The Food Chain

Nick Balla is Blown Away by AOC’s Arroz Negro

AOC's Arroz Negro
AOC’s Arroz Negro Photo: Tatiana Arbogast

Each week on the Food Chain, we ask a chef to describe a dish he or she recently enjoyed. The chef who prepared the dish responds and then picks his or her own memorable meal. On and on it goes. Last week, Sean Rembold of Brooklyn’s Marlow and Sons rejoiced over the spicy chicken wings and Japanese breakfast served to him by chef Nick Balla at San Francisco’s Nombe. What dish has recently blown your mind, Nick?

Who: Nick Balla, chef de cuisine at Nombe
What: Arroz Negro
Where: AOC, Los Angeles

“Squid served with it’s ink is always a favorite of mine but few pull it off as well as at AOC. Here it’s a well executed and well seasoned dish. Such a complex mixture of flavors and textures - sea aroma from the ink and saffron combo, creamy rice and tender squid. I have had this at quite a few restaurants and it is easy to miss an individual element - undercooked rice, too much saffron, overcooked squid are just a few of the problems that can arise. Not here - and with great wine.”

AOC chef and owner Suzanne Goin responds:

“This dish is one of my favorites and has been on the menu since we opened. It’s a classic Catalan dish that is basically a paella made black with squid ink. We cook our’s in a wood-burning oven which makes it especially delicious - the squid takes on a nice smokiness and the top of the rice gets a little crispy.

I just wanted to play around with some great traditional stuff using the wood-burning oven. And working with Spanish flavors was really exciting to me when we were opening because I had been in more of a French vein for the first few years of Lucques. I actually asked a Spanish grandmother who runs La Espagnola, a great Spanish purveyor who also makes their own chorizos and lomo just outside of L.A., for a little guidance with the dish. She wasn’t able to show me, but she sort of talked me through it and then I came back to the restaurant and played around with it.

The arroz is not traditionally topped with anything but I added the saffron aioli because I love the flavor of the saffron and the squid ink together. The aioli adds a great creamy, nice, and cooling aspect to the dish. It’s funny, in one of our first reviews the writer said I used saffron “for the color,” which made me really mad! It’s for the flavor!”

Nick Balla is Blown Away by AOC’s Arroz Negro