Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Hart and The Hunter (Los Angeles, CA)

The Hart & The Hunter Restaurant
7950 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046
Tue 02/26/2013, 07:00p-11:15p


One of the most beloved pop-ups in recent times has been Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga's Wolf in Sheep's Clothing (unrelated to the recently-defunct restaurant bearing the same name), which bowed at Capri Venice in December 2011 and ran until last summer. As a follow-up to that venture, the duo teamed up with Paligroup's Avi Brosh (a regular at the old spot) to launch The Hart and the Hunter inside a space at Brosh's Palihotel that was once home to a Brendan Collins-run coffee bar. Named after one of Aesop's Fables depicting a narcissistic, skinny-legged deer, the restaurant debuted last October with much of the original staff in place (including GM Jonathan Strader), and features more of the chefs' Cal-Southern cooking.

About the Chefs: Georgia native Brian Dunsmoor is an alumnus of the well-regarded Johnson & Wales culinary school in Charleston, where he graduated from in 2004. During his tenure there, he worked at Starfish Grille in the City, and also interned at Kiawah Island Golf Resort's Atlantic Room. Following, Dunsmoor went to Blind Pig Tavern in Athens, and during this period, also attended Gainesville College. In 2005, he began cooking at Hugh Acheson's much-lauded 5 & 10, where he really began developing his skills as a chef, but left two years later to move to LA. Once on the West Coast, Dunsmoor secured a post at Michael Cimarusti's top-notch seafooder Providence at the tail end of 2007, then became sous at both The Hungry Cat and Joe's, before leaving to head up the kitchens at the revamped Axe on Abbot Kinney.

Kristopher Tominaga, meanwhile, grew up right here in Southern California, and fell in love with cooking while attending CSU Chico. After graduating with a business degree, he enrolled in the highly selective Culinary Arts certificate program at Boston University. Once school was done, he stayed in Boston for a while and cooked at Frank McClelland's famed L'Espalier, under Chef de Cuisine James Hackney. However, LA beckoned, and Tominaga soon returned, finding employment as a sous chef at Joe's, where he would meet Dunsmoor in 2008. He would eventually become CdC there before leaving to start WiSC.

The Hart and the Hunter Interior
The Hart and the Hunter resides in a building that was once home to a youth hostel called Orbit Hotel, and before that, the Century Home For The Retired & Elderly. Given such limitations, I can't complain too much about the renovations. It's a tiny, homey sort of space, with the requisite communal table and a lilliputian, glass-encased kitchen. Also of note are the mismatched chairs, equestrian-themed knick knacks, as well as the infamous blue-tiled walls, which no doubt contribute to the sometimes-deafening din of the place.

The Hart and the Hunter Menu The Hart and the Hunter Wine/Beer List
The menu here at Hart and the Hunter reads well, an appealing-sounding array of dishes categorized into a logical progression of various sections. To drink, there's a not-terribly-expensive, California-centric wine list and a pretty good selection of craft beers. BYOB is available with a $15/5 corkage fee for wine/beer, making it one of the few places that rightly distinguishes between the two types of booze. Click for larger versions.

Chicken Cracklins and Hot Pepper Vinegar
Chicken Cracklins and Hot Pepper Vinegar [$5.00]
It seems like everyone starts things off with a plate of the cracklins, and for good reason. The skin is oft considered the best part of the bird, so why not make it the star of the show? The dish was all that you'd expect: crunchy, salty, savory shards of chicken-y goodness, made even better with a dash of the included hot sauce.

Crispy Shrimp Heads & Chili Vin
Crispy Shrimp Heads & Chili Vin [$6.00]
Deep fried shrimp heads are a favorite of mine at sushi joints, so again, why not make a whole course out of 'em? Crunchy and briny, the heads paired swimmingly with the heat in the dish, while a hit of lemon was the icing on the cake. Talk about creative reuse.

