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Grilled market fish over a bed of beets and cucumber

A.O.C. 2.0

by Lesley Balla | Photo: Christie Hemm | Angeleno magazine | May 20, 2013

If you’ve lived in Los Angeles long enough, you probably have fond memories of both Orso and A.O.C. The two restaurants are of different generations: the former is an A-list-filled Italian restaurant with a secluded, tree-filled patio that wasn’t at all a “celebrity” restaurant; the latter is a small-plates pioneer from Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne that set the stage for how we eat today. It isn’t a coincidence the two have melded together. In fact, it’s almost serendipity.

Goin didn’t start the small-plates trend when she and Styne opened A.O.C. on 3rd Street in 2002, but she was one of the first to break down our meals into sharable dishes bursting with Spanish, Mediterranean and local flavors. We shared, we passed, we sipped. We swooned.

With A.O.C.’s 10th anniversary approaching, the chef and her business partner decided it was time for a change. The space where Orso once lived was available (the restaurant that replaced it, Il Covo, was short-lived), and the two opted to move their still-bustling, wine-focused spot to the space only a few blocks away from their original one. Walking in now to see the cream and sage color palette, fireplaces and an open dining room with doors leading out to one of the most lovely patios in town, it feels as if this is exactly where A.O.C. was meant to be all along.

I always loved A.O.C., but it’s even better in its new home. And that’s not only because it now boasts a full bar, complete with spirit-forward cocktails featuring fresh fruit—the kind you see at Goin and Styne’s other restaurants, such as Lucques and Brentwood’s Tavern. Another highlight is that the bar and communal high-top table make it possible to walk in for a snack and a drink without a reservation. Sure, some nights both are completely full, but there is still a lot more space than in the original spot.

There is a little bit of the old and new to the menu. We were still happy to get the bacon-wrapped dates, punched with a sliver of Parmesan inside. And the cheese and charcuterie menu is wonderful. There is focaccia topped with braised leeks (only a special offering at the old A.O.C. but a mainstay here), goat cheese and pancetta, or young broccoli and burrata from the wood-burning oven.

When you get to the meat (and vegetables) of the menu, have a game plan: Know if you’re there to nibble on a few plates or if you want a fuller meal because it’s easy to order too much, especially with the new “platters,” larger plates still meant to be shared at the table. My eyes are always drawn to whatever seasonal gifts Goin uses, from the young escarole salad tossed with fennel and white anchovies to the long-cooked cavolo nero. The dark kale soaked in olive oil is one of Goin’s signatures.

From the wood-burning oven, I loved the clams in a piquant sherry broth with lots of green garlic. And I’m absolutely mad about the Spanish fried chicken, spiced and crisp squiggles of tenders with a romesco aioli for dipping. The suckling pig with coconut rice is such a departure from the Mediterranean flavors Goin is known for that we had to have it. She was inspired by a trip to Bali and took us there with just one bite.

While Goin works her magic in the back, Styne has her finger on the pulse of the front of the house. Her wine list is still one of the most dynamic in town, highlighting not only the best sustainable, organic and biodynamic bottles she can find but also making a tight by-the-glass program.

With three fine-dining restaurants and three Larders, Goin and Styne have helped define L.A.’s dining scene with their sense of style and sophistication and their dedication to bringing out the best in everything. The old A.O.C. was an integral part of their growth and the city as a culinary mecca. To me, the new A.O.C. has just as much energy, if not more. This is a spot where I will bring out-of-town guests night after night. To me, it’s the quintessential Los Angeles restaurant.

A.O.C.
8700 W. 3rd St., L.A., 310.859.9859,
aocwinebar.com

Hours: Mon.,-Fri., 11:30am-11pm; Sat.-Sun., 10am-11pm

Appetizers: $15-$28
Entrées: $26-$45
Desserts: $10-$12

What to Wear
Your California best, whether it’s Rag & Bone jeans, a breezy Isabel Marant blouse and platform shoes, or a printed Derek Lam dress. For men, break out your best plaid and a Varvatos blazer.

Where to Sit
For an intimate dinner, one of the booths in the corner of the dining room. To see and be seen, the large table in front of the fireplace on the patio.

Brunch It
That patio screams for whiling away a weekend afternoon over wood-oven-baked eggs with cavolo nero or duck confit hash and a few glasses of sparkling rosé.

Cocktailing
A full bar—a first for A.O.C.—means sipping libations including The Companion, a blend of Bols Genever, Barbencourt Rhum, demerara and lime with a float of bitters on top. And don’t miss happy hour (5-7pm).