When Suzanne Goin launched A.O.C. in Los Angeles 10 years ago, she wrote the menu template while traveling on a plane—lists of cheeses and cured meats, plus a handful of small plates. There were no entrées in the skinny, three-page booklet that Goin created, though in the end there were about 250 bottles of wine, mostly from California and Europe, selected by co-owner and wine director Caroline Styne. "A.O.C. was a little ahead of its time," says Styne. "No one was doing small plates. We thought, How are we ever going to move all this cheese, all this charcuterie, all this wine? We were sold out in days."
Earlier this year, Goin and Styne relocated A.O.C. from its original site in an unremarkable, warehouse-esque building to a new address with a tree-dotted outdoor space and the feel of a Mediterranean villa. The change prompted the pair to tweak both the menu and wine list. Goin, an F&W Best New Chef 1999, introduced an array of family-style dishes. (Many of them can be found in The A.O.C. Cookbook, out this fall with copious wine notes from Styne.) "The initial idea behind small plates was to be able to share lots of things," says Goin. "It was fun to do one-hit tastes. But now I like the drama of a large platter. It's good to go, 'Wow! Look at that whole chicken!' " In her ode to the iconic bird at San Francisco's Zuni Café, Goin bastes her roast chicken in duck fat, then serves it with a bread salad of torn croutons and tangy Meyer lemon salsa.
For Styne, family-style dishes offer a chance to pair multiple wines with one dish, since invariably one person at the table will want a dry white and another a rich red. With the chicken, for instance, she pours two Napa Valley bottles in her own homage to Zuni and the famous wine region nearby. She opts for the Cade Sauvignon Blanc, which is more full-bodied than the average Sauvignon Blanc; it's a great match for the bright-flavored lemon salsa. For red, Styne goes with a Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc: It's medium-bodied and not hedonistically fruit-driven, so it's terrific with the savory roast chicken.
At the new A.O.C., Styne's list is half as long and all the bottles are organic, biodynamic or sustainably farmed. But even with a smaller selection, she claims it's easy to find pairings. "Suzanne's dishes have lots of textures, lots of flavor pops, lots of directions you can go in. Take the pork," she says, referring to the cilantro-and-garlic-rubbed grilled tenderloins Goin serves with a piquant lemongrass-and-chile sambal and coconut rice. "The spicy Asian accents scream Riesling, like the Max Ferd Richter Estate from Germany," says Styne. "But a rich, structured red, like the Holus Bolus Syrah from Santa Barbara, works well too, because the chiles won't trample all over it."