Animal [2]

Animal
435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Neighborhood: Mid-City West
(323) 782-9225
http://animalrestaurant.com/

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

santa barbara uni, heirloom cucumbers, za’atar, fried cheese, hