.
Otium is located at 222 S. Hope Street
Photography by Sierra Prescott