March 28, 2010

Animal (Los Angeles): Two Dudes - One Restaurant

Many restaurant names often have a meaning, like names of the owner or their place of origin but rarely does a restaurant name so clearly reflect the food you will experience: Animal in West Hollywood is one of these exceptions. From the very beginning this name makes it very clear that all kinds of animal protein will be the main focus of every dish – but everything else on the plate won’t disappoint either.

Animal was started in the spring of 2008 by chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. Both met in 1999 at culinary school at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and decided from there on to tackle the challenges of the culinary world together. After finishing their culinary education they worked together in numerous restaurants in Florida such as The Strand, Mark’s and The River House before moving to the Wildflower restaurant at the Lodge in Vail. They then finally decided to move to Los Angeles to work under chefs Govind Armstrong and Ben Ford at the Chadwick Restaurant before opening their own catering service – Caramelized Productions. The catering service was also part of the short-lived Food Network series “Two Dudes Catering”. Having experienced once how it is to work as their own bosses they decided to open their own restaurant – Animal.

Animal is located on Fairfax Ave. in a non-descriptive building next to the Schwartz Bakery and a few buildings up from Canters.

The interior has a very rustic, bare-bones and minimalistic look. It is a single large room with a bar at one end and several wooden tables. But similar to the food at Animal the first look might indicate a very bold and straight feel but if you look at bit closer you will find many small details like bare filament light bulbs and few pictures which make everything comfy and welcoming. The service at Animal is always professional but at the same time personal – at which restaurants do you experience waiters who recognize you and greet you with a handshake when you come into the restaurant?

Animal has an interesting list of wines with some more unusual finds like some Italians, e.g. Negramoro or Coste della Sesia. At a recent visit we decided to order a few beers including a Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale which had a malty start with a long sweet finish and an Abita Amber which is a nice smooth beer pairs nicely with the food at Animal.

You can easily only just focus on several of the small plates of Animal to get a full meal but we tend to share a few of them before switching to the entrees (but not forgetting the desserts either).

Small Plate 1: Chicken liver toast
We really like chicken liver in all of its renditions. The night before we had the chicken liver toast at Pizzeria Mozza which has a more coarse structure whereas the Animal variation is very smooth with balsamic drippings on top.

Small Plate 2: Rabbit loin, parsnip, pear mostarda and benton’s bacon
This plate has some ingredients you unfortunately don’t see often on menus – rabbit which had a delicate taste between chicken and game wrapped in bacon which helped to keep it moist and parsnip which has a nice earth flavor. The pear mostarda (an Italian condiment made out of candies fruit and mustard flavored syrup) gave a good balance with its mix of sweetness and slight spicyness from the mustard oil.

Small Plate 3: Duck confit, apple, pecans, dates and arugula
Rather classic version of duck confit with carefully chosen sides – bitter greens, sweet dates, sour apples - which helped to cut through the richness of the meat. Perhaps not the best version of duck confit we ever had but definitely a very enjoyable one.

Small Plate 4: Barbeque pork belly sandwiches and slaw.
As certified pork belly addicts it is hard for us to see pork belly on a menu and not order it. Animal has several dishes on rotation and this time we chose the pork belly sandwiches – wonderfully tender meat with a not too overwhelming sauce and slaw on a tasty bun. Unfortunately only one sandwich for each of us.

Entrée 1: Flat iron steak, sunchoke hash and truffle parmesan fondue
Very tender and perfectly cooked steak with an unusual but balanced sauce of truffles and parmesan which is quite addicting. The potatoes and sunchokes had a good smooth consistency.

Entrée 2: Veal breast, polenta, savoy cabbage and prosciutto
An Italian inspired dish which worked best if you tried to taste all the components at the same time.

Dessert 1: Tres leches and dulce de leche
Animal has only a few desserts and we tend to end up with the same two desserts – An outstanding tres leches cake which even though it is quite rich is at the same time very light. The dulce de leche adds a interesting caramel-like flavor.

Dessert 2: Bacon chocolate crunch bar and s&p anglaise
Animal’s signature dessert – not unlike a Kit-Kat bar but with added saltiness from the bacon which could have been a bit more pronounced. You mainly taste the good chocolate-nut combination.

We have yet to have a disappointing evening at Animal. The restaurant is a great addition to the many restaurants in this area with a very strong focus on excellent food and less formality. The ever changing menu – even dishes which are on the menu for a longer time often get different sides or flavor changing variations – makes every visit an unique experience.

435 N. Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles. CA 90036
(323) 782-9225

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