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Apr 8, 2005 06:49 PM

AOC - most overrated place in LA?

  • i

Ok, before you flame me with your flamethrowing squirt gun, let me just say that I think AOC is a fine restaurant. Still, given the rave reviews the place receives on this board (and elsewhere), I find that it really doesn't live up to the hype.

Been there 3 times, the most recent being this past weekend.

First, I like the look of the place. The wine bar and the charcuterie bar are a pretty cool configuration.

But the food, while good, leaves a bit to be desired. I don't like the dates - never really did. Maybe one bite, but that's more than enough for me.

I'm ambivalent about the whole tapas concept and fervor sweeping LA currently. It's cool, but really nothing "new" IMO, given that it's sort of a Chinese Banquet Style a la "lazy Susan" combined with a dim sum mentality. Whatever. I like good food, whether on small, big or medium plates.

But at AOC, regardless of the size of the plates, many of the dishes either seemed cramped ("help, I need a bigger plate to show off my wares") or just a bit contrived in order to fit and make it appearing interesting on a smaller scale. Like the trout with the beets and horseradish, why? Had squid also, a bit fishy and uninspired -- as if Goin was saying, "hey look, I got you fresh squid, so who cares if I put enough attention to cooking it ..." The black rice that came with the squid was, well, just black - no real sea-worthiness to the rice was imparted from the squid.

And don't get me started on desserts. The tarts, whether fruit or otherwise, always seem lacking in flavor. The chocolate dishes always tasted of the Hershey-bar variety -- they looked like chocolate and even smelled like chocolate, but between the lips it was always a bit like, "uh, where's the beef?"

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  1. speaking of charcuterie, went to enoteca drago in BH for lunch today. They have a nice charcuterie plate - eight varieties of "salumerie" - actually only 2 italian, they have prosciutto, bresaola, jamon serrano, speck, fennel salami (USA), spiced fatback (USA) and a few other things. A plate of 3 for $9.

    1. THANK YOU! If you want "tapas" or "small plates".....I still want the food to be as good as a "normal' sized plate. AND AGAIN, this is why I prefer Meson G!
      You had a good point!

      1. I like a demanding diner. And I also like AOC. Your thoughts on Hungry Cat?

        3 Replies
        1. re: mc michael

          Have not made it (yet) to Hungry Cat. Have you? Your thoughts?

          Also, status on Providence? ("MC" = Michael Cimrusti, right?) ... Looking very forward to another high-end seafood restaurant in SoCal.

          1. re: ipse dixit

            Ah, no, but thanks.

          2. re: mc michael

            Dunno that I am as demanding as ipse but I liked Hungry Cat when I went last week. Had the crab cakes (or rather, crab cake, since one order comes with just one piece, at $14!!), the chorizo and clams stew (do ask for extra bread - they toast sliced baguette, great for dipping) and the lobster roll - fantastic, comes with great fries. Had a nice glass of sancerre (I think) that went well with the seafood. 2 orders of crabcakes, one stew and 3 lobster rolls was too much food for 3 ladies. We didn't make it to dessert.

            To find the place, go past Schwabs and look down the alleyway, it's under the sign that says 'florist'.

          3. Couldn't agree more. While nothing is bad, nothing is really great. We find the food rather one-dimensional. Everything tastes a bit "flabby" with little tartness to offset richness and all of the olive oil in every dish. We were dying for a splash of good vinegar or a slice of lemon. The food tastes like it was cooked in the same pan, without cleaning it out between dishes.

            1. AOC popularity on this website speaks to culinary dumbing down of LA diners. Granted there is nothing wrong with AOC, most important, there is nothing new, innovative, or culinarily important about what they do. "What to do about nothing"

              10 Replies
              1. re: Jeana

                Let's examine this. Before AOC, what other quality small plates restos existed in this town (and don't mention some mediocre tapas place)?. I think this together with the fact that AOC does many different dishes well and has a multitude of wines by the glass are among its (apparently overlooked) strengths.

