I can’t believe it’s been 7 years(!) since they debut of Chef Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s original flagship restaurant, Animal. When they splashed on the scene, Animal was a study in how delicious and over-the-top the chefs could make dishes with all things “animal.” I remember their magic with Foie Gras and Pork Belly and Quail and many other dishes. Then I remembered @Aesthete mentioning that Animal started serving Brunch, and it’d been a good year+ or so since my last visit, so I figured it was time to go back.
Since their debut until now, Animal still appears with a nondescript storefront, with no signage. With Chef Shook and Dotolo opening more restaurants I was worried their original might suffer, if they were spread too thin.
Started brunch with a brisk cup of English Breakfast Tea.
Cornmeal Waffle (Strawberry, Vacation Butter, Maple):
It’s strange, thinking about what Animal might be making that’s non-meat, but after taking a bite of the crisp fragrant Cornmeal Waffle, touched by their affectionately named “Vacation Butter” (there’s some Coconut mixed into the Butter, which really did make me think like I was on “vacation” somewhere in the tropics LOL), and all I could think of was, “This is a fantastic Waffle!”
It’s not rubbery or limp or doughy like so many failed waffles around town. It’s crisp and light and just delicious!
“Tamago” Scramble (Bone Marrow Sushi Rice, Japanese Pickles, Arare):
I was surprised to see this on the menu, but I’ve tried enough of Chef Shook and Dotolo’s cooking to realize they could tackle something Japanese and probably do it justice.
And it was GREAT!
The Tamago (Egg) on top was a touch overcooked for my tastes, but otherwise this was a subtly decadent, wonderful Rice Bowl that felt very traditional and Japanese in a way, but also very Animal. The Bone Marrow Rice was made up of plump morsels of well-cooked Rice mixed with Bone Marrow. But it wasn’t in-your-face, or overwhelming. It just gave the dish enough of a pleasurable back note with each bite.
The Japanese Pickles and Arare really gave the Rice Bowl that great counterbalance.
Winter Citrus (Endive, Avocado, Macadamia, Yuzu Kosho):
But the biggest shocker on the new menu is something that’s not even “animal”: A seemingly simple Citrus Salad of Endive, Winter Citrus Fruit is mixed with Avocado and Macadamia Nuts, but the brilliance is in the Yuzu Kosho, which is a traditional Japanese mixture of Yuzu Citrus Rinds and Chilies. It sounded kind of basic on paper but when I took a bite…
WOW! It was refreshing, it was so unique, and at the same time familiar. The Yuzu Kosho infuses each bite of Endive with the bright, springtime flavor of the famous Japanese Citrus Fruit. And then the fresh Winter Citrus slices serve to reinforce the taste, like a harmony of fantastic flavors.
It’s a brilliant concept that could belong in any of the top Izakayas, except none of them have this dish. Easily the BEST BITE I’VE HAD ALL WEEKEND! So good! Paging @bulavinaka @Porthos @J_L @CiaoBob and all the FTC’ers who love Japanese food LOL.
Pastrami Reuben Benedict (Rye, Sauerkraut, Hollandaise, 1k Island Sauce, Soft Egg):
And on the opposite side of the spectrum is Animal’s new Brunch-Only Pastrami Reuben Benedict. Now this is what I was expecting from Animal if they added more menu items, LOL. They take luscious Pastrami, a Reuben Sandwich and Eggs Benedict and just combine it all together. In what should be an unholy mess of overkill (see Little Sister’s Overkilled Banh Mi of fat on fat on fat), instead… it works.
I’m not sure why it works, but leave it to Chefs Shook and Dotolo and company to figure it out. It’s soft, tender, luscious, creamy, but never feels too greasy or gross. It just tastes GOOD. But it is filling, LOL. This would be great for 3 or 4 people to split (a bite) and try other amazing dishes here.
Flora Bella Arugula (Walnut Vinaigrette, Goat Cheese, Date, Sunchoke):
Initially, the first bite is a bit salty, but nutty from the Walnut Vinaigrette and Goat Cheese. But then we saw the bed of housemade Date Puree (sort of like a fresh Apple Sauce in texture) on the bottom of the plate. Mixing in the Date Puree, and it all came together. A touch of salt, a nice sweetness from the Dates, the slices of Sunchokes were excellent as well! Like a lightly sweet Apple in some ways.
