Let me begin by stating that AOC has been one of my top favorite restaurants in LA since it opened its doors in 2002. Co-owned by Lucques partners Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne, AOC takes its name from appellation d'origine controlée, the French system governing the origin and authenticity of wines as well as regional foods of quality. The menu (manned by chef Goin) consists of Mediterranean small plates and the wine list (overseen by wine guru and front of the house overseer, Styne) boasts over 50 by the glass in their cruvinet.
I revisited AOC last week with Dixon after at least a six month absence. We always like to sit at the wine bar where we can go at it a bit more casually, graze, taste lots of wines and chat with the knowledgeable and conversant bartenders.
The menu is divided into six sections.
It is suggested that you should order approximately three dishes per person.
One cheese ($5)
Three cheese ($15)
Five cheese ($25)
There are 4 or 5 selections of each; goat, sheep, cow, and blue.
From the wood burning oven
Upon being seated one is presented with bread served with harissa and olives. The harissa is wonderful and one of Goin's signature elements, chile de arbol is a prominent accent.
To get started we ordered the Echo Mountain Rogue Creamery Blue from Oregon and the roasted dates, stuffed with parmesan and wrapped in bacon ($6). The cheese was divine - firm, smooth, earthy and subtle. The dates, an ordering staple no matter the season, are split, pitted and stuffed with a tiny wedge of Parmesan, then tightly mummified with bacon. They are served hot, hot, hot, so try to be patient or you won't be able to taste the remainder of your meal. Even if you do burn your tongue these dates are absolutely sublime - crisp, smoky, salty, and sticky-sweet. So far, everything is divine.
Next we selected the foie gras terrine with quince jam ($21). I admittedly love, love, love some foie gras. Man, do I love it. Can't get enough. With absolutely no rancor to their charcutier's skill (whom I hold in great admiration) I admittedly was underwhelmed. The terrine, while perfectly pink, billowy and succulent - I found to be overly smothered with the quince jam.
The Rabbit ragoût with dijon, chestnuts and tarragon ($15) actually gave cause for me, and the normally appeased (and always sated), Dixon, to raise our eyebrows and question. My main beef was the fact that just about the only stand out flavor in this dish was mustard. It was seemingly a dish consisting of (not awesomely braised) rabbit swimming in watery mustard. I couldn't even necessarily decipher the chestnuts and other delectables in there. We asked our server the official definition of ragout as we thought we may have been mis-educated somewhere along the way. I have to assume this was just a bizzare, one-time, oopsy. I do know Suzanne Goin was not in the kitchen that night...
The chanterelles, ricotta gnocchi and sherry cream ($15) showed up last and were good but not exceptionally memorable. I love chanterelles. I love sherry. The gnocchi were a wee bit more al dente than I would have preferred. No big deal. It was good enough but maybe just an unfortunate closer to the meal.
Don't get me wrong, I love AOC. Forget Clive Owen - I sweat Suzanne Goin (well, and Clive Owen, but you get the point). I dream about her Brussels Sprouts With Pancetta and Toasted Bread Crumbs, the haricots verts with hazelnuts, proscuitto and burrata, the pancetta-wrapped trout with grapes and sorrel, braised pork cheeks with fava bean pesto, and anything she does with skirt steak. I have her cookbook (Sunday Suppers at Lucques) and refer to it often. I respect her creativity, her technique, her love and respect for food and the land from which it comes, and how it all arrives out on the plate in front of me. She is the consummate artist.
I will never stop going to AOC or Lucques for that matter. This was just unfortunately an off night.
8022 W. 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90048