01 February 2007

A|O|C – a tapas dinner in Los Angeles

When we go on vacation, my wife and I pride ourselves on being able to find interesting, fun restaurants that serve an enjoyable meal. We very seldom make reservations from home. Most of the time we do as I wrote in Chapter 2 when we found Casa del Rey. We wandered down to the Marina, checked the menus at a couple of places, and went in.

But as we planned our trip to Los Angeles, we wanted to eat dinner one night at a good restaurant where there would be the possibility of catching sight of a celebrity. So we started our investigation. We talked to friends who travel to L.A. fairly often. We sent e-mails to the children of friends who now live in L.A. We checked numerous web sites – CitySearch, Epicurious Travel, and others. When we would get a recommendation, we’d cross reference with different sources to see if they all agreed.

We narrowed it down to two possibilities – The Ivy and A|O|C. The Ivy sounded very promising. One of the web sites we checked noted that a scene from the movie Get Shorty was filmed there. I liked that movie, and I remembered the scene. But on CitySearch, several of the reviewers said that the food was mediocre and over-priced. On the other hand, the on-line reviewers for A|O|C raved about the food. So we picked A|O|C. We called ahead and made a reservation for our second day in L.A.

We packed our second day in L.A. full of activity. First a long walk along the Marina. Then we drove to Paramount Studios for a tour of the lot. Then we drove to Hollywood to see the Walk of Fame and Grumman’s Chinese Theater. Then we drove to Beverly Hills, had lunch, and shopped on Rodeo Drive. Then we drove back to our hotel to rest and freshen up before dinner. (I confess. I checked my e-mails again. Sorry.)

By the time we headed back onto the freeway to go to the restaurant, the traffic actually wasn’t bad. We made good time, found it easily, and arrived about 15 minutes early. They weren’t quite ready for us. But they offered us a table upstairs. We said “ok.” Our mistake.

See the nice picture of the dining room and bar at the top of this post? That’s not what you see upstairs. Basically, it was just a row of tables in a hallway. Not unpleasant. Not uncomfortable. (The tables were squeezed a little close to each other, but they were downstairs, too.) But, people-watching or star-gazing was nil.

On one side of us was a table of eight young adults. They were a parody of the stereotype of the self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing, egocentric L.A. denizen. They were kind of funny in a way I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate. They ordered lots of plates and drank lots of wine.

On the other side was a nice, quiet couple who described themselves as Persians. They were very nicely dressed and the woman was quite stunning. We exchanged a few pleasantries. But I don’t think this was their style of restaurant. They didn’t seem to get the idea of ordering several small plates and sharing.

My wife and I do like tapas. Sometimes, it seems like you end up ordering more than you want or need. But that wasn’t our experience at A|O|C. We started with a selection of three cheeses. We told the server what varieties of cheese we liked, but we weren’t familiar with the differences between the specific cheese makers on the menu. We ordered a goat cheese, a sheep cheese, and a brie, and our server brought us a combination that he thought would work well together. They were very enjoyable.

We also ordered a bottle of Spanish wine – Solar de Rendez Rioja. Wow! It was fantastic. After the server opened the bottle and we had taken a few sips, the manager came to our table to make sure we liked the wine. He was sincerely interested in our opinion of the wine, and leisurely chatted with us about it.

After the cheese, we ordered two of the small plates. One was the young broccoli with garlic and chili. It was excellent. The broccoli was cooked crisp tender. The garlic and chili provided a nice counter-point and were not overbearing. The second plate was the market fish from the wood burning oven with orange, mint, and capers. It was very creative. The flavors each were distinct and complementary.

When we were done with the fish and broccoli, we decided we’d had enough. So instead of ordering another plate or two, we ordered a dessert. I picked the gateau Breton. My wife would have preferred a chocolate dessert, but she wasn’t really hungry anymore so she went along with my choice. When I ordered it, I jokingly called it an apple tart. The server very seriously and patiently explained that it was not a tart, rather it was a dense cake served with calvados, smokehouse apples and crème legère.

So in total, we didn’t see any celebrities and the room we were seated was nothing special. But we loved our meal and we loved the wine.

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