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AOC - most overrated place in LA?

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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.

                    Link: http://www.gayot.com/restaurantpages/...

                    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.

                      3. First, any restaurant that gets consistent raves like AOC is bound to not live up to inflated expectations, which is different from being overrated IMO. I mean, if you hear about their dishes over and over again (and that AOC list seems to replay monthly), you might come to expect more than what the food really is--which is straightforward but robustly flavorful bites that are well-conceived and executed and designed to complement their diverse wine offerings.

                        A place where a solo diner can enjoy him/herself at the bar just as much as that group of 20 upstairs. Sure I'm tiring of seeing small plates/tapas everywhere (not just in LA), but AOC was a pioneer of the modern upscale tapas trend in LA IMO and is one of the few places that realizes this concept well among many lesser copycats.

                        Just like all restos, AOC has their stronger plates. In fact, you didn't mention any of my faves which are the charcuterie, arroz negro (dif. than your black rice w/ squid, I believe), and pork cheeks. Sounds like their charcuterie has declined a bit, but I'm sure it's still better than others that are sold in LA. I have never ordered the dates since I can't eat much date (like you) and make a similar dish at home w/ prunes. I agree w/ you about the small cheese plate and relatively weak desserts. Wouldn't waste my order in those depts.

                        Disclaimer: Last time I went was over a year ago and I no longer live in LA, but AOC remains among some of the best and most memorable "nice" meals I had while there. Where hip, deliciousness, and good service surprisingly intersected for this non-industry "nobody", which is all too rare in the City of Angels.

                        1. I went to AOC for my first time a few nights ago. Everything was quite rich and, I thought, very tasty. Sometimes a little too salty, sometimes a little too oily, overpriced--but that happens w/ these tapas places. I mostly went for to try out some cheese--they are called AOC, afterall. There's a review on the cheese (though not so much the food) on my blog if you're interested: http://www.xanga.com/mstinawu/6125859...

                          1. Depends on your expectations; you might be disappointed if you’re expecting fine dining cuisine like Lucques.
                            But, AOC is a winebar.
                            For me, it's a casual place where I can drop in and sit at the bar or cheese bar (I never sit at a table), dork out about cheese and wine with the staff, get an opportunity to taste a variety of cheese/wine (always with a few comped tastes) and order some seasonal tapas that sound appealing.

                            1. i agree wholeheartedly, ipse. the food isn't all that special, even though the chef gets awards. i love mezze and the idea of small plate places and travel for them but will never go back to AOC unless forced to. the same goes for Lucques (i had their short rib last month and it was only ok this time).
                              people clap b/c they're told to, i think, and the more they pay to clap the more they justify it. even so, i know of one chef that loves AOC but i won't eat her food either although we discuss food all the time. there's no saying. i prefer to cook at home than go to just about all these places, sad to say.

                              i'm looking fwd to going to europe soon, where very often the great chefs cook w/o hype.

                              1. Been there four times. Liked it. Will go back again. Wouldn't mind if someone else paid, though. Ahem.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Steve2 in LA

                                  Love it so much....I've eaten in some great restaurants in Europe and I think AOC is a gem!

                                  1. re: Steve2 in LA

                                    Agree wholeheartedly. Sometimes I think AOC has slipped and avoid it for a while, but then I take someone there for the first time (out of towners) and seeing it through their eyes always makes me appreciate it again. I think Suzanne does her thing extremely well. That AOC became hugely popular to me does not detract from that. Strangely, I have had disappointing experiences at Lucques ever since AOC opened and no longer make a point of dining there.

                                    Here's a recent review I did of AOC - it was a particularly good meal there, I believe over Memorial Day Weekend. That meal reminded me AOC can still be great. That being said, I never eat at a table anymore. Strongly prefer the charcuterie bar.

                                    1. re: meganinlosfeliz

                                      I've only been to Lucques once, but that one time was disappointing. I had high hopes--lots of good reviews here on chowhound. I thought most of the dishes we had we're overly salty, overly rich. Theme of that night? Excess. Though I did really enjoy their nuts and olives at the beginning and my decadent hot chocolate at the end.

                                      I went to AOC also, for the first time a couple nights ago. We had a 5:30pm reservation so it wasn't very noisy and the waiters were quite attentive. It wasn't amazing, but I thought it was quite good (though i was a little disappointed with their tame cheese selection) and would probably go back again w/ a couple friends. It costs ~$50/person and most of us had a glass or two of wine.

                                  2. WORST NEW YEARS LOCATION EVER!!!!!!!!!!

                                    We went as a party of four to AOC to celebrate New Years Eve this year 2007/08, as we have in the past years. This year we went with two vegetarians. I called 3 times to note that we had two vegetarians in our group. It didn't seem to be a problem. "We have many vegetarians & vegans coming..." said the hostess on my 2nd call. So cut to the night of... At $125 per person (for the 9:45 seating) the vegetarian options turned out to actually be the EXACT SAME pre-fixed options on the standard menu, MINUS the meats & fish. So a Scallop dish on a bed of potatoes and salad was served AS a bed of potatoes and salad. The short-ribs on a bed of lettuce, was served AS a BED OF LETTUCE! My dear friends had to eat 7 courses of, basically, accompaniments and greens... for $125 PER PERSON! NO PRICE DIFFERENCE WAS OFFERED, NO SPECIAL PREPARATIONS, NO SPECIFICALLY VEGETARIAN COURSES WERE MADE. It was embarrassing, humiliating and pathetic. Not only would I never go to AOC for New Years Eve again, but I am done with the establishment period. After receiving a $700+ bill and my friends ate 7 courses of rabbit food... and left still as hungry as when they arrived, I felt shame that I have never known before. This was the worst New Years Eve dinner we have ever had, and I truly hope that the establishment is ashamed of it's lazy, pathetic menu and it's cashing in on the people who didn't subscribe to it. If someone paid me $700 right now to go to AOC, I wouldn't go back. I will tell all of our clients and friends to avoid, forget and dismiss the option of ever going. Please... Skip this horrible place. every night of the year. Go to any other restaurant... this place should be ashamed.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: skinnydave

                                      I rec'd AOC to a friend out of town for New Year's. He had the same reaction. It's a shame because a normal night there is pretty fantastic.

                                      1. re: sloanedone

                                        "It's a shame because a normal night there is pretty fantastic"
                                        Actually, if you had the "normal nights" that I had 3x, then you really don't set the bar too high.
                                        I gave that place 3 tries in 2 years and HATED every moment of if.
                                        From the rude and clueless servers (the bus boys were amazing...kudos to them, especially while being barked at by the b!tches that served us) to the flaccid meat that was served on the wilted plate of wanna be pea-shoots, I never want to go again.
                                        Unfortunately, I will have to go within this month to humor one of my friends...it's on their dime, it's their call, I'll give it another try and for my friends' sake, I hope to enjoy it.

                                        1. re: tatertotsrock

                                          I've found the service to be good (and friendly) at the charcuterie bar.

                                          1. re: tatertotsrock

                                            I've been there a dozen or so times and there was only one visit I regret. Get the dates, the brioche, and the steak. If you hate that, we just have different tastes.

                                            1. re: sloanedone

                                              Does anyone know if Suzanne is in the kitchen at all? Since having her kids I heard she wasn't... if not, who is in charge over there?

                                      2. I TOTALLY agree with you. Went there for my birthday last year and was totally disappointed and underwhelmed!

                                        1. Still one of my favorite restaurants in LA. Favorite dishes: fingerling potatoes, faro, arctic char, lamb