Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants


A.O.C Restaurant, originally uploaded by ktglick.

I'm going to let you in on my secret. It's one of those things that I don't really want everyone to get clued in on. It's that good.

My secret is the cheese bar at A.O.C. I have been seated at a normal table at A.O.C. for a fabulous date-night dinner and I have sat at the cheese bar at A.O.C. for a fun and friendly and equally fabulous dining experience. I don't think I ever want to sit anywhere but the cheese bar again. The trick is getting a seat there. They don't take reservations for it, and there are only eight spots available so the trick is really just to get there at the right time. If you're me, that means you get there right when the restaurant opens to assure yourself that coveted spot.

Why is it so much better sitting there? Well, first of all you get to watch the person that I must call the charcutier et fromagier. I don't know what else to call her. She slices the meat and makes the cheese and charcuterie and other cold small plates. It's hypnotic. There is also the fact that it really is its own little cozy area. It feels like you're eating with your own secret club. And it comes with its own special server, Nick. He is cute and friendly and is spot on with the suggestions for wine and cheese or anything ...

We start with a five-cheese plate. We pick one each person, and then opt for a suggestion by Nick. I always like to combine choices based on knowledge and experience, choices based on my "vibe" from the menu, and suggestions from the server. I find that I have a special sort of empathy with menus and wine lists and the vibes that I receive just from looking at the listings are almost always right. But then again, suggestions from the server have just as high a success rate and sometimes you will be made privy to secret off-menu items as we were with our selection of sheep cheese.

The cheeses were excellent and I am happy to report that the menu did not steer me wrong by vibing me towards the Doddington. It was fantastic, somewhere between a chedder and a gouda. We also had to order some fresh sliced prosciutto after watching mounds of it roll off of the meat slicer.

We then proceeded to go crazy on the menu, ordering a market lettuce salad with a fantastic keffir lime dressing (creamy and uber-tart, and perfect lettuce-dressing ratio!); morels with ramps, mascarpone and polenta (my favorite thing on the menu, it is super-rich, almost like macaroni and cheese, but sans macaroni); some kind of bacon-wrapped salmon (I swear!), which I didn't eat, but I did try a bite of the bacon, which was thick and meaty; a steak with buerre blanc that looked amazing, although I didn't try it; steamed fingerlings with creme fraiche, which I could have eaten two more bowls of and eaten with the bite of bacon was like a platonically ideal version of a baked potato; and cauliflower with curry and red vinegar which is how cauliflower should be made 50% of the time (and should be roasted with olive oil, garlic and bread crumbs the other 50%)--the only other curry I have had that tastes as fresh as the curry on those cauliflowers is the curry my friend Mike makes from ingredients straight out of his parents' back yard, so ...

For dessert we had a honey banana parfait with sea salt and toffee bits and some kind of sinful-delicious chocolate cake. I'm ashamed to say that after all the wine that came with dinner, my initial reaction to being asked if I wanted to share the parfait was "No way, bi-otch, I want my own!" I treasure the delicate balance between sweet and savory just that much. But once I heard there was going to be chocolate cake involved as well, I became much more eager to give up some of the goods.

I can only remember the wines vaguely ... there was a pinot noir rose to start; then an Oregon Pinot Blanc (or Pinot Gris?) A to Z; then a red wine (Aglianico del Vulture?) ... I know it was something about a vulture; and finally a Flowers pinot noir. I'm no master of wine, so I'm not so good at describing wines, but the A to Z had such a honey component that it really actually tasted like someone had put honey in the wine. It's one of the first times that I've been able to definitively taste a flavor described to me in a wine. The Vulture was more herbal and the Flowers was incredibly fruity and mellow, tasting more like apricots and citrus (that's unofficial, I am by no means trained to tell you the flavors in a wine, and you must know that this is the same person who got a whiff of the nose of the Vulture and pronounced to have notes of "feet," so ... take caution).

8022 W. Third St. (Crescent Heights Blvd.)
Los Angeles, CA 90048


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