The only complaint we had was that it was overdressed. But otherwise, the vibrant nature of the Flora Bella Arugula (really fresh!) and the Date and Sunchokes really stood out.
Pig Ear (Red Chili, Lime, Market Egg):
I love Pig Ears, and the crispiness is nice in this preparation. The sunny-side up Egg and oozing Egg Yolk are delicious. But the Red Chili Lime Sauce overpowers the dish. It’s too acidic and you lose the taste of the Pig Ears.
Foie Gras (Biscuit, Maple Sausage Gravy):
And of course, we couldn’t stop by Animal without trying their most famous dish from their debut years ago. When Chef Shook and Dotolo debuted their fragrant, flaky Housemade Biscuit, topped with a giant slab of Foie Gras, and then topped with a Maple Sausage Gravy, it was pure decadence. It was this type of craziness that grabbed my attention years ago.
And today? It’s still insane. The Foie Gras is perfectly cooked, buttery, creamy, SO tasty! And then Maple Sausage Gravy, on top of a Housemade Biscuit? It’s just great stuff.
Foie Gras Loco Moco (Quail Egg, Spam, Hamburger):
But as good as their Foie Gras Biscuit was, probably my favorite dish from Animal’s classic menu is their Foie Gras Loco Moco. Chef Shook and Dotolo decided to take the Hawaiian classic comfort food and just go over-the-top (like so many of their other dishes).
So you have a bed of Rice, topped with Spam (classic Hawaiian style), a Hamburger Patty (except Animal’s is made with USDA Prime Beef, a mix of USDA Prime Short Rib, Chuck and Bone Marrow), and a giant slab of Foie Gras. LOL.
It’s so absurd, yet SO GOOD! The Foie Gras is once again perfectly cooked, supple, buttery, and then the saltiness of the Spam, and the really gorgeous pure beef taste of their Housemade Beef Patty. You can really taste this gorgeous beefiness. The medium-rare patty blows away stuff like Shake Shack a few minutes away, and makes you wonder why you want a Hamburger when you can have this.
After all these years Animal continues to deliver some great food. And while I’ll always enjoy their masterful insanity and decadence with all things “animal,” like their Foie Gras Loco Moco, I’m actually the most impressed with their mastery of Nouveau Japanese dishes, especially their all-vegetarian, Winter Citrus Yuzo Kosho Salad.
435 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tel: (323) 782-9225
Due to Salads finally winning Dish Of The Month, we thought it was time for a visit to Animal. While initially sounding like an oxymoron (with Animal being famous for its tribute to all things meaty and of an animal), one of the best Salads we had last year was at Animal(!), with the phenomenal Winter Citrus Salad with Yuzu Kosho. So we couldn’t wait to go back and see what was in season and new on the menu…
The space is still as simplistic and minimalistic as its opening days, but it’s quite a bit brighter and cheery for Brunch.
Heirloom Tomato Salad (Sweet Corn, Shiitake, Onikasu, Maggi Ranch):
It is definitely local Tomato season, and this Salad was really interesting: Bright, lightly sweet and tart baby Heirloom Tomatoes are mixed with some beautifully sweet Corn Kernels, atop a bed of a Housemade Maggi Ranch Dressing, that’s lighter than typical “Ranch,” but it’s got an interesting savory flavor to it (I’m guessing the Maggi Sauce). But it’s their Housemade Onikasu (a Japanese Spice mixture) that changes this Salad into something more. There’s a slight heat to Animal’s Onikasu, but it isn’t as crazy-hot as Tsujita Annex’s version (which really kicks up the heat).
Gem Lettuce Salad (Beet, Feta, Pita, Sumac, Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette):
This is their seasonal replacement for the Winter Citrus Salad we had previously. While we were sad that their Winter Salad was gone (understandable given the seasons), this Gem Lettuce Salad was a worthy replacement.
The Gem Lettuces were so crisp, cool and fresh! The Beets added tiny bits of sweetness, but their inclusion of Watermelon Radish, Sumac, and a nice light funkiness from the Feta Cheese made it even better. But the biggest surprise were the absolutely delicious crunchy nuggets of goodness known as their Toasted Pita bits, serving as “Croutons” for this salad. They were extremely fragrant (fresh toasted), with that beautiful aroma that fresh toast has.
The Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette brought everything together (not too tart acidic like standard Lemon). A fantastic Salad!
