It's been a while since I've been back to AOC. At least 2-3 years, which is 2-3 years too long.
Having friends in town was a perfect excuse to go. We had:
-Dungeness crab salad with watercress, snap peas and tangello. A refreshing salad that highlights spring, the importance of fresh ingredients, and the brilliance of focused cooking.
-Halibut, salt cod gratin, sorrel, and garlic. Perfectly cooked crusted halibut. Yet another insanely delicious and balanced dish.
-Gulf shrimp, smoked tomato butter, and corn bread. The tomato sauce was rich and delicious and the shrimp was cooked in the shell. I realized that it's been a while since I've seen shrimp the shell at a high end restaurant. While it takes a little more work, undoubtedly the flavor that the shell provides is crucial. Kudos to AOC for having the gall to do so
These first 3 courses went insanely well with the champagne flight.
-pork confit (belly) with fresh garbanzos in a spicy au jus. The fresh garbanzos were a spectacular treat with a slightly green taste that again showed off AOCs market driven, seasonal philosophy in spades.
-Morels, ramps, and ricotta gnocchi. Yet another classic and delicious expression of spring.
-Brioche with prosciutto, gruyere, and egg. Is it possible to get tired of this dish? I don't think I ever will.
The meal was outstanding and while it is not as innovative or novel as Bazaar (which I liked) I can argue that AOC is one of LA's best restaurants surpassing even Lucques.
I realized that unfortunately, I got caught up in the hype of new restaurants doing "small plate dining" (like Gjelina, AK, Bazaar, XIV, etc.) and forgot the amazing, balanced, highly skilled, and REAL cooking that AOC is still churning out after all these years. The purity, focus, and freshness of the ingredients at AOC is refreshing and in my mind easily surpasses these newcomers in small plate dining. Oh, yeah, and they had no problems with a party of 3. The hostess and the service was top notch and profesional.
My only knock against AOC is that the wine list is very skewed towards California wines and a bit light on French offerings (especially red burgundy and bordeaux). Funny given the name of the restaurant but that's biased by my own preference in wine and easily corrected (corkage is $25).