Jean Philippe Brut, France
On the beverage front, we commenced with some bubbly, specifically a bottle of the Jean Philippe Brut, France [$40], a Blanquette de Limoux from France's Languedoc region. It was wonderful, with some juicy grape-y and apple-y flavors that managed to convey sweetness without being cloying. Undeniably fun, and utterly gluggable.

Butter Biscuits & Condiments
Butter Biscuits & Condiments [$6.00]
And here we come to HatH's much bandied about biscuits, served tonight with a delightfully sweet cinnamon butter, juicy blackberries, and a wonderfully creamy-spicy pimento cheese. They're probably worth the hype, and likely the best versions that I've ever had: crisp out the outside (with a nice "crust"), yet soft and fluffy within, and super, duper flaky. How flaky? They literally fell apart when I picked 'em up. Yeah, you gotta order these.

Smoked Trout, Boiled Egg, Pickled Onion, Capers, Avocado Toast
Smoked Trout, Boiled Egg, Pickled Onion, Capers, Avocado Toast [$12.00]
A jar held the smoky, fishy, oily essence of trout, its palpable heft fortunately moderated by the mound of crisp pickles nearby. The egg was certainly tasty, though a touch superfluous, while the avocado toast served as a subdued base to the dish.

Brussels Sprout & Peanut Salad, Aged Cheddar, Bacon Sherry Vinaigrette
Brussels Sprout & Peanut Salad, Aged Cheddar, Bacon Sherry Vinaigrette [$11.00]
Our salad arrived looking more like a slaw, with the salty weight of the cheddar taking center stage against the wonderful crunch of the peanuts, while the vinaigrette tied things together with a sweet, tartish verve. There was only one problem: the bitterness, the crunch, what I love about Brussels--it was all a bit overshadowed, set in the background.

Epic Brewing Brainless On Cherries
To make good use of the BYO policy, I brought along three beers that I'd pulled from my fridge, all Americans in keeping with the restaurant's theme. The first was the Epic Brewing Brainless On Cherries from Utah, one of only 1,800 numbered bottles from releases #13. It was a beautifully ruby-tinged Belgian-style ale, brewed with cherries and aged in French oak red wine barrels. I found it surprisingly light and thin, with a pretty restrained expression of the fruit and less sourness than I was expecting.

Shrimp & Grits, Mushrooms, Bacon, Scallions
Shrimp & Grits, Mushrooms, Bacon, Scallions [$20.00]
A staple of Charleston and its surroundings, the shrimp 'n' grits is a relatively new item on the menu, and is a surefire winner. The shrimp were cooked spot on, with a great bite to them to go along with their subtle, saline sweetness. The grits, meanwhile, were even better, creamy and satisfying, with a fantastic hit of salt from the bacon, all while the mushrooms added an earthy veil to the dish that worked flawlessly with both elements. An absolute must-try.

Venison Carpaccio, Horseradish Crème Fraiche, Pickled Garlic, Gremolata, Fennel
Venison Carpaccio, Horseradish Crème Fraiche, Pickled Garlic, Gremolata, Fennel [$15.00]
Ironically, the only dish on the menu featuring hart (deer) was the least successful. The meat was actually a bit lost amongst the other ingredients in the dish, the gremolata and crème fraîche in particular, though I did appreciate the salty kick of the cheese here, as well as the lightness of the fennel strands.

Shishito Peppers
Shishito Peppers [$6.00]
Up next was a classic preparation of shishitos, the char on the peppers working beautifully along with their sweet spice. Everyone knows that about 1 in 10 shishitos are super hot, so I must've had some back luck tonight, as I kept getting a string of the spicy ones. Yet, I kept going--pleasure and pain I suppose.

Bootlegger's Brewery Knuckle Sandwich
To pair with our heartier courses, I brought out the Bootlegger's Brewery Knuckle Sandwich, a limited release double IPA brewed right here in Fullerton. It was a superb example of the style, with a great malty base intermingled with the requisite citric and floral nuances. Supremely balanced between bitter and fruity flavors.

