Fireworks are a highlight of the human experience. They’re basically a soap opera in the sky, but louder and don’t involve someone’s husband having an affair with the family doctor. And the best part is the grand finale - when they all go off at once. At this time, teenagers swap spit, type-A people head to the parking lot to beat traffic on the way out, and every cat within three miles prepares for the reckoning.
If the grand finale fails to meet expectations, everything before it, no matter how enjoyable, also becomes underwhelming. This is the case at Otoño, a modern Spanish restaurant in Highland Park where the grand finale (in this case, paella) misses the mark - although it’s otherwise a pretty solid restaurant.
To be clear, we aren’t saying paella is the grand finale of all Spanish food. We’re saying it’s the grand finale at Otoño. From the second you walk into the bright space, you’ll feel obligated to order this classic rice dish. Not only is there a whole section dedicated to it on the menu, but every table around you seems to be picking at one of these skillets too. The menu explains that it takes about a half-hour to cook, which further builds anticipation, so you’ll hurriedly order one in addition to a bunch of other tapas and conservas. And then you will wait.
During this time, you’ll hopefully try a rioja sour that’ll make you realize you don’t actually hate whiskey. You’ll notice the crowded dining room, the fast-paced energy, and a bar area that stays lively all night. You will also eat some tasty food, like the gambas a la plancha (grilled prawns) and an anchovy goat butter with bread. Nothing is going to stop you dead in your tracks, but everything is good, and the service is quick. It’s enjoyable here, and so far, you’re pleased you decided to drive up the 110 at 6:30pm after all.
Then the paella arrives in its giant pan, and all momentum comes to a halt. Paella should be intense and spicy, but ultimately comforting. Otoño’s simply falls flat. Not to mention that the giant black pan only holds one layer of thinly-spread crispy rice, which calls the $32 price point into question. The paella won’t ruin your experience here, but it does take the wind out of your sails.
We’ll definitely come back here on date night for some tapas or swing by for a few cocktails as we bar hop down Figueroa. Even though we’re skipping the grand finale, we’ll never turn down a little backyard fireworks show.
Croqueta De Jamon
These deep-fried ham fritters are exactly how we want to start off every meal at Otoño.
Otoño has good cocktails across the board, but this one is a must-order. Bourbon, lemon, oregano, bay leaf, and a tempranillo floater all combine to make this the most fragrant bourbon drink we’ve ever had.
Boquerones y Mantequilla
Easily the most unique dish from the tapas section, this is thinly sliced tuna with a housemade anchovy butter on the side. We wish the bread that it came with had a bit more crunch, but this is still a dish we’d order again. And again.
Based on title alone, this plate seems like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it’s underwhelming. These potatoes basically taste like french fries, which isn’t a terrible thing in our books, but there are more exciting options on the menu.
Gambas A La Plancha
The prawns at Otoño are fantastic, and they’re at their best in this dish. Cooked with tomatoes, garlic, and brandy, these guys are rich and flat-out addicting. We only wish it came with more than three pieces.
Otoño has three different paellas, and all three of them are let-downs. Paella should be so slammed with flavor that it smacks you across the face, but these seem almost watered down. Also, despite arriving in a giant pan, there’s not that much paella to go around. You’ll have a hard time splitting one order with two people.