                1. re: mc michael

                  I have no issues with AOC, but it has a lot of drawbacks:

                  1. Expensive wine/corkage. Markups are very high.

                  2. Tiny cheese plate portions. Salumi portions aren't much better.

                  3. Not inexpensive. I don't care about portion size. I care about price. Most of the cooked dishes (steak, pork cheeks etc) are in the 12-14 range. I've yet to get out of AOC for less than $75 pp.

                  4. Not open late. At 12, they took our wine away.

                  About the only way it's unique is that you can go in for a quick bite and not spend too much if you aren't hungry.

                  I'm glad it exists, but it's hardly, in the michelin parlance, "worth a detour".


                  1. re: Coachboy

                    Interesting that you should bring up Michelin. As you probably know, Michelin is going to do an NYC guide. Can LA be far behind? Meanwhile, if we look to Michelin's chief competitor, Gault Millau/Gayot, what do we find? Looks like they don't share your view on the cheese plate.


                    1. re: Coachboy

                      Let's keep going:
                      5. you can hardly "drop in" - even with reservations there is often a wait

                      6. It is overly loud, though many like that, I guess.

                      7. It is jammed and uncomfortable.

                      Wines are good, if pricey and the cheeses are usually excellent. Also, sitting at the bar lets you meet some interesting fellow diners and shoot the breeze with the bartenders/fromageurs. All in all, it has disappeared from my list after several visits. Neither the food, wine, nor ambience make it worth the price and hassle. Seems to be more for those looking for a scene.

                      1. re: Griller141

                        Starting at the back of your list, it is loud, jammed and uncomfortable, just like about every popular and busy restaurant in LA. A sign of success, not failure!
                        Yes, you can drop in if you are willing to have a potential wait, though not a given, to sit at the bar and have some wine and eat whatever level of food is of interest.
                        You do not go to AOC for the corkage issue, because you are interested in the wines by the glass that you will probably never EVER taste on your own. So, the value is there in just experimenting with tastes that are new to you. Likewise, the food on the menu - not something you find on most restaurant menus, and definitely something you will not be preparing at home.
                        Economics - You do NOT go here unless you are willing to spend about $50 pperson, and you can definitely spend more, but seldom less. But you walked in the door KNOWING that!!!
                        Forget about eating cheese, period, it is NOT good for you.

                        1. re: carter

                          "it is loud, jammed and uncomfortable, just like about every popular and busy restaurant in LA. A sign of success, not failure!"

                          I think this overstates things a bit, and is a tad glib don't you think?

                          I have never found places like Spago, Providence, Water Grill, La Cachette, or Cut to be loud, jammed and uncomfortable. Sure, the din at Spago can be distracting at times, but not in the same way that the AOC noise level can be suffocating.

                          1. re: carter

                            I have to agree that if you want loud, jammed and uncomfortable, to usually wait for a spot, and to spend $50 per (I would actually double that) this may be your place. The wines are good and interesting, but if that's what you're really after, a wine store tasting might be more interesting and definitely cheaper. I don't think the food, per se, would bring you here over Lucques, Hatfield's, or Grace. And without the cheeses my interest level drops even further.

                      2. re: mc michael

                        How about Primi's on Pico when it opened in the 80's just to name one..And they actually cooked their product...

                        1. re: jeana

                          OK, points for you. Sadly, there's no more Primi. Fortunately, there is AOC--and I think they can cook as well.

                        2. re: mc michael

                          I think that AOC is one of the better restaurants in town. As Michael mentioned, the wines by the glass list is quite extensive. Not only do they have a large selection but they have invested in a system that insures that the wine they pour does not go stale, whoch could have been a problem with offering so many wines by the glass.

                          They have also trained their staff to be knowledgable about both the menu and the wines by the glass, which can be a rarity in this town where so many waiters are more focused on their auditions than their jobs.

                          I think AOC's food is also rather tasty. The lamb skewers in particular come to mind. I will agree with the poster who felt their cheese plate was stingy, but other than that I have not had a portion problem. The items are designed to be shared appetizer portions and do not claim to be entrees. I think that AOC meets its proffer as a wine focused restaurant with a large selection of food and wine at a good value (which is different than inexpensive).

                          AOC is also one of the few restos that are equally good for groups or for a date. The atmosphere is smart casual and I have never been less than satisfied in my 3 visits over the past year.