Hanger Steak, Polenta, Mushrooms, Snail, Herb Butter
Hanger Steak, Polenta, Mushrooms, Snail, Herb Butter [$22.00]
A hanger steak was nice--tender and flavorful--but it sort of took a back seat to the snails. Indeed, the escargots had a lovely texture to them, and showed off a mouth-watering saltiness and savor amplified by the mushrooms and butter. Tasty, but domineering, though fortunately, the polenta here did help balance things out.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Bacon
Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Bacon [$6.00]
What I felt was lacking in the salad above I found right here in this plate. The bitterness of the sprouts was proudly displayed here, deftly paired with a whisper of char astringency, a touch of sweetness, and the salty punch of bacon.

Melted Raclette, Butterball Potatoes, Cornichons, Ham, Mustard, Soft Bread
Melted Raclette, Butterball Potatoes, Cornichons, Ham, Mustard, Soft Bread [$15.00]
Our last savory dish, a reimagined version of the Swiss raclette, featured the always-winning combination of cheese and potato. Indeed, the age-old pairing made perfect sense, forming a hearty, homey, comforting mélange of tastes and textures, perfectly perked up by a hit of salty ham. At the same time, the traditional accoutrements of pickles imparted a sense of moderation to the course, and the bread was a natural pairing, too.

Joseph James Brewing Bourbon Barrel Russian Imperial Stout
To go along with dessert, I paired a hand-numbered (#435) bottle of Joseph James Brewing Bourbon Barrel Russian Imperial Stout, a version of the brewery's standard Red Fox RIS that's aged for seven months in (Four Roses?) Bourbon barrels. Dark as night, unquestionably viscous, and smooth, the beer was loaded with notes of chocolate and coffee on the nose and the palate, with a marked sweetness all commixed with an undercurrent of oaky goodness from the barrel aging. Nice!

Lemon Ice Box Pie
Lemon Ice Box Pie [$6.00]
Time for some desserts, which are handled here by Pastry Chef Sarah "Bearclaw" Schreck. We began with the ice box pie, a Southern treat that's quickly becoming H&H's signature dessert. The custard here was fabulous, with a dense, frozen-ish consistency and a boatload of puckering, lemony sourness balanced by the sugary meringue, all while the graham cracker crust served as a flawless complement.

Charleston Coconut Cake
Charleston Coconut Cake [$6.00]
We ended our night with easily the best coconut cake I've ever eaten, and one of the most delicious cakes I've had, period. Possibly inspired by the "ultimate" version at Peninsula Grill, it conveyed a gorgeous coconut sweetness within 10 layers of moist, sponge-y, saturated goodness, topped off by a delightful toasted coconut character. It was almost tres leches-like in nature. Perfect.

Jonathan Strader, Brian Dunsmoor, Kris Tominaga
The Hart and the Hunter Manager Jonathan Strader, along with Co-Executive Chefs Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga.

Before opening Hart and the Hunter, Dunsmoor and Tominaga embarked on a culinary tour of the South, and perhaps because of this, the cooking seemed slightly tweaked from before. Indeed, they're still intermingling the traditions of American Southern cooking with Cal cuisine sensibilities, but the dishes seemed a bit cleaner, more focused, with a clearer Down South aesthetic. I'm glad that the two have emerged from the WiSC debacle as strong as ever, and finally found a place to call their own.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

WineBar @ CoffeeBar (Los Angeles, CA)

WineBar at CoffeeBar Pop-Up
600 S Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90014
Thu 02/21/2013, 07:30p-10:10p

CoffeeBar Exterior

The City's latest pop-up comes to us courtesy of Greg Bernhardt.

