By the time I join two friends earlier this evening at the main bar at A.O.C. at 7:45pm they've already started with a glass of Burgundy and a California zin. They tell me which ones but it doesn't quite register as I get settled into my oversized bar stool picking up the list and spotting immediately the 2003 Lang and Reed Cabernet Franc for $10. I'm not drinking, settle for a sparking water but manage to convince one of them to order it by my enthusiastic reaction alone. It's hard enough to find that luscious wine by the bottle let alone by the glass. We don't have reservations but are offered a table without asking and agree that for us dining at either bar is preferable. It's a wet Monday night, UCLA is playing somewhere and by 8:30 the restaurant is almost packed. Who says spontaneity doesn't pay?
Reading A.O.C.'s menu is an exercise in restraint. What's not to order? A trout wrapped in prosciutto with grapes and sorrel has one friend asking when was the last time you found these ingredients under one roof let alone on the same plate while the other exclaims, "Trout Veronique!" The Coq au vin is next with tender dark meat and crisp pancetta in a seductive syrupy jus over perfectly whipped potatoes. Roasted sweet potatoes with bacon and asparagus with beans, green garlic and pea tendrils come next. A blood orange salad with dates, almonds and parmesan is an after thought but manages to refresh all of our palates. Somewhere during all of this a Tempranillo is ordered and a Malbec. One more glass of something, a latte and the evening's special dessert: a strawberry crostada with mascarpone cream complete the adventure. $130 for three before tip. None of us have been there in a year. Still the best new restaurant in L.A.