Tsubaki’s managed to pack an expansive menu—packed with even more flavor—into a pint-size space in the heart of Echo Park, and this week, the popular izakaya is expanding that footprint to squeeze in even more Japanese tradition. Chef-owner Charles Namba and owner-operator Courtney Kaplan are taking over the space next door, and on Wednesday, they’re throwing open the doors to OTOTO: Tsubaki’s tangential concept, where the focus is sake and drink-friendly comfort food.
OTOTO, which translates to “little brother,” is in all ways a sibling spot. Namba’s still helming the kitchen, which means you’ll be able to find some of Tsubaki’s most popular items—the karaage fried chicken and the happy-hour katsu sando, for instance—but while the izakaya leans into a range of delicate small plates and charcoal-grilled yakitori, OTOTO is all about hearty, comforting, casual dishes meant to coat your stomach.
There’s a classic bonito-topped okonomiyaki pancake, filled with cabbage and either pork belly or corn with cheese; a mound of fried oysters with fennel pollen and a smoked-daikon remoulade; and a burger ladled with Japanese chili and a yuzu-tinged Thousand Island dressing. Ikura and wasabi cream coat spears of jumbo asparagus, while the Taru Taru (beef tartare) comes flanked by fresh potato chips all the better for dipping.
The big inspiration for OTOTO came in liquid form: Over the last year-plus, Kaplan and Namba were heartened by Tsubaki’s guests and their interest in sake, which led the proprietors to wonder what more they could do for the Echo Park community. In addition to serving traditional and new-wave rice wines nearly every night, the co-owners hope to use the space for sake classes, guest series and other educational events.
But if you are simply looking for rice wine, well you’ve come to the right place. OTOTO’s sake menu gets organized primarily by tasting notes: Fruit & Flowers, Earth & Umami, and Rice & Minerals. There’s also a section for “delicious weirdos,” where the sakes might remind you of a riesling or a kind of yuzu-infused Japanese spin on limoncello. You can even opt for a handful of sakes served in a warm water bath—available by the cup or the carafe—or some served in a cup that you can take home with you.
If wine made from grapes is more to your liking, the list of California-heavy labels could do the trick, and if suds are your thing, the rotating beer list includes pours as local as ginger saisons from Eagle Rock and as far-flung as rice lagers from Okinawa. But come on, you’re going to want to try some sake.
Take a peek inside OTOTO, below, then stop by as early as Wednesday for some sips:
OTOTO opens this Wednesday at 1360 Allison Avenue, with hours of 5:30 to 11pm Tuesday to Sunday.