A.O.C.

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There is no irony in the fact that what could be considered my most memorable Los Angeles meal in recent history was not spent with a fellow foodie. I wanted to go somewhere special with Tony, who was my childhood friend and easily one of the most influential people in my early life. We hadn’t seen each other in over 27 years so it was important for me to find a restaurant that would be indicative of great Los Angeles food, offer a wide selection, and that was near to the L.A. County Museum of Art, where we met prior to dinner. The irony is that Tony didn’t care for much of the food at all — but that is no reflection on AOC whatsoever. Tony is a guy who genuinely prefers Dennys. Oh well. Besides being an amazing evening with an old friend, it gave me some astounding left-overs for my few days at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

Right off the bat, we ordered the largest cheese plate possible, five cheeses for $25; Besace du Berger (goat), Vermont shepherd Major Farms (sheep), Sottocenere Veneto Italy (cow), Casatica di Bufala Bergramo Italy (buffalo), and Bayley Hazen Jasper Hill Farm Vermont (blue). An exceptional selection which was loved by me and nibbled at by Tony. Well, he at least likes cheese.

For the main courses, I ordered for us to share the Duck confit and shell bean stew with ham hock, Clams, sherry, chanterelles and garlic, and a salad of apple, persimmon, pecans, and Roaring 40s blue. I also couldn’t resist a side of farro and black rice with pinenuts and currants. There is no way I could pick one favorite dish over another, but writing this now — a few weeks later — the taste of the clams and chanterelles still haunts me. From the wood-burning oven and served in a cast-iron skillet, I can’t recall ever having received such unctuous shellfish served thus with mushrooms before. So rich and with the crusty toast to sop up the garlicky sauce, even Tony appreciated the sauce without being a fish eater.

I thought he would like the duck, but it was too rich for him. For me, it was a great example of how to elevate a cassoulet knock-off. Served with the creamy beans and tender duck, were finely turned and fresh root vegetables. Granted, I only had a few bites when the dish was served hot, but it made for a great cold dish the following day and I could sense how well prepared the dish really was. The fresh salad was completely consumed by both of us, clean apples and bright persimmons. Also, the farro and wild rice was probably unnecessary during the course of the meal (except that I loved it), but was also an exceptional left-over. Perfectly seasoned and not a mis-step during the course of the meal.

Now I will give Tony points for having a sweet tooth and we shared an Ibarra chocolate cake with spiced pepitas and dulce de leche ice cream. If only I could have had left-over of this as well. Obviously prepared to order, the spiced pepitas made a warm chocolate cake on a different level; rich, yes — but moreso than just a good, warm chocolate cake. The dulche de leche ice cream provided a creamy counterpoint; a bit sweeter than than dark cake.

A word on service; we were seated in a smallish room upstairs, away from the main dining room. It could get a little loud, especially when the bridal shower at a nearby table got a bit more rowdy than desired. But we stayed well beyond the time when anyone else was seated in the room and the service continued to be superlative. They guided me on the dishes that I would be taking with me, since I did not have refrigeration. Everyone, from the bussers to the waitress, were excellent.
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