Suzanne Goin, chef/co-owner
8022 W. Third St., Los Angeles
Suzanne Goin, who was nominated for a James Beard award this year, began her culinary career in 1984 at Patrick Terrail’s legendary Los Angeles celebrity-magnet, Ma Maison, which attained cult status by having an unlisted phone number and AstroTurf carpeting. The just-departed executive chef was an Austrian wunderkind named Wolfgang Puck. While Rolls Royces clogged the driveway, high-schooler Goin was working a pastry stage in the kitchen. She was a quick study.
Goin moved on to stints at, among others, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Campanile in Los Angeles, and the triple-Michelin-starred Arpège in Paris before opening her own place in July 1999 with partner and wine director Caroline Styne. They named it Lucques after Goin’s favorite variety of olive. Located in silent-film star Harold Lloyd’s former carriage house, the restaurant is a mere accent-pillow toss from West Hollywood’s tony Melrose Place, and the dining room was decorated by L.A.’s reigning design maven, Barbara Barry — with no AstroTurf in sight.
Lucques was a big hit from day one. And even though Goin has won the hearts and gullets of Hollywood’s A-list gourmands (I spotted Madonna there on my first visit), the phone number remains mercifully listed with directory assistance … that is, if you know how to spell Lucques. Last December, Goin and Styne opened a second establishment in the nearby Third Street shopping district. They called it A.O.C. — short for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée — an appropriate name for a restaurant that bills itself as a wine bar.
A.O.C. defines L.A. casual chic. Lucques is hardly formal, but A.O.C. exudes a cheeky raffishness, by virtue of which Beverly Hills power brokers and their Bulgari-clad wives might find themselves seated next to magenta-haired punks straight from a show at the Whisky A Go Go. Two counters, one at the bar and one adjoining the in-house charcuterie, accommodate those who might drop by for a plate of Goin’s mouth-watering seared albacore with tapenade and a pour of Viognier, or one of 50 other wines by the glass. The elbow-to-elbow tables can (and should) be reserved well in advance.
Based on the vernacular cuisine of the Mediterranean, with special tribute to Spain, Portugal, and North Africa, the food at A.O.C. is a pure joy. “The dishes at A.O.C. are like one-liners,” says Goin. “They don’t have to be complicated because the idea is you build the meal yourself.” The succulent braised pork cheeks with mustard gremolata or the silky foie gras terrine with sweet-and-sour prunes give some idea of the diversity of Goin’s repertoire, which redefines cuisine grande-mère for the new millennium.
“One thing I really want to do is turn people on to artisanal products,” Goin explains, “whether it be stinky raw milk cheeses, pig’s feet, and tripe made by our charcutier, or amazingly beautiful produce: cavolo nero, Persian mulberries, squash blossoms. All these things may seem exotic at first, but they have an amazing food history and deserve to be known.”
Whether you go for a history lesson or just a great meal, A.O.C. has helped change the diningscape of Los Angeles. “The L.A. diner gets a bad rap,” the chef laments, “but there are definitely lots of adventuresome foodies here.”
Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage France 2001 ($20)
A.O.C. partner and wine director Caroline Styne recommends this racy red Rhône with Suzanne Goin’s savory arroz negro with squid and saffron aioli.
in the mid-1930s, the french adopted their aoc (appellation d’origine contrôlée system), which officially defines and controls geographic wine names. other countries have since instituted their own equivalents. here are a few excellent wines from some of the world’s better-known appellations.
zull grüner veltliner sechs vierteln weinviertel austria 2001 ($14)
a bracing, teeth-clenching white from austria’s first dac, weinviertel.
craggy range sauvignon blanc martinborough new zealand 2002 ($18)
minerally and peachy, with lush fruit and lovely texture, this wine comes from a happening appellation on new zealand’s north island.
terrunyo sauvignon blanc, el triángulo, casablanca valley chile 2002 ($20)
thrilling spicy and green flavors play through this long, zesty vineyard-designated sauvignon blanc.
villa arceno chianti classico italy 1999 ($25)
chianti classico is a historic subzone of chianti, tuscany’s best-known docg; this version offers lovely fruit and great structure and depth.
dr. loosen riesling spätlese wehlener sonnenuhr mosel-saar-ruwer germany 2002 ($25)
this appellation produces bright, peachy rieslings such as this one from the famed sonnenuhr (sundial) vineyard.
marqués de cáceres rioja gran reserva spain 1994 ($26)
rioja was boosted from do status in 1991 to become the highest category of spanish wine; this rich gran reserva delivers long, supple flavors.
annie’s lane shiraz copper trail clare valley australia 1999 ($32)
a dark, concentrated, and intense shiraz with toasty oak and ripe blackberry fruit; from a lovely appellation north of adelaide in south australia.
robert craig affinity napa valley 2000 ($48)
california’s most celebrated ava checks in with this bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc; full of sweet oak and ripe, dense flavors.