I recently had an instant message conversation with a friend that went something like this:
Her: Wearing big, goofy grin cuz Match guy emailed me back
Me: U met him yet?
Her: Going out Sat!!
Me: U been emailing him a lot?
Her: Ya and our emails are amazing
Me: Huh. Maybe u should stop emailing him, cuz it just gets really awkward when u get comfortable emailing someone all the time and u build up all of these expectations and then u finally meet him in person and find out he’s a tool.
I know, it was an awful thing to say. She was so excited, and I blew in like a thunderstorm and rained all over her parade.
This is how I felt about A.O.C.
I had wanted to try chef Suzanne Goin and sommelier Caroline Styne’s second restaurant ever since it opened, back in 2002. The reviews always praise delicious – if expensive – food, and Goin and Styne are known as top-tier professionals who know what they’re doing. The food, as one might expect with a name like A.O.C. (the abbreviation for appellation d’origine contrôlée, meaning “controlled designation of origin” – the geographical
system that determines how French wines are labeled), is French-influenced. The menu also has tastes of the Mediterranean (including Spain and Italy), and everything is made in a locally produced, seasonal California style.
With its beiges and creams and splashes of dark brown, the restaurant itself is warm…yet neutral. It’s like the in-laws that seem so happy to see you on Christmas Eve, and then immediately stop talking right after the appetizers: They’re great and you’re pretty sure they love you…but there’s part of you that’s just not quite sure. There is a great build-up, you see, but by the time you’re all packed up to go home, it’s hard not to feel disappointed…
My friend and I visited A.O.C during dineLA, so the restaurant does deserve a bit of a pass. Sort of. But it wasn’t a rushed waitstaff, or unanswered questions about the menu that was the problem. The issue was extremely high prices (even during restaurant week: $44 per person, plus tax and tip), for food that under-delivered. I had the roasted pear, endive hazelnut and St. Agur salad, which was very pleasant. The grilled chicken, escarole, anchovy and parmesan was very satisfying to eat – but would have been more gratifying had there been more of it. And the pumpkin pot de creme with pecans, brown sugar cream and butter cookies was ok, but after a few quarter spoonfuls, I pushed it aside in favor of spending my calories on the wine.
I had missed a wine class earlier in the week, and was looking forward to going to A.O.C as an opportunity to catch up on some of the regions/varietals that had been poured; wines like Priorat and Rioja, Barolo and Gavi. But when I read to our server from the list of twenty options, she shook her head every single time. She kept apologizing, and clearly felt bad about the situation. When she escaped from the table, it was clear that she felt she hadn’t fled fast enough. I felt bad for asking in the first place.
Ok, ok. There’s the whole A.O.C. thing – maybe I should’ve just expected French wine. But the wine list isn’t exclusively French – not at all. And with charcuterie such as jamon serrano, lomo and coppa, soppressata and cacciatorini, I would expect at least a smattering of wines to pair with countries of origin.
I was disappointed.
This is not to say that the wine list wasn’t excellent – because there were great wines and an interesting diversity. There were pages of wines available by the glass, carafe and/or bottle, (which can be a nice way to get a bit more for the money). Maybe, if I hadn’t been so hungry and so excited to catch up with my class, my experience at A.O.C. would’ve been entirely different.
But I was looking for love, and left feeling let down. I liked A.O.C., and might even try it again. But if I do go again, I will go without any expectations, and I’ll probably keep things casual. You know, like lunch.