Although I had heard people talking about Animal for some time, I actually had no idea what the concept or menu was all about. The best way to describe the menu is decadent and vegetarian-unfriendly. The chefs and the restaurant have been heaped with much acclaim since opening in 2008. The chefs have been named Food & Wine Best New Chefs of 2009 and received a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant. Thankfully, I didn’t realize any of this going in otherwise, the level of expectation would have been even higher. As it was, I had heard a lot of talk about this place particularly amongst the young hipster crowd of Los Angeles. So with this most recent trip to LA, H.o.P. (aka my family) decided to see what all the hype was about.
The menu serves a collection of small and big plates that are designed to be shared by the table. As I said, it definitely leans on the meaty side of the food pyramid, but there were a few salads on the menu including the one we ended up ordering, which was a salad made with lettuce, beets, avocado, pita, feta, and creamy sumac. The best part of this salad was the beets. There were different types of beets which had different shapes and colors. They were absolutely yummy!
The Hamachi Tostada was a very interesting dish. Pieces of fresh hamachi were served on a crispy tostada-like shell and topped with lettuce, herbs, peanuts onion strings and a fish sauce vinaigrette. I liked the contrast of textures between the crispy shell and the hamachi. The vinaigrette was really good and really helped to enhance the overall taste of the dish.
The Chicken Liver Toast was wildly decadent. The toast was warm crunchy, and topped with a generous layer of chicken liver and strands of a caramelized onion marmalade. The chicken liver was smooth like butter. It had a very rich taste, but the liver flavor wasn’t too overpowering. The onions added some sweetness which helped to balance out the taste of the chicken liver.
The dish came with the marrow served in the bone and topped with a chimichurri and caramelized onions. The marrow was so intensely fatty that even by eating it with the thick buttered toast, I still felt a strong tinge of guilt with each bite. It was like pure fat! I think the chimichurri was probably intended to cut the fat, but it was impossible to ignore the rich taste of the marrow. It was good, but I really couldn’t take more than one bite. It really is a perfect dish to share with the table, because one person should not be allowed to eat it on their own.
This was probably one of my favorite dishes of the meal. First of all, it’s hard not to like foie gras,but this dish had it placed on a buttermilk biscuit which was submerged with maple sausage bits and gravy. It tasted unbelievably delicious! The foie gras was cooked just right. The gravy and biscuit was sinfully rich and buttery and not surprisingly, matched the decadence of the foie gras. Every bite was amazing.
For those of you that don’t know, sweetbreads is the more edible-sounding name for the thymus gland. Often times, it is breaded and fried, at least that is the only way I’ve ever had it, which is how this version was prepared as well. Additionally, it was served with creamed spinach, capers, and oyster mushrooms. In general, I find sweetbreads to be just okay, and I think it’s because the texture is kind of different, but I did like many of the components surrounding the sweetbreads, particularly the taste of the oyster mushrooms.
Poutine is traditionally a dish of French Fries topped with gravy and pieces of cheese curd with its roots in Canada and specifically, with the Québécois. Although I’ve never had the original one, I think that this one was a much more refined version where an osso buco-esque gravy and cheddar cheese bits were used instead. Normally, I like osso buco, but I felt that the flavor of the gravy was too much and seemed to drown the french fries which were good on its own. I don’t think the dish tasted all that good, but individually, the components probably would have been good on its own.
Another one of my favorite dishes was definitely the Barbeque Pork Belly Sandwiches. Oh my! They were heavenly! The pork belly was very well marinaded and cooked to the point where they melted in your mouth. The cole slaw and creamy dressing was also very good and along with bun added a nice balance to the pork. It was still kind of saucy and messy to eat, but I wanted to lick every bit of sauce off my fingers. It was darn good!
The Flat Iron Steak was served with an asparagus hash and truffle Parmesan fondue. You can imagine that by this point, we were all getting full. So my thoughts on this dish might have been slightly tainted by the fact that my stomach felt like it was about to burst. It was a good dish, but I can’t say it was terribly interesting. The steak was well-cooked. Although I love the flavor of truffle oil, I think the dish could have done without the Parmesan fondue. It made the steak richer than it needed to be and I don’t think it necessarily added anything to the taste of the meat.
The Bacon Chocolate Crunch Bar is a much-raved about dessert specialty of the house. Unfortunately, because I lack a real sweet tooth, I probably am not giving it due justice. It is a chocolate bar of fudge with bacon bits covered on the outside. If you like chocolate, you will definitely be taken on a chocolate rush with one bite. The bacon bits adds a salty twist, but surprisingly, the bacon is not that crispy. I expected a little bit more crunch.
All in all, the food was fantastic. It’s pure evil for those of us at high risk of heart disease and definitely a cardiologist’s dream, but it’s definitely worth trying out at least once. There are some really great dishes with delicious flavors like the Foie Gras and the BBQ Pork Belly Sandwich. And there are those other equally tasty dishes which are much more damaging to the cholesterol like the Bone Marrow and Chicken Liver Toast. Either way, you definitely won’t ever go home hungry. The vibe of the restaurant kind of goes along with the concept of the dishes. I think the best way to describe the restaurant is industrial, almost blue collar-like, which would be the appropriate kind of place which would be serving the greasy, fatty rich, albeit very refined food that is signature Animal.
435 North Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
PAFO Ratings for Animal Restaurant:
Price 3½ stars
Ambiance 2½ stars
Food 4 stars
Overall rating 3½ stars