Jeni and I finally got around to eating at Animal. I know, late right? I think when I first heard about their decadent food, I got a little turned off. Foie gras loco moco? Whoa. Prior to this, I was scarred by this peanut butter, jelly & foie gras sandwich I had eaten in San Francisco and I guess I steered clear of overly decadent food for a while. If it weren't for an invitation from an old school blogger in Hawaii called Ono Kine Grindz and from the queen bee of LA food blogging, Daily Gluttony, I might not have known that Animal would become a favorite of mine.
Ever since I started writing this blog, there have been numerous first time meetups with people we had been reading. Before this, I had experienced a blind date that I wish never happened but stuck through it to be nice. This was different though because we actually knew the writers themselves even before forming a visual of the personality, and food was the common goal. And that made things a little easier for both parties. This included meeting my now wife, Jeni.
On a Saturday night, we drove down to Fairfax to meet Reid of Ono Kine Grindz and Pam of Daily Gluttony. Problem was, we didn't know what Reid looked like. Or at least I think I did.
J: "What do you think he looks like?"
Me: "He's a skinny white guy. I've seen his photo."
J: "You sure? I didn't see his photo on his site."
Me: "I have. He's white"
As we're walking to Animal, we don't see a skinny white guy and we kind of stand there. We see Pam talking to an Asian gentleman. We look at each other.
Me: "I thought you were white haha."
So much for the guess. Right away we walked in and it was time for straight food talk. Reid had been writing long before I started in 2005 and writes a popular blog based on Hawaii. Again, one of the best things about eating with other foodies is the willingness to try anything. We all have the Bourdain-ness in all of us – no second thoughts about trying things that are unique.
I also like the story of Chef John Shook and Vinny Dotolo, two guys that used to run a catering business before successfully opening Animal. Not many catering companies will make it to the restaurant level but as you'll see, these guys prove to be more than just catering chefs. Man, what a blessing it is to be at one of the parties they've cooked for. Anyway, here's what we had. A suggestion for eating here – go with a group. Eating here with one other person might be a little much because the dishes tend to be on the richer side. Plus when you eat in a group, you can try way more dishes. The following dishes are ONLY appetizers... we couldn't even make it down to the entrees!
Grilled Squid & Chorizo
On my second visit, I already had three dishes in mind. This and the following two have been on my mind ever since eating here. The squid is grilled beautifully where it is still soft and not rubbery at all. The smokiness of the chorizo and the squid really melded together. And not to mention, this dish is quite light.
Smoked Trout & Crispy Trout Skin Salad
This was probably my 2nd favorite of the night. The fish was beautifully smoked and man, the skin was like a potato chip.
Amberjack & Peach Salad
I think all of us at the table wanted to engage in some bizarre, gastronomic orgy with this dish. It was light, sexy and had a very different salad personality. Again, an indication of how good these chefs are.
Crispy Pig Ears & Fried Egg
Offals and eggs? Yes, please. I love that these guys tackle the parts of the pig, the ones that always get picked last for the kickball team. I thought the pig ear was sliced a little too thin and fried a little too long. But I can tell you, the mixing of the egg yolk with the pig ears created a nice harmony.
Pig Trotter Croquettes
Another unfavorable part of the pig. This one is the trench-coat wearing guy with long greasy hair that wrote dark poems about what he would do to asshole football jocks. If you haven't had pig trotters, think of them as mini goo bombs fried beautifully. Once you take a bite, the texture inside is almost gelatinous and super tasty. This was done really well.
Duck Confit with Cherries & Farro
I think this is one of the best duck confit dishes I've eaten. Most places will braise it way too long. After a perfect braise, it's either sent to the fry-o-lator or pan friend perfectly. I loved this combination.
Crispy Veal Sweetbreads
I never ignore a sweetbread dish. I love the nutty taste and chicken-like texture. Gooooood.
Chicken Liver Pate
Pate. It was basically my peanut butter & jelly sandwich as a child. Cut to me enjoying this while other kids stare at me in awe. Three pieces are given per order.
Kimchi Pork Belly
This is one of the dishes that I had heard people talking a lot about. Although the 'kimchi' was more like a Thai slaw, this was an interesting dish. I think the sauce was a bit overpowering because of too much vinegar, but man, the pork belly was done well indeed. I was kind of confused as to whether I was eating a Korean or Thai dish. On a second visit with Portland's Guilty Carnivore, I have to say this dish was even better. Especially with a nice glass of Stone.
I had heard tall tales about this dish Canadians speak so highly of... poutine. What is it? It is almost like their version of chili fries only they use gravy and cheese curds over their fries. I recently got back from Nova Scotia and had a very delicious version of poutine and have fallen in love with it. What's not to like about moist shredded oxtail, a beefy au jus, cheese curds and crispy chips? This was by far the most 'manly' dish we had tonight and I think this really defines what John and Vinny are about. We loved this.
In a time where popularity relies on the amount of foam you dump on a plate or the number of scientific processes your food has been through, it's nice to know that there are these Two Dudes. The majority of the food is meat heavy, but then they also offer a nice assortment of seafood to really offer some yin & yang. Each dish I can tell comes from passion, care and the desire to make people rub their bellies in joy. I'll be back here for sure. Reid, it was great meeting you finally. Pam, always a pleasure laughing with you. Kevin, I like that you mix wine and beer without hesitation. And J, another great meal we get to share together.
Thanks for reading.
435 N. Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036