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Part 5 of a 2010 LA travelogue

by Thor Iverson

[candle at aoc]

Like a candle in the wine
AOC – Surprisingly big and quite a bit more formal-feeling than I’d have suspected based on concept; it self-advertises as a wine bar, and while it is that, I think pretty much everyone I can see – including us – is treating it as a restaurant. The clientele is dressier than I’d have expected, too, and I suspect there might be a slight tension between how this place was conceived and how it is being utilized. Well, one rolls the dice one is given.

Small plates are the thing here, and everything is pretty good. Yet I wouldn’t call anything inspired, and there are a few trips and stumbles – dry duck confit (which takes some effort to ruin), undersalted clams (which I actually enjoy, usually finding this particular prep to be grossly oversalted) – and some haphazard plating. Vegetarians are well-served, and dairy is used in such a way that vegans can pretty successfully reconstitute most vegetarian dishes to their preferences (yes, I am here with a vegan friend).

Service is fine and friendly when we enter a half-empty restaurant. By the time we leave a packed-to-the-gills upstairs room (a quarter what the equally gill-packed first floor offers), the service is clearly overwhelmed; plates are cleared with efficiency, but I never do get to order the glass of dessert wine on which I’ve my eye, and even getting the bill is a bit of a hand-waving chore. I think they’re about one person short on the floor, and since for all I know that might actually be the case this evening, I can’t be overly critical.

The wine list is really good, and I have to say this despite a fair – but not unreasonable – portion of it not being in my palate wheelhouse. The non-wheelhouse swaths make up the majority of the high-ticket entries, so noting that the list isn’t exactly priced to fly only really affects those with different tastes than mine. But this also needs mentioning: it is a persistent peeve when places labeling themselves wine bars offer a spectacular list of bottles and yet an anemic, uninspired handful of by-the-glass options. I can’t conceive of how a place can call itself a wine bar and do that, yet I find it happens again and again. Here, the opposite is very nearly true: the glass (and carafe) list is long and much more inspired and inventive than much of the bottle list. I find that commendable.

Graillot 2008 Crozes-Hermitage Blanc (Rhône) – Really quite reticent, but the bones, shells, and raw almonds have a clean appeal. I find myself wishing for more, but the wine is unwilling. (11/10)

Swan 2008 Pinot Noir “Cuvée des Trois” (Russian River Valley) – Absolutely gorgeous, bringing lush New World fruit into a fine simulacrum of maturity even at this very young age; while past experience suggests that the wine will endure and morph for a while, this specific bottle gives me cause to question that norm. In any case, I see absolutely no reason not to drink this right now, because it’s delicious. Soil, baked plums, fall leaves, rich morels, and soft golden memories of old-growth forest and well-tilled earth. I could drink a case of this, and still be on my feet…Joni Metaphorically-speaking. (11/10)

Fèipu dei Massaretti 2009 Riviera Ligure di Ponente Rossese (Liguria) – Light, airy, saline, and somewhat insubstantial in the midpalate. The fruit that’s there is light in the fashion of, say, a Sancerre or Alsace rosé, but with less acidity and a softer expression. I almost like this, and in a less critical context I probably would, but the wine needs to exert more of an effort towards my affections. (11/10)

Tenuta Luisa 2008 Refosco del Peduncolo (Friuli Venezia-Giulia) – Very, very, very restrained, almost to the point where I suspect TCA (but after long airing, I’m convinced it’s just the wine). Lots of structure (which is muted) and some black raspberry, as if there’s fruit-weight and firmness pressing against an impenetrable barrier, and I’m tasting the wine on the other side of that barrier. Just OK. (11/10)

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Copyright © Thor Iverson