Softshell Crab Dynamite (Chili Soy, Shishito, Tobiko, Nori):
Crispy, crunchy, fresh Soft Shell Crab, perfectly fried to a beautiful golden brown. Biting into the center portion yielded some of the ultra-delicious bright brininess of the “Crab Sauce” (cooked down Crab guts / brains). Their Chili Soy with Tobiko (Flying Fish Roe) added a nice little bit of saltiness, brininess and heat to each bite. Excellent.
Pork Katsu (Yuzu Aioli, Mustard Greens):
Chef Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s menu seems to have taken on a more Japanese bent these days (@TheCookie have you noticed any of these influences at their other restaurants?), with a new Pork Katsu (Cutlet) dish being added to the menu. We love a great Tonkatsu, so we were eager to see what Animal’s version might be like.
It’s a flattened Pork Cutlet (probably easier to cook), so it’s not as thick as many Tonkatsu locally. The breading is OK, there’s a slight crunch, and the Pork itself is tender and somewhat moist. But being so thin, it felt a touch overcooked.
What it lacked, though, is the familiar Tonkatsu Sauce (sort of like a Japanese Worcestershire Blended Thicker Sauce) or some Japanese Mustard to cut through the fried bites. The Yuzu Aioli was fine by itself, but I’m not used to adding creamy sauces to Tonkatsu, but then I thought maybe @ipsedixit might like this! (But alas, it’s not Tartar Sauce!)
Carolina Gold Rice Congee (Chicken, Tomato, Sate, Egg):
We were somewhat skeptical of Animal being able to make a great Congee, but we also know Chef Shook & Dotolo (and their staff) have pulled off many fantastic dishes over the years, including their excellent version of a Hawaiian Loco Moco, so Congee? Why not?
Make sure to break the Poached Egg and mix all the ingredients thoroughly…
And then taking a sip… it is incredibly tasty!
It starts with the base: Their Carolina Gold Rice Congee tastes like it was made with care. It isn’t overly thick, or too thin, there’s a delicious Chicken Broth base, and the Heirloom Tomatoes and the Poached Egg add a unique taste that isn’t in the standard Congee. The Sate Sauce adds more depth of flavor and helps to make it spicier than the usual Chinese Congee you might find at Sam Woo or an HK Cafe.
It’s not traditional at all, but they’ve managed to make something delicious that hearkens to your notion of “Congee”… and it’s a nice option for those that want to stay in the area and not drive out to the SGV for their Congee fix.
Looking back on this visit (and other items on the menu), it seems Animal is definitely changing. It still has the popular bastions of “Meat!” on their menu (Foie Gras Maple Biscuit, Foie Gras Loco Moco, Pork Belly, Oxtail Poutine, etc.), but we had a great meal on this visit and it was generally quite light and refreshing.
435 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tel: (323) 782-9225
We had some friends who had never been to Animal before, so it felt like a great time to introduce them to Chef Shook & Dotolo’s flagship.
Broccolini (Ramen Vinaigrette, Soft Egg, Onikasu):
This was an interesting-sounding new menu item we hadn’t tried before. The Broccolini was tender, nicely cooked, however the addition of the “Ramen Vinaigrette” didn’t really evoke any taste of real Ramen here. The Soft Boiled Egg and Onikasu (a crimson spice mixture) did help give off a bit of the impression of “Ramen” though. Overall it was fine.
Veal Brains (Vadouvan, Apricot Puree, Carrot):
Note to self: You have too many Offal-loving friends.
I’m such a wimp when attempting to eat Brains. I would have to say for the small bite I tried, it was well-breaded, creamy, and the flavor combination worked well. Our Offal-loving friends enjoyed it immensely.
Marrow Bone (Chimichurri, Caramelized Onions):
One of our favorite dishes from Animal is still on the menu: Decadent, indulgent, but so satisfying, this is like one of the best “Butters” you’ve ever topped a piece of Bread with. The Bone Marrow and Chimichurri combination is liquid joy on this crunchy, warm piece of Toast. Probably one of my favorite Bone Marrow dishes in the city.
Veal Tongue (Pickle, Apple, Salmon Roe, Black Mustard):
Unfortunately, we had this meal before @PorkyBelly’s warning, but it was as PorkyBelly had said: The Veal Tongue tastes dryish, firm, and more like a moist “Jerky” than what you might imagine an Animal’s preparation of Veal Tongue might be (tender). The only miss of this evening.