A bit of history for the uninitiated: Bernhardt's an LA stalwart who cut his teeth at Le Dome and Vida before becoming Neal Fraser's Chef de Cuisine at Grace (he even assisted Fraser on Iron Chef America, defeating Cat Cora in Battle Pork). In 2007, he was hired by Steven Arroyo to run things at 750mL in South Pasadena, but left soon after to open Church & State. His tenure there was brief, though, and he was out by November 2008, replaced by none other than Walter Manzke. From there, he moved on to several iterations of LudoBites, serving as sous, then went on to consult at The Kitchen Table with Fernando Darin. His latest gig is with ACME Bar Group, where he's serving as Executive Chef for a number of projects, one of which is a revamp of CoffeeBar in Downtown's Old Bank District.

Bernhardt is planning to transform the space into a legit restaurant. But before then, he's holding a temporary dinner series with his friend Sergio Perera, another LudoBites alum whom we last encountered at the Amalur Project pop-up at Marcona. The unfortunately-named WineBar @ CoffeeBar debuted on February 6th, and runs Tuesdays through Sundays until mid-March.

WineBar & CoffeeBar Menu WineBar & CoffeeBar Drink List
The WineBar@CoffeeBar menu features a compact list of reasonably-priced dishes, designed as a collaborative effort between the two chefs. A small group can easily run the gamut here, which is exactly what we did (though the mushroom course was curiously omitted). To drink, there's a small selection of wines (all available by the glass), as well as a handful of beers, and coffee too, I suppose. BYOB is a possibility. Click for larger versions.

N/V Capdevila y Pujol Brut Nature
What better way to start than with some bubbly? Hence, we popped a bottle of the N/V Capdevila y Pujol Brut Nature [$29], a dry, quaffable sparkler that worked out well enough.

Jamon [$12.00] | Ciabatta, Tomato
Up first was a straightforward plate containing slices of nutty, fatty jamón serrano. The ham itself was spot on, but the paired pan con tomate fell short, being rather tough to chew and providing too little in terms of offsetting tomato tartness.

Potato Nests
Next, Perera presented an extra plate comprised of potato "nests" encircling whipped crème fraîche, bottarga, lavender flower, and mustard. They were delicious little bites, with a wonderful crunch and the salty, satisfying weight of the potato playing off the tangy cream in commendable fashion. A great amuse bouche-y type of course.

Cured Snapper
Cured Snapper [$12.00] | Yuzu Koshu, Radish, Olive Oil, Herbs
A crudo dish of sorts featured clean, supple cuts of red snapper, nicely enhanced by the weight of the olive oil "caviar" present and the undercurrent of vegetal nuances provided by the kale oil. My favorite thing here, though, was the use of yuzukosho, which lent a salty, spicy intensity to the finish that I was quite enamored with.

Potato Soup
Potato Soup [$8.00] | Egg, Chorizo
Up next was Bernhardt's riff on Ludo's well-known "Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Chorizo" dish. Though it didn't quite reach the lofty levels of its predecessor, the dish was tasty and stood on its own merits. The velouté formed a rich, hearty base to things, and the interplay between the egg and overarching spice of the chorizo was classically effective. At the same time, the incorporation of brown butter croutons added a nice textural element, and I believe also imparted a slight sweetness to the mix.

Fiano di Avellino 2011, Struzziero 'Vigna Pezze', Campaina, Italy
Our second wine was the Fiano di Avellino 2011, Struzziero 'Vigna Pezze', Campaina, Italy [$39], which I was quite fond of. In fact, my dining companions and I all loved its bright, honeyed, stonefruit-laced sweetness and crisp, refreshing character.

Baby Vegetables
Baby Vegetables [$12.00] | Buttermilk, Kale
The requisite veggie plate arrived beautifully presented. The various items here showed off a bevy of bright, bitter, verdant flavors and a delightful mélange of textures, all while the included vinaigrette and kale oil served to tie everything together. Surprisingly satisfying.

Beef Tartare
Beef Tartare [$12.00] | Pepper Cress, Rye, Cured Egg Aioli
The beef tartar made a nice showing, conveying a great herbaceousness from the cress and nasturtium that melded seamlessly with the gravity of the meat, all while rye dust imprinted a palpable earthiness to the dish. I also quite liked the aioli here, which added a palpable punch to things and did a great job integrating the various elements at play. Superb when taken with the accompanying bread.

