This week, Besha Rodell returns to a.o.c., Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne's wine bar that first opened in 2002 then moved down the street to its current building three years ago. At the time, the LA Weekly critic decided not to review the restaurant that championed the market-driven small plates style for fear of being repetitive of the reviews of all the other restaurants that were following the same format.
However, B. Rod explains, "A few years later, the answer is clear: Yes, A.O.C. is much better, and not just thanks to its status as an originator of the style." The review points to the "palpable" glow of hospitality, exceptional wine list, and, of course, the food:
As I've mentioned, a plethora of restaurants adhere to the small-plates concept, but at A.O.C. you are forced to take it seriously. There are really no traditional entree-sized plates here, just tons of small plates and a handful of platters. In this way, the restaurant seems to achieve better what everyone is trying to do — that is, have the food be truly communal. It's a great place for a romantic meal, but perhaps its calling is as a venue for a larger celebration, when you can order half the menu and pass the plates around.
What should you eat? You can barely go wrong. I adore spreading the table with meats and cheeses and the farmer's plate, a jumble of roasted veggies and bitter greens and chickpea puree and burrata and hunks of grilled bread. A.O.C. is great at providing what is basically a glorious picnic at the table. Add to this one of the focaccias, topped perhaps with fig, prosciutto, Taleggio, walnuts and saba, and you've got a full meal made entirely of nibbles. [LAW]
After last week's Le Comptoir review, Jonathan Gold pens a piece on Green Zone in Old Pasadena, what the LA Times critic calls "a misplaced bit of Sawtelle." Here he eats a smattering of good pan-Asian dishes, but he's really there for the Hainan chicken:
And in this context, the half-dome of broth-cooked chicken rice, zapped with garlic and lemongrass and almost chewy in a way that recalls the Vietnamese broken-rice dish com tam, is almost shockingly good. The mountain of poached organic dark-meat chicken that flanks the rice is both generous and slightly undercooked, as is proper, and the mandatory trio of sauces — sweet, thick soy; mild chile sauce; and a compote of minced ginger and scallions in oil — is correct. There is probably enough for lunch the next day.
Is it as good as the Hainan chicken rice at Savoy? Probably not, to be honest — in my opinion, Savoy's perhaps overgenerous application of chicken fat is only a plus. But there's craft beer here in Pasadena. And little bottles of unfiltered sake. And you can play a game of Ms. Pac Man afterward if that's your thing. [LAT]
The Elsewhere: Darin Dines photographs blogger darling Aburiya Raku, as does Hillary Eaton, who gives it a more in-depth treatment, and kevinEats digs into plenty of quality Korean barbeque at Gwang Yang.