Dining as LA Restaurant Critics: Side by Side Reviews of Otium
Today LA Weekly’s restaurant critic Besha Rodell posted her review of Otium. Although she gives the new restaurant 2 stars, it’s a very biting (a pun, haha!) review. She makes complaints of overdone steak and says being ignored is “not cute.” In contrast, the LA Times’ Jonathan Gold review of Otium posted in February was very positive.
Rodell’s review made me wonder could the team at Otium possibly not know what she looks like? It’s been four years since Eater LA tried to unmask her. Or perhaps they don’t care? Yes, ostensibly she is anonymous but like Gold who recently (finally!) dropped the anonymous mask, she cannot possibly be unknown to restaurant management teams. To paraphrase Gold, as soon as you start writing about food, it’s the restaurant’s job to figure out what you look like. A great review could lead to a ton of reservations and piles of cash. So it is in their interest to figure it out.
I had a chat recently with Julie from Bad Home Cooking about being recognized. While I don’t fall in the same category of “restaurant critic” from a major publication, it’s acknowledged blogs and increasingly social media influencers do have an impact on a restaurant or bar. A friend of mine was at a bar where someone name dropped The Minty. Odd. I hope none of my friends think they can get free food or drinks by dropping my name. They would not be my friend anymore. Also another friend told me they were at a bar when they were training a new bartender and the manager showed pictures of every drinks writer/ blogger in town. The new bartender was warned not to make any drinks for the writers and to call in a more senior bartender.
The equivalent might be a restaurant scrambling to make dishes better — or at least cooked with more care. Or they just overwhelm the critics with freebies.
Rodell and Gold’s reviews were very positive of the seafood; both cooked and raw. Rodell does mention the restaurant seems to be like every other trendy restaurant in town. While Gold says it’s one of the most ambitious new restaurants in LA in years and throws in a lot of local restaurants to give context. Or maybe they are saying the same thing. He does say the chef is reinventing the American restaurant.
Rodell gives the impression although a beautiful restaurant, Otium is not welcoming and even has a caste system. Yet Gold talks about how the menu will please just about everyone. Perhaps this is what Rodell means when she says the menu very long, “comically ambitious in length.”
Besides the bad steak, Rodell doesn’t really name any other “never order” dishes. Her complaints are based on service and price point. Gold on the other hand actually names a few dishes he doesn’t care for including the gummy spaghetti with sea urchin and the over-salted pork with apples and cabbage. He thinks smoking food in a donabe is odd. They both agree the falafel was very mundane with Rodell calling it “just falafel.” While Gold intimates you would expect something worthy of a chef who cooked at the French Laundry.
The open kitchen is an interesting concept. I’m not sure critics like it. Rodell initially calls it fun but learns the falafel and funnel cake aren’t made to order. Gold says there’s no separation, not even a counter, between the kitchen and the dining room. I feel open kitchens means they want you to look but perhaps others find it distracting.
To this date, I have only been to Otium for an opening party and had a couple of bites. I would like to visit soon. But I’m torn about going in for the seafood and possibly being treated shoddily (I don’t have $200 to throw down on a meal that leaves you hungry). Or I could go in and have an amazing time in a beautiful space (maybe I’ll spot this art by by Damien Hirst).
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