Fried Squid
Fried Squid [$9.00] | Ink Salt, Citrus Aioli
Now this I found quite whimsical, as well as tasty, with the squid's crisp, briny crust working well with its supple, creamy insides. A dab of the tangy aioli, meanwhile, served as a fitting finishing touch to the dish, making this a fun take on traditional fried calamari.

Pork Cheek
Pork Cheek [$10.00] | Shelling Beans, Sherry, Marjoram
Pork cheek was just as you'd expect: falling-apart tender and teeming with dark, sticky, porcine flavors, all while the red pepper sherry vinaigrette imparted a bit of balance to things. I really appreciated the flageolet and cranberry beans here, too, which worked as a fantastic counterpoint to the pork.

De Struise Rio Reserva
Our final beverage was the De Struise Rio Reserva, a rather hard-to-find Belgian that I'd brought from my collection. It was an intriguing beer to be sure, a golden quadrupel brewed way back in 2008, aged for a year in Bordeaux barrels, then aged another three years in Bourbon barrels before finally being bottled in 2012. I quite enjoyed it, with its multifaceted burst of spicy, fruity, caramel-y, and woody flavors intermingled with a marked, pervasive alcoholic tinge. Very cool.

Oxtail Soup Dumpling
Oxtail Soup Dumpling [$12.00] | Parmesan
Oxtail was as hearty and satisfying as I wanted, putting forth some really deep, satisfying flavors that played nicely with the included shavings of Parmesan. The pasta, meanwhile, did a great job in providing a textural counterpoint to the meat, and also served to ground and moderate the dish. However, a bit more brightness or acidity would've been nice.

Pork Belly
Pork Belly [$10.00] | Pickled Purple Onion Petals, Sancho Pepper
We ended the savory section of our meal with a lovely presentation of pork belly. The meat arrived expertly prepared, with a boatload of piggy flavors and a great balance between fat and lean, along with a wonderfully crisp crust. Certainly, the belly stood alone, but the various greenery worked wonders in providing contrast and levity to the plate.

Bourbon Apple Brûlée
Bourbon Apple Brûlée [$8.00] | Creme Fraiche, Crisp Almond Cake
A cooked apple gave us a satisfying crunch as well as a burst of sweet, spicy flavors, intertwined with a touch of herbaceousness (rosemary?). I quite liked the almond financiers here too, while the crème fraîche certainly added a light, tangy temper to the dessert.

Sponge Cake
Sponge Cake [$8.00] | Lemon Curd, Chocolate Cremeux, Yogurt
The sponge cake (aerated brioche?) showed off an almost impossibly light, ethereal consistency, one grounded by the chocolate-y, fruity notes present. A dash of thyme, olive oil, and salt, meanwhile, added a savory twang to the dessert that really took it to the next level.

This was another laudable showing from Perera, and it was great to finally be able to taste Bernhardt's food for the first time as well. I will say, though, that since this was a collaborative effort, the menu didn't have as much cohesion as I would've liked. That being said, there were some great dishes presented tonight. As for what's next for the duo, Chef Bernhardt will be launching 6th Street Tavern in place of the old Urbano Pizza Bar in the coming weeks (where he'll likely spend most of his time), and CoffeeBar will be rebooted as well, turning into a bona fide restaurant. Chef Perera, meanwhile, will be consulting at Marcona for a bit, and will continue firming up plans to open his first solo project in LA. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A.O.C. (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

AOC Restaurant
8700 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Mon 02/18/2013, 07:30p-10:45p

A.O.C. Exterior

Since debuting in 2002, A.O.C. has been a benchmark for wine bars here in LA, and after 10 years in business, the restaurant has just gotten some brand new digs. Yes, earlier this month, Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne's acclaimed eatery moved into the space once occupied by Il Covo, Orso, and Walter El Nagar's pop-up Barbershop (which, coincidentally, is relocating to the old A.O.C. space). It'd been over three years since my last visit to the place, so I figured that this rebirth of sorts was a good excuse to return.

