The ups and downs of L.A.

We spent most of the weekend in and around the west side of L.A. for the first time in many years.

A few of Janice’s close friends from college were having a mini-reunion while one of them was in town for a wedding, and it was great seeing all those folks again.

Getting in, out, and around that part of the city made me very glad we got out of there many years ago, and certainly created no nostalgia for living there again. It’s really a shame to think that at one point L.A. had one of the nation’s best public transit systems, and now it’s just impossible to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time unless you own a helicopter.

On the upside, we had some really good meals with fun people, including the usual discussions of work, politics, religion, and other stuff.

For the cocktail fans out there, one of the friends (Aaron) now has a fairly spiffy blog all about cocktails and where to find them. Check it out, and give him some extra hits.

We spent most of Saturday up at the Getty, which is always nice. Forgot to put on sunscreen (it’s a museum — why would I need sunscreen to go to a museum?) and got a bit burnt.

Saturday evening we wandered up to Melrose to try out the “8oz Burger Bar” since it had an interesting cocktail menu Aaron wanted to check out. It turned out to be a very L.A. sort of hipster joint. The cocktails got good reviews, and I had a couple of fairly unusual craft brews from their eclectic beer selection (which was perhaps a bit too eclectic — many of the beers seem to have been selected for their rarity rather than their quality).

The burgers and sides were good, albeit a bit greasy and probably not quite up to the hype or price. Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar in Vegas is much better, and probably even slightly cheaper. Service was very good, and overall it was a good meal, just not somewhere I’d rush back to.

Sunday we met the crowd in the late afternoon and headed up to the old downtown farmer’s market and The Grove, a big new outdoor mall across the street.

The old farmers’ market isn’t actually a farmers’ market at all, but rather a bunch of permanent stalls, some selling meats or produce, but most selling cooked food or retail stuff. Much more like a European outdoor market than a typical U.S. market. It was very cool, and had some interesting pastry joints and taco and churrascaria stands that I definitely want to try on a future visit. There was a good meat market and what looked to be a decent poultry stand, but in general prices seemed fairly high throughout the marketplace.

The Grove is a pretty, sterile, corporate outdoor mall. Nice enough if you really need another Crate & Barrel or whatever, but not remarkable otherwise.

Dinner that night was at AOC, and was one of my favorite sorts of meal: A group of good friends who enjoy good food and a menu full of interesting small plate dishes.

For a place that bills itself as a wine bar, the wine list was fairly disappointing, especially if you’re looking for wines from outside France. It had a good range of prices, but the selections were fairly random and most weren’t all that interesting or great until you got into the $200+ range, which wasn’t an option for last night.

The food was fantastic, though. We started by hitting the cheeses and charcuterie, including some fantastic Spanish chorizos and a wonderful Stilton from Neal’s Yard Dairy. From there it was on to salads. I found the “market lettuce” salad a bit underwhelming, but the others all liked it. The duck breast salad and the melon and prosciutto salads were kick-ass, and I don’t grant many salads the honor of that adjective.

There was also gulf shrimp on cornbread in a tomato-butter sauce that we all agreed we could roll around in, moaning happily, for hours on end. Grilled mussels were a great counterpoint, as was a grilled summer squash dish. I loved the pork spareribs with a very nice, clean cole slaw, but most of the rest of the table seemed to just dig the slaw. The orecchiete with lamb sausage sounded better on the menu than it tasted on the plate, unfortunately (it wasn’t bad, it was just a bit heavy and dull compared to many of the other dishes).

From there we finished the savory dishes with a gruyere-filled brioche topped with frise and an egg perfectly fried in a crapton of pork fat. It was a wonderful dish, and something I’d eagerly eat for breakfast, despite not normally being a fan of heavy breakfast dishes.

We ordered a selection of desserts, including a couple of fresh berry things I couldn’t sample, and a chocolate cake with dulce de leche ice cream. Let’s just say you don’t really go to AOC for the pastry. In the future, I’d buy a couple pastries from the farmers’ market and skip dessert there.

Service was very good, and they didn’t even get tetchy when we lingered for more than 2.5 hours while working our way through all this food and then chatting over coffee and tea.

Great dining companions also make any meal much better. Looking forward to the next mini-reunion.

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One Response to “The ups and downs of L.A.”

  1. Peter Grace says:

    Nice writeup about your trip to LA.

    I am sorry about the public transit destruction.

    I migrated from Boston in 04. Loved the MBTA, but needed to save my family from Pb. Kinda wish I could have found a happy medium (but not the wimpy zone).

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