Apparently Otium Has a Great Wine Program. Who Knew?
The dining room at Otium
In my review of Otium this week, I never got around to discussing the wine program, mostly because I had so much else to say about the restaurant. I also left out wine because, despite Otium having a notable sommelier (Elizabeth Huettinger, formerly of Spago), the wine list seemed quite short, very expensive and without a clear point of view. In a review that already had a fair dose of negativity, focusing on the unexceptional wine list (albeit one with a few wonderful bottles) seemed like piling on.
So why am I here piling on? Because after I finished writing my review, it came to my attention that the wine list I got at Otium — all three times I visited — is not the restaurant's only wine list. There is apparently a much longer list, one that has around 300 bottles, around five times more than what's represented on the shortened list.
Having both a short and long list isn't completely uncommon, although oftentimes the shorter list is restricted to by-the-glass pours, and usually the hostess or server will mention a longer list and ask if you'd like to see it. Neither is the case at Otium — no one ever mentioned the long list to me, and because there were plenty of bottle-only selections on the short list, I had no reason to ask for anything further.
The existence of the two lists is reminiscent of something I brought up in my review:
I get the feeling that your experience at Otium can depend massively on who you are and possibly even on how you look. There aren't that many restaurants left that have a kind of caste system, and while at any restaurant there will always be VIP guests who get treated better than the rest of us, the bad old days of wildly different kinds of hospitality and cooking, depending on how much you matter to the host or owner or chef, are gone. But the lack of care I experienced for such a high-reaching restaurant, both in service and on the plate, is otherwise inexplicable.
Who gets the long list? It's impossible to know. On two of my visits I had conversations with a sommelier, and she went into detail about a couple of bottles on the shorter list. She never mentioned that there were any other choices. On both occasions I bought a bottle, and on one of those occasions I made it clear that I wished there were more choices in the under-$60 range. Apparently those choices do exist on the longer list.
Patrick Comiskey wrote a breakdown of Otium's wine list for the L.A. Times, and in it he addresses this two-tiered system:
When you arrive at Otium, you're presented with a menu and a beverage card, a four-fold list of spirits, cocktails, beers and ciders, and wine — not just by the glass but an abridged sampling — about one-fifth of the full wine list appears there. It's neither the most accessible nor the least expensive — the Little List amounts to a littler cross-section of the Big List. Is this helpful? To the guest who doesn't want to spend time poring over a longer document, sure. To others, it may seem short shrift, a book that invites you to judge it by its cover.
The subtext here is that as a customer, you become a book that Otium gets to judge by your cover. The existence of this list and the fact that I never saw it only confirms that creeping feeling I alluded to earlier: I obviously didn't look like someone who might be interested in perusing a larger list ... or perhaps I looked like someone who might find a bargain on a longer list and therefore should be steered toward the pricier choices on the short list.
A friend of mine made a good point about Otium and its issues. The Broad Museum, she said, seems like a valiant attempt by Eli and Edythe Broad to make art accessible to all of Los Angeles, giving a beautiful home to their own private collection and making it free for anyone to come and see. But Otium, the restaurant attached to the Broad, seems to be doing just the opposite — the food so expensive, the welcome so chilly — so that even getting a chance to eat there can seem out of reach. This two-tiered wine list only helps to cement that feeling: that the goodies are there, but they're not for you.
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