It’s important to have a lottery plan, so that if you're ever fortunate enough to hit it big, you'll know exactly what to do with all that newfound cash - otherwise, you may find yourself aimlessly buying Ferraris with nowhere to put them. It should come as no surprise that my lottery plan does not include even one Ferrari, and instead involves abandoning the hustle and bustle of city life and moving into an ancient farmhouse in Provence. I’d wake up with the sun each morning, learn how to grow my own food, drink lots of wine, and practice my French until it was flawless. Over time, I'd be able to convince my neighbors to invite me over for dinner (I’m a dreamer, but I’m not completely out of touch - I’d need to win them over, of course), and we'd enjoy incredible home-cooked food in their picturesque garden, sipping wine under the stars, to the soundtrack of a bubbling fountain. Sure, this plan is basically the plot of one of my favorite books, but I never claimed to be original - I’m a basic American Francophile, and I’ve made peace with that.
While my odds of winning the lottery remain painfully low, taking a mini-trip into my French garden dream life is completely feasible - in fact, I recently discovered that it’s as simple as booking a patio table at a.o.c. in Beverly Grove. The dreamy outdoor space at Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne’s Mediterranean small plates and wine bar concept is like something out of an impressionist painting: white stucco walls covered in vibrant green ivy are accented with warm red brick, clusters of elegant cushioned metal chairs surround simple wooden tables, French-style windows and doors are propped open to let the late-summer breezes flow. Here, you are transported away from the hectic, congested streets of Los Angeles and into the pastoral European countryside, where time passes slowly, good wine flows freely, and food is impossibly fresh and delicious.
When a.o.c. first opened its doors 15 years ago, those doors were actually about one mile east of where they are today. After finding success in their first collaboration, Lucques, Goin and Styne felt the itch to create something new - this time, a menu designed for the grazer: a long list of market-driven small plates to be shared with the table, paired with a robust list of wines by-the-glass perfect for sampling. The concept was well-received, and is credited with launching the small plates trend that continues to sweep the city. After ten years in a small location near the Original Farmers Market, a historic and beloved restaurant space became available (beloved especially by Styne, who frequented the space with her mother back when it was the power-lunch spot Orso), and a relocation felt like it was meant to be. New life was breathed into the restaurant, and its alluring patio opened up an opportunity for the addition of lunch and brunch service. Today, a.o.c. can be found on nearly every list of top Los Angeles brunch destinations, revered not only for its enchanting atmosphere, but for its inventive and distinctive cuisine.
If you’re a frequent visitor to our blog, you’ll recall that just a few weeks ago, we visited another of Goin and Styne’s restaurants: a.o.c.’s younger sister, Tavern. Details like flawless service, a sprawling biodynamic wine list, and Goin's signature French-meets-California cooking style make the two restaurants’ shared parentage somewhat obvious, but they're also each distinctive in their own way. While Tavern achieves a refined and quiet elegance, a.o.c. feels decidedly more familial and bucolic: perhaps it's the small shareable dishes that make their way around each table, or the casual plate lunches piled high with cheese, roasted vegetables, and slabs of rustic bread, or maybe it's the ever-present large groups laughing together over a bottle of wine. If Tavern is the sister who invites you up for brunch at her impossibly luxurious penthouse in the city, a.o.c. is the one who invites you to spend the week in the European countryside with her entire family, cooking meals together and drinking the local wine.
About that wine... our recent meal at a.o.c. made us realize: why aren't we drinking more wine at brunch? With our server's expert guidance, we sampled several wines that were begging to be sipped alongside brunch fare. Our choice, a Sciacarello rosé from Corsica, was crisp and bright with a subtle, earthy complexity that paired particularly well with the roasted vegetables in our meal. Try getting that from a citrus-drenched mimosa.
While the small plates mentality is king during dinner service at a.o.c., it can either be politely ignored or warmly embraced at brunch. We, of course, cannot help ourselves when presented with the opportunity to sample as much as possible, so we ordered a few items to share. We began with a "Plate Lunch": a board of cheese, meats, dips, bread, and other small bites perfect for sharing. Ours was the Farmer's Lunch, a vegetarian spin on the concept that included beautifully roasted peppers and eggplant, a cloud of soft burrata cheese, mounds of savory muhammara and chickpea puree, and expertly-dressed fresh greens and tomatoes. On the side were two thick slices of lightly charred sourdough, just waiting to be piled high with toppings. While this dish is simple in concept, there's something incredibly satisfying about being able to create a new flavor combination with each bite: some were soft and mild, others intense and spiced. The muhammara was absolute heaven; we would have taken a gallon home with us if given the chance.
For a breakfast that truly evokes the feeling of a quiet morning in the country, there is the Grilled Asparagus with Polenta. At the base is a hearty serving of thick, creamy polenta, perfectly seasoned and buttery. On top, a mound of roasted vegetables and greens, long spears of asparagus, a halved boiled egg with soft jammy yolks, a touch of cream, and a sprinkling of bright green chives. We especially loved how the rich, caramelized flavor of the roasted vegetables paired with the soft, velvety quality of the polenta and eggs. This is heartwarming food, immensely satisfying in both flavor and texture - the sort of thing you'd make at home if you could cook as well as Suzanne Goin.
Finally, there was the dish that knocked our socks off: the Vanilla Bean French Toast. As certified brunch experts, we have tasted a lot of French Toast in our careers. And while we're certainly fans of good bread soaked in a sweet, eggy mixture and fried until crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, it's a rare day that a bite of French Toast produces an audible reaction from either one of us. Maybe it was the light and creamy whipped mascarpone, or perhaps it was the subtly sweet mixed berry compote, or the satisfying crunch of chopped marcona almonds. Whatever it was, we were giggly with joy as we slowly savored each vanilla-scented bite, hoping to commit its exquisiteness to memory. If a sweet brunch is your thing, this is an absolute must-order - we're currently working out an excuse to return as soon as possible and devour it all over again.
While a idyllic setting or a superb meal can each be evocative and compelling in their own right, a.o.c. proves that when combined, they have the power to transport you to another place - a place of comfort and calm, where the allure of your lottery plan is somehow dwarfed by the promise of a nice glass of rosé, a cozy perch by the fountain, and a heaping pile of French Toast.
8700 W 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90048