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Vegan for the Holidays


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JUNE 2, 2016 -- Vegparadise News Bureau

An Exceptional Otium Dining Experience the Way it Ought to Be!

Otium Restaurant Little did we know what enchanting surprises we would encounter when we made reservations for dinner at Otium to enjoy the generous gift certificate we received from our daughter.

Located in DTLA next to the Broad Museum, Otium has brought elegant, innovative dining to Angelenos since December 2015 and, surprisingly, many delicious dishes for vegans as well. Looking at the menu online, we were unsure if the restaurant had vegan offerings, but we were promised we would dine well.

Promises were kept! We feasted on dishes with beautiful presentations and friendly, attentive service beyond our expectations. We came early and were seated in the far corner of the restaurant opposite the impressive wine cellar encased in glass, complete with a ladder to reach the very tall shelves reaching skyward.

The restaurant is large, spacious, and airy with floor to ceiling windows providing natural light for daytime dining and an opportunity to enjoy the nighttime downtown skyline.

Otium Restaurant Otium Restaurant
While several people tended to us, Blair was our main server and suggested the Cauliflower, Falafel, and Cresti Di Galli, three dishes that could easily be made vegan with small tweaks. Then he would ask the chef to suggest another dish to complete our meal.

We waited only briefly, giving us time to enjoy the striking ambience that features earth-tone furnishings from the grey-beige wooden floor to the gray and beige ceramic dishes that make the foods look so inviting.

Otium Restaurant Blair arrived with the totally vegan Little Gem Salad, a refreshing treat for any salad aficionado who appreciates the rich, sweetness of heirloom tomatoes, both red and yellow. Little Gem is an exceptional variety of crisp, sweet, mini lettuce that resembles romaine. Several heads were cut in half and accompanied with thinly sliced radishes, tiny leaves of purslane, thinly sliced pickled red onions, Kalamata olive halves, and crisp-fried pita croutons. Even more delightful was the Sumac Vinaigrette that dressed the salad, lending pleasing flavors both tangy and savory. Our server brought us clean plates before serving the next dish.

Sumac, for those unfamiliar, is a red berry that's dried and ground into a coarse powder commonly used to sprinkle over Middle Eastern dishes. Sumac, which lends a tart, lemony flavor, is one of the seasonings included in making za'atar, and is often sprinkled over rice, vegetables, and even added to hummus. Incorporating sumac into a salad dressing was a sparkling innovation resulting in one hell-of-a tasty dressing.

Otium Restaurant Arriving on a white platter was the sweetest little Cauliflower presentation we've ever encountered. Dressed for a royal occasion was a bright, yellow cauliflower half tender-roasted in a wood-fired oven. Crowning the golden nugget were red and white grape halves, bits of minced cilantro, a good measure of golden raisins, and a pinch of fried sliced almonds. The platter was sauced with a golden puree of sultanas, lending a delightful sweet contrast to the cauliflower's distinct brassica flavor. To make this dish vegan, olive oil replaced the usual butter to crisp the almonds.

Our next inventive creation was the Falafel, a must-have dish that was as much a delight to the eye as it was to the palate. Attractively plated were four crisp-fried falafel balls sitting on a tuffet of Aleppo pepper-infused hummus that gave the hummus a reddish hue and a lively touch of spice. The falafel was in good company with purple wedges of pickled eggplant and Persian cucumbers and was garnished with generous sprinkles of Aleppo pepper. The finishing touches were the paper-thin slices of Meyer lemon, sprigs of cilantro, and an edible nasturtium leaf. This dish is normally topped with yogurt, but the thoughtful chef turned it vegan by simply leaving it out.

Otium Restaurant Again, our plates were changed for clean ones and our water glasses were refilled before bringing our pasta dish, the Cresti Di Galli, which means head of the rooster in Italian. The pasta was aptly named because each piece looked like a cockscomb, the fleshy, red crown that tops the head of a rooster. Served in an earthy ceramic bowl was a Puttanesca typically made with tomatoes, olives, and capers. This version had green olive halves, minced Kalamatas, and chunks of fresh tomatoes sautéed in olive oil and garnished with fresh basil leaves and the airy tops of fennel.

At Otium, many of the tomatoes served were heirloom and so were some of the serving pieces that may have come from great grandma's worn silver collection. Most of the silver had worn away, but the pieces were still so attractive and eye appealing no one wanted to toss them out. They had found a new home where they are still loved and valued.

With the last bite of pasta so hearty and satisfying, we knew our meal had concluded. Each of the dishes we ordered might be considered small plates, yet each was the perfect size for the two of us to share.

Blair apologized there were no vegan desserts but he could bring a bowl of fresh Cherries and Berries. We're glad we didn't resist because that was no ordinary bowl of berries. Making it special were macerated cherries and slices of candied rhubarb scattered among the bright red raspberries and strawberries accented with jumbo blackberries. To give they eyes an extra little treat, the chef added a few leaves of baby sorrel with burgundy red veins.

Otium Restaurant Stephen, another server, said he had a few minutes and invited us to see the rooftop patio and herb garden not yet open until the summer weather arrives. We followed him up the stairs to an open-air patio that seats about 40 diners. The view was spectacular, but most striking was the untraditional herb garden where countless herbs of every variety, shape, size, and color were planted not on the ground in soil, but growing out of holes in tall, white, vertical cylinders. The plants were nurtured and fed hydroponically and looked as robust as any grown in soil.

Then, our friendly guide asked if we would like to meet Chef Timothy Hollingsworth, the executive chef and owner of Otium. The chef was warm and gracious and surprised us when he said he had jumped onto the vegan path for the last three weeks. He expressed familiar words when he volunteered that he felt lighter and more energetic.

Chef Timothy has a flair for inventive dishes, both vegan and non-vegan creations, that not only taste delicious, but also look irresistibly tempting. He seasons his foods with delightful flavor highlights and flourishes them with unique herbs. The large party at the tables nearby ordered Whipped Lardo, Brioche, Egg, Truffle, definitely a non-vegan starter but so attractive we asked if we could take a photo.

Learning his craft working 13 years under the guidance of Chef Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in Napa, California, Chef Timothy rose to Chef de Cuisine, then Sous Chef. In 2010 he won two Rising Star Chef of the Year awards, one from the James Beard Foundation and the other from the San Francisco Chronicle. The menu at Otium serves as an impressive resume demonstrating his skills at creating dynamic dishes, yet he never attended culinary school.

Otium Restaurant
The menu doesn't list items under separate categories like starters, soups, salads, and entrees. It's simply one long list. Here are our dishes: Little Gem Salad $16, Cauliflower $14, Falafel $16, Cresti Di Galli Pasta $18, plus our Cherries and Berries not on the menu. Our total came to $95 including tax and an 18% service charge.

We're glad we came early in the evening for a quieter dining experience. Between the contemporary music and a room full of chatty diners, it can get pretty noisy once the restaurant fills up. Still, Otium is an exciting and intriguing place for everyone, including vegans, to dine and experience exceptional cuisine and outstanding service the way it ought to be.


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