Peads and Barnetts Pork Toro (Plum Char Siu, Cabbage, Kanzuri, Green Garlic):
This was a nice surprise: A lean and fatty cut of Peads and Barnetts Pork roasted and cooked up to taste like a more gentrified version of Hong Kong BBQ “Char Siu” Pork. A bit sweet, savory, lightly spicy.
Duck Confit (Heirloom Beans, Collard Greens, Porchetta Spice, Bronze Fennel):
This was pretty incredible: Succulent Duck Confit, slow cooked, tender and then with the Duck Skin crisped up and encrusted with Fennel and a house blend of “Porchetta Spices,” with a pleasing Cumin note coming through the most. Delicious!
On another visit, this time for Brunch again…
Ginga Ninja (Rose Aperitif, Ginger Beer, Cucumber, Mint):
This was pretty refreshing and cooling; perfect for the warm weather.
Tamago Scramble (Bone Marrow Sushi Rice, Japanese Pickles Arare):
Just as delicious as the first time we had it a few months back. The Bone Marrow Sushi Rice is plump and nicely cooked, with just the right amount of fatty deliciousness from the Bone Marrow without overwhelming. The Scrambled Eggs and Japanese Pickles and the Arare seasoning blend worked wonderfully together to deliver a satisfying bite.
Melted P’tit Basque (Chorizo, Grilled Bread):
This is a bit of a nostalgic reminder of what made Animal so good and popular in its early years: Over-the-top, but elevated comfort food. Here we have this piping hot dish of Melted P’tit Basque Cheese, encasing some pretty fantastic Chorizo, which is all spreadable onto the pieces of crunchy, crusty Toasted Country Loaf Bread. So good!
Avocado Toast (Furikake, Red Chili, Radish, Lemon):
It seems almost ridiculous and too “L.A.” to be ordering Avocado Toast, but I realized I had never tried Chef Shook & Dotolo’s version of Avocado Toast, so we were curious. It’s hard to screw up, but thankfully Animal’s staff delivers a spicy, creamy, crunchy bite of happiness here. The Furikake seasoning is a brilliant move that elevates the dish beyond the typical Avo Toast offering.
Gem Lettuce (Beet, Feta, Pita, Sumac, Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette):
Another excellent Salad offering at Animal(!). In a place known for its extravagant, sometimes too much decadent meat dishes, this is another standout Salad that is worth ordering. The brightness of the Little Gems is without question, but all of the ingredients come together and shine here: The bit of Little Gem with the sweetness of fresh, farmers market Beets, the pungent bit of Feta Cheese, just the right amount of acidity and tart coming through in the Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette, and then the crunchy, addictive craziness of their Toasted Pita “Croutons” makes everything just work perfectly.
Country Style Pork Ribs (Balsamic BBQ):
It had been years since we last ordered Animal’s BBQ Pork Ribs. We remembered really liking them early on. Trying them again this time… it’s tasty, but lacks the deep smokiness from a low-and-slow OG rendition. They are tender, meaty, and are perfectly fine to scratch that itch, but the Balsamic BBQ Sauce might be a bit too piquant at times, turning into the dominant taste in some bites.
Foie Gras (Biscuit, Maple Sausage Gravy):
But we finish things off with one of Animal’s best dishes, on the menu since its Grand Opening years ago. The Foie Gras Biscuit is just STUPID GOOD!
Perfectly cooked Foie Gras, so creamy and buttery, taking on the subtle quivering silkiness of some of the finest Silken Tofu, but with all of the taste of pure crave-worthy, luscious and fatty, deeply satisfying joy that only this magical combination can bring you. The Housemade Biscuit adds more happiness, but it’s the Maple Sausage Gravy… that hit of aromatic sweetness, and savory porky notes and luxurious creaminess that just brings it all together. Outstanding.
Animal continues to deliver some satisfying dishes, both surprisingly light (like their Salads) and the Bone Marrow Rice Bowl, and more decadent dishes like the Melted P’tit Basque and Foie Gras Biscuit with Maple Sausage Gravy. That Duck Confit is a standout as well, and these days it feels like Animal is just a little bit more manageable to snag a reservation for a nice dinner filled with a delicate and decadent touch.
435 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tel: (323) 782-9225