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LA Times Critic Adores the Sake Situation at Echo Park’s Tiny Ototo Restaurant

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Plus guest critic Lucas Peterson gives a smart take on The Cheesecake Factory

Inside of Ototo restaurant with small wooden stools, small tables, and a sleek concrete wall with hanging lights.
Ototo, Echo Park
Wonho Frank Lee

LA Times reviews are in for this week, and mainstay critic Bill Addison visits the tiny but popular Ototo restaurant, located just down the hill from Dodger Stadium in Echo Park and the sister spot of Tsubaki izakaya. Ototo comes from Tsubaki’s same partners, Charles Namba and Courtney Kaplan, who opened the adjacent restaurant with a big focus on sake. Addison starts the review with a vignette on how Ototo changes perceptions of hot sake, traditionally a throw-away drink:

The hot sake served at Ototo in Echo Park does not taste like the inexpensive, abrasive-with-notes-of-rubbing-alcohol hot sake many of us have sipped alongside sushi or hibachi chicken...Its flavors land rich and spicy and autumnal. For a moment, the brain might register mulled cider, but there’s a grainy umami running underneath the brightness that has nothing to do with apple juice.

Of course, the restaurant is much more than just hot sake, with Kaplan designing the geeky, but varied, sake menu that spans the Japanese rice wine’s depth and breadth. Addison does comment on the food, which essential interprets Japanese drinking fare with a chef’s edge:

Alongside a glass of something invigorating, start with a freeform mound of hirame crudo joggled with yuzu, or a variation on goma-ae of haricots verts in a subtle sesame dressing. If you’re careening into sakes with mushroomy or nutty characteristics, or if you’re plainly hungry, munch on kara-age; the hunks of fried chicken loll in a shallow pool of sweet and sour sauce.

The LA Times critic has positive feedback on the Mos Burger-inspired burger as well as the chicken katsu sando, though he gives a sliver of criticism on the somewhat gloopy pork okonomiyaki. Ototo, like its sister Tsubaki, is a fine addition to Echo Park’s dining scene, according to Addison.

Signage of Cheesecake Factory in white letters over a brass overhang at The Grove in Los Angeles.
The Cheesecake Factory, The Grove
The Grove

Meanwhile, guest critic Lucas Peterson, filling in for Patricia Escárcega, who is on maternity leave, decides to review The Cheesecake Factory, the LA-founded chain restaurant with nearly two hundred locations around the world. It’s a pretty hilarious read, with pop culture references to the Berenstein Bears, Las Vegas, and Thomas Kinkade mixed into hot takes on how some of the dishes are actually pretty delicious:

Appetizers, when firing on all cylinders, are exceptional. Tex-Mex egg rolls, essentially a chicken fajita stuffed into a crunchy fried shell, are a stroke of genius. A mountain of sticky, scorching-hot Korean fried cauliflower pieces, served with limes and ranch dressing, didn’t strike me as overly Korean per se (it tasted like a slight gochujang breeze had kissed the pieces, but I also could have imagined it), but had a masterful balance of tang and sweetness.

Peterson then touches on the bigger courses, such as the Pasta Napoletana, which he says is “delicious,” while the Chicken Bellagio, a prosciutto-topped fried chicken cutlet gets a nice pop of salt from the cured pork and peppery arugula. Drinks, as expected, are unreasonably sweet while the namesake cheesecake can come out uneven, sometimes half frozen because they’re made offsite from the restaurants. The guest critic’s conclusion on The Cheesecake Factory?

But where else in the world could you sit in such ignoble opulence, enjoying a meal Benetton ad execs wouldn’t dare claim: a Chinese chicken salad, a frozen Aperol spritz and Louisiana chicken pasta? Plates the size of aircraft carriers land at my table, and the food runner looks down approvingly. “That’s good,” he says. “That means you’re hungry.”

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