Welcome to On Deck, a series where chefs share their heart and soul on a new, upcoming project in Los Angeles. Here now, the eager and ready Teresa Montaño, who helped open the popular Ración in Pasadena and is just about ready to debut her first solo project, Otoño, in Highland Park.
Teresa Montaño is nearly ready to open what she hopes will become LA’s next great Spanish restaurant. With restaurants like Dialogue and Majordomo picking up early accolades, and Mei Lin’s Nightshade and Jessica Largey’s Simone just months out, Otoño might not have the same chatter or social media anticipation but it’s no less ambitious than those other establishments.
Montaño, who cooked for years at Ración in Pasadena, wants to show LA a different level of Spanish restaurant, something that LA’s diverse culinary scene somewhat lacks. The restaurant will take a careful balancing act between classic Spanish flavors and preparations, but with local produce and Montaño’s own personal imprint.
Despite a long history of “Spanish” restaurants that were actually Mexican restaurants, like the historic El Cid in Silver Lake, LA hasn’t had much in the way of modern Spanish cuisine other than the lauded but short-lived Moruno (and its smaller cousin Bar Moruno). While José Andrés’s celebrated The Bazaar at the SLS serves newfangled Spanish tapas, it’s more of a fancy destination, boasting sleek digs and raucous electronica tunes with a Hollywood scene to match. Recently-debuted Gabi James in Redondo Beach had former Moruno chef Chris Feldmeier at the helm when it opened, featuring a solid but not necessarily challenging Spanish bill of fare.
Eater chatted with Montaño to get a sense of what she wants to accomplish with Highland Park’s most anticipated restaurant, and how she plans to infuse her experience with Spanish cuisine in the context of LA’s dining culture.
On how authentic Otoño’s menu plans to be: “It’s my own interpretation of the food I love to eat. California influence, which means it won’t necessarily be authentic,” says Montaño. “Our cuisine will be seasonal, driven by the farmer’s market, and will use sustainable seafood whenever possible.” When asked if she wanted Otoño to be the authority of Spanish cuisine in LA, she demurred a bit, but did say there won’t be many restaurants to compare it to.
On balancing notoreity with being a neighborhood restaurant: Montaño hopes to take Spanish cuisine to the next level in LA, but realizes that Highland Park is a burgeoning neighborhood that Otoño needs to cater to. “There’s so much energy here. It’s such a cool district and I’m excited to be a part of that,” she says.
On how Otoño hopes to stack up against other big openings in Los Angeles: “I’m excited for LA, with all these great restaurants opening. But I want to be a contender too and bring Spanish food to another level. So we have to keep our heads down and focus on what we’re doing. We want to be one of the best.” Montaño wants to prove she can compete with the big name chefs opening in town, and hopes that a warm, inviting, and beautiful space with street art-inspired murals will help her place stand out.
On the subject of paella, the most debated Spanish dish: It all starts with paella, one of the culinary world’s most fiercely-debated dishes. Montaño plans to start with a classic presentation, but with a tinge of Angeleno inventiveness. Essentially, she’ll serve paellas that’ll appease the traditionalists but offer something more creative that’ll cater to more adventurous Angelenos.
It’s probably to Montaño’s advantage that LA’s lack of more composed Spanish restaurants, outside of the late Moruno, will aid in getting diners to adapt to her version of paella. But the chef still plans to execute the paella with proper technique, which means getting the texture of the rice just right while imbuing it with flavor. And since this is Highland Park, a current hotbed of vegan street food, Otoño will serve what might become LA’s most notable vegan paella.
On the one dish she hopes everyone will fall in love with: “I love squid. There’s a dish on the menu I’m most proud of call calamares en su tinta, which uses the squid ink to make a crispy black rice. It seems intimidating but it’s got this nice punchy grilled squid.”
Montaño plans to open in early August, following a lengthy but careful build out in Highland Park’s feverishly busy Figueroa Street.
Otoño. 5715 N. Figueroa, Los Angeles, CA.