Thursday, April 2, 2009

Animal: Dude Food

Animal has been on my “to-go” list since it opened in June last year. I finally ventured out to the Fairfax resto tonight with poor, jetlagged Theresa in tow (sorry hun!) Being a Wednesday night, I didn’t think we’d need to make reservations. Wrong assumption – Animal was packed and the only available seats were at the bar.

Neither of us were starving so we skipped the appetizers and hopped right to the entrée selection. The restaurant name is right – this menu is definitely NOT for vegetarians or salad people. Thank God I re-entered the meat-eater’s world. Theresa decided to take a stab at the quail fry, grits, slab bacon, chard and maple jus ($26) while I decided to spoil myself with the foie gras loco moco with quail egg, spam, hamburger and gold rice ($35). Yes, I felt robbed of my foie gras after that disappointing beef Wellington episode at the Stanton Social and I felt the need to be compensated.

Our (substantially-portioned) food arrived after a little bit of catching up. The presentation of the food seemed to spell out exactly what the restaurant was about – Animal doesn’t care about the Jean Georges-esque delicate precision. What it DOES care about is infusing top quality ingredients into stripped-down, casual dishes that don’t look too aesthetically intimidating to eat. This is the epitome of “Dude Food” – nothing looks overly pretty and the food doesn’t make you feel like you should turn off the football game and catch an opera show instead. In fact, Theresa’s quail fry looked nothing fancier than a plate of KFC chicken.

(Disappointing Quail :[ )

Sad to say though, Theresa’s quail fry also tasted nothing fancier than a plate of KFC chicken. The quail meat was practically tasteless (a little marinade would be useful) and the only ounce of flavor was in the fried, flour coating. It was a disappointing dish and a waste of a good quail. On the flip side, however, my foie gras loco moco was absolutely awesome. A perfectly cooked medium-rare hamburger patty was topped with a slice of spam and a pretty generous slab of foie. This pillar of deliciousness was capped off with a fried quail egg with a semi-running yolk. It was indulgent alright. I wonder how many arteries I clogged tonight. The surrounding gold rice was doused in a lovely sweet and sour type sauce – I almost wanted to lick the plate clean. The burger was somewhat bland by itself but had a fantastic charred, smoky flavor. And its mild flavor complimented the jolting savory taste of the spam – combining both meats in one bite created the perfect flavor balance. The rich taste of the runny yolk and the smooth, creamy foie gras elevated the simple loco moco dish to a whole new unbelievable level. But the most ingenius part of it all was the sprinkling of chopped green onions. It’s such a humble ingredient but its raw, slightly electrifying taste balanced the heaviness of all the cooked, meaty components and brought out the full flavor potential of all the other components. What I loved most about the food was its simplicity. Sure, maybe foie gras doesn’t really fit into the idea of “simplicity” but what Animal does is it brings luxury ingredients down to earth. At Animal, foie gras is on the same level as spam and burger patties and it’s wonderfully refreshing to find a place that reminds you to eat food for its actual flavor and texture rather than for its luxury connotations.

(Keeping the Foie Real: Foie Gras Loco Moco)

Service is awesome and has the same no-frills attitude as the food. Tattoos are almost di rigueur among the staff and with John Shook and Vinny Dotolo as the owners/head chefs, I’m not at all surprised – all I could see through the little window into the main kitchen were Vinny Dotolo’s full-sleeve tattooed arm working over the stove. Also, unlike other Hollywood places, the 20-somethings at Animal aren’t aspiring actors/actresses and they actually like working around food and know something about it. They’re friendly and approachable and, most of all, you get the feeling that they really want you to have a kickass time with the food.

Well, mission accomplished. I totally had a kickass time!

FOOD: 4/5 (based on my loco moco and not the quail fry)

ANIMAL ($$/$$$)
435 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 782-9225

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