A.O.C. Menu A.O.C. Cocktail List
A.O.C.'s menu has been tweaked a bit, though it still features Goin's Cal-Med stylings, as executed by Chef de Cuisine Lauren Herman. Meanwhile, there's been more flux on the beverage side of things. The wine list remains the realm of Styne, but there's a new cocktail program in place, courtesy of barman Christiaan Rollich. Click for larger versions.

fire & smoke
fire & smoke [$14.00] | alipus mezcal, tequila, blood orange, sweet wood infusion, arbol chile
Naturally, I had to give the newly installed cocktail program a go, and started off with the aptly-named fire & smoke. The woody, smoky essence of the mezcal/tequila combo absolutely made sense with the sweet, tart citrus notes present, and the chile de árbol added a lovely, overarching heat to the drink. Overall, nicely integrated, and surprisingly quaffable. Following, we went with wine, specifically a rather spectacular bottle of gigondas domaine la bouissieres '09 [$104], a big, fruity southern Rhône that I unfortunately forgot to snap a photo of.

young escarole, fennel, anchovy & parmesan
young escarole, fennel, anchovy & parmesan [$9.00]
The meal started off light with this escarole salad, the bright, bitter greens pairing well with the crisp, focused flavors of shaved fennel and carrot. Anchovy and Parm, meanwhile, contributed a much-needed gravity to the course that did a nice job in tying everything together.

the farmer's plate
the farmer's plate [$15.00] | roasted vegetables, chickpea purée, muhammara, burrata & grilled toast
The requisite veggie plate, meanwhile, was actually pretty delicious, with the troika of burrata, hummus, and muhammara working hand in hand with the perfectly roasted, true-to-form vegetables. A pleasant surprise.

braised leeks, goat cheese, pancetta
braised leeks, goat cheese, pancetta [$14.00]
Next up was an item from A.O.C.'s newly-instituted "focaccia" portion of the menu. The dish came out looking more like a pizzetta than what you'd typically expect from the bread, but was enjoyable nonetheless. I really appreciated how the sweetness of the leeks complemented the goat cheese here, as well as the salty kick of those crunchy pancetta strips. Lovely crispness on the crust, too.

clams, sherry, green garlic & toast
clams, sherry, green garlic & toast [$14.00]
Clams were on point as well, with a pleasantly supple, yet substantial bite to 'em, while their subdued brine was augmented by the paired nuances of sherry and green garlic. They had just a delightful depth that I really appreciated. Very nice.

brioche, prosciutto, gruyère & egg
brioche, prosciutto, gruyère & egg [$14.00]
Bread, ham, cheese, egg. It's pretty hard to go too astray with these ingredients, and this course was no exception. We're talking classic flavors, with the prosciutto, egg, and cheese all coming together for a hearty, salty, satisfying mélange, only partially moderated by the light frisée and toasty bread. Foolproof.

arroz negro, squid & saffron aïoli
arroz negro, squid & saffron aïoli [$14.00]
Rice arrived black as night, a touch below al dente, with a heady, ocean-y relish that amplified the soft, supple pieces of squid strewn within. The use of saffron added a distinct piquancy to the dish that I liked, and the astringency of the onions was even better.

salt cod-potato gratin, sweet peppers & mahon
salt cod-potato gratin, sweet peppers & mahon [$15.00]
A gratin of salt cod was utterly delectable, wonderfully fishy as you'd expect, with an almost fluffy consistency and a chewy, salty complement in the form of the Mahón cheese. At the same time, the peppers lent a certain brightness to the dish that kept things from going too monotone. Yum.

