435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Neighborhood: Mid-City West
Animal has been deemed by many as one of the most important and influential restaurants in LA, if not the country, since its opening back in 2008. This small-plates, ingredient-focused, manly-cooking concept that is prevalent in the city now – it all started with Animal. It’s been a glorious 5 years, and there are no signs of the restaurant slowing down. In fact, reservations at a reasonable time are still difficult to obtain (the same can be said for sister restaurant Son of a Gun, which I returned to recently), despite LA diners’ propensity to gravitate towards the next hot new opening (including new sister restaurant Trois Mec – partnership with Chef Ludo, who’s running the show – which is where I’m going in 2 weeks!), which occurs more often than you think.
I’ve been to Animal half a dozen more times since my first visit in 2008. There have been some up and down moments, but I’ve never wavered in my love for the restaurant (funny enough, the visit I chose to write about was on the lower end of my visits – not going to link to it because my writing was even worse back then). Before my most recent visit last Sunday, I had gone in March with Han and Daniel Z. As always, it was a very enjoyable meal, and I’m glad both of them considered the dinner one of the strongest ones they’ve had in the city, but as someone who’s had some of his favorite meals at the restaurant, I was again somewhat critical in my thoughts, if only because I’ve seen the restaurant at their best.
Well, those fond memories returned last Sunday. I had no plans to visit the place originally, nor did I have any in the near future. But Han really wanted to take his girlfriend, since she had never been to the restaurant, and their time together is precious (both of them are very hard workers, whose schedules conflict with one another). So on a whim, they invited me along to see if we can get a table walking in if we arrived at the restaurant before the 6pm opening. Lo and behold, we were rewarded with the seating. But it was only the beginning of what ended up being a great meal. Below is a rundown of what the 3 of us ordered, with some comments following the photos (I don’t want to do a dish-by-dish take, since just about every blog in LA has covered the restaurant in some form):
santa barbara uni, heirloom cucumbers, za’atar, fried cheese, hb egg ($18)
chicken liver toast ($3/each)
kampachi tostada, herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut ($15)
charred octopus, rancho gordo bean, pistou, dandelion ($16)
crispy pig head, short-grain rice, bulldog sauce, soy egg ($16)
barbeque pork belly sandwiches, slaw ($14)
smoked turkey leg, celery root, apple, white barbeque ($30)
balsamic pork ribs, grilled heirloom squash, yuzu, green chili ($24)
strawberry, cheesecake, rose geranium, graham, basil ($9)
bacon chocolate crunch bar, s&p ice cream ($8)
Everything just clicked that night. The mainstay and returning dishes (i.e. chicken liver toast, kampachi tostada, pork belly sliders) remained as excellent as ever, even surpassing my experiences of them from the last 3 or so visits. And the dishes I was trying for the first time were very inspired, and more importantly, just plain delicious. That smoked turkey leg – it’s one of my favorite dishes of the year so far. If you like the ones at Disneyland, you might just kill somebody for this version. And the strawberry dessert was like something you’d find at Providence and Red Medicine – very sophisticated, with a lot of different flavor profiles and textures going on. I should’ve tried the blueberry one too! My future visits to Animal will be more frequent from here on out, now that the fire between us has been rekindled.