In the place that helped usher in L.A.'s small-plates craze, the lighting is soft, the ceiling high, and the mood merry. Some prefer to sit at the wine bar; others opt for the charcuterie counter, where cooks slice all sorts of artisanal goodies. Suzanne Goin's gift is as evident here as at Lucques. A salad of escarole, radicchio, anchovies, and mustard dressing packs a delicious punch; the salted cod gratin has the intensity of that which is superlative.
Best First Date Restaurant, June 2004
Let's set the parameters. We're assuming this isn't an Internet flyby but a genuine first date—you know each other, you've got friends in common, he's your brother's college roommate. That sort of thing. The restaurant of choice is a no-brainer: AOC
Why? Because it's always buzzing, so awkward silences are unlikely. And because you have to confer over the small-plates menu, which means easy conversation as well as insights into your potentially significant other: Is she vegetable-phobic or lactose-intolerant? Is he inhibited about sharing or incapable of asking for help with the idiosyncratic wine list? There's a bulletproof aspect to the choice, too. No matter what you think of your date, chef Suzanne Goin is bound to deliver a good meal.
Best Mocktail, August 2013
At A.O.C. Christiaan Rollich's salad-in-a-glass comes in a vodka version but tastes just as fresh with chamomile tea, basil, arugula, jalapeño, cucumber, and lime.