spanish fried chicken, romesco aïoli & chili-cumin butter
spanish fried chicken, romesco aïoli & chili-cumin butter [$13.00]
I have a hard time not ordering the fried chicken when I see it on a menu, so this was no surprise. The bird itself was expertly prepared: crisp and crunchy on the outside, yet still moist and tender on the inside. The nuggets were delish alone, conveying a pretty remarkable depth and complexity, but became even better with a dab of that romesco.

cauliflower, curry & red vinegar
cauliflower, curry & red vinegar [$9.00]
Being the cauliflower slut that I am, this was a must-order. The course didn't let me down, delivering all the cauliflower goodness that I was hoping for, intermingled with the aromatics of curry and a whisper of acidity from the vinegar. Great texture on the veggie, too.

brussels sprouts, radicchio, burrata & breadcrumbs
brussels sprouts, radicchio, burrata & breadcrumbs [$12.00]
Brussels sprouts are another fetish of mine, and presented here with radicchio, they were wonderful, forming a bevy of crisp, bright flavors that melded beautifully with the richness of the burrata, all while the breadcrumbs offered up a superb textural play to the dish.

pappardelle, kabocha, chanterelles, rapini & parmesan
pappardelle, kabocha, chanterelles, rapini & parmesan [$14.00]
Pappardelle, unfortunately, managed to be the weakest dish of the evening. Certainly, the pasta was well cooked, but the dish just seemed overly salty to me, and I wasn't a fan of the kabocha here either. I would've liked to have tasted more from the rapini, which I think would've provided a little more balance to things.

pork cheeks, polenta, mustard oil & gremolata
pork cheeks, polenta, mustard oil & gremolata [$16.00]
Pork cheeks were as falling-apart tender, rich, dark, and heavy as one would expect, with the polenta serving as a sort of temper to the meat. It was tasty, though I wanted more lightness and acidity from the gremolata here to provide some contrast on the plate.

wood-grilled whole fish, tomato rice, fried egg & crispy sopressata
wood-grilled whole fish, tomato rice, fried egg & crispy sopressata [$38.00]
We now move on to the "platters" portion of the menu, also a new addition. Up first was a whole sea bream, a magnificent specimen that I was quite fond of. The fish was spot on, with a mouth-watering, yet restrained brininess and a delightfully crisp, savory skin. It was delicious alone, but a fried egg makes everything better, and that was the case here for sure.

house made sausages, mustard potatoes & red cabbage in red wine
house made sausages, mustard potatoes & red cabbage in red wine [$36.00]
Sausage and potato--two of my favorite comestibles, together at last. We had a couple varieties of tubed meat here, and each was unique and delicious in its own right. Pair that with some hearty taters, tangy kraut, some red wine, and you have yourself a hell of a dish.

A.O.C. Dessert Menu
Desserts remain the charge of longtime Pastry Chef Christina Olufson. Click for a larger version.

dessert platter to share
dessert platter to share [$24.00] | vanilla pot de crème with spanish chocolate and marcona almonds / chocolate torta with coffee cream, medjool dates, candied almonds and hazelnuts / assorted house-made chocolates and confections
Given that we were already burstingly full by this point, we went easy on the desserts, and just ordered a platter to share. There was a nice variety of sweet treats here, and I was particularly enamored with the s'mores and that chocolate-covered honeycomb toffee, which recalled a grown-up Butterfinger.

A.O.C. seemed to have lost none of its verve in the move. The restaurant is back and better than ever, serving up old standbys, new favorites, and cocktails(!), all in a comfier, cozier environment. It's a winning combination that's going to make the place a fixture in the neighborhood for years to come. As for what's next for Goin and Styne, following the success of The Larder at Maple Drive (which bowed in fall 2011 and also serves as home base to Lucques Catering), the duo is planning another café-cum-bakery in the form of The Larder at Burton Way, as well as a restaurant in the wealthy enclave of Montecito. And that's not all: a version of The Larder at Tavern is set to debut this year inside the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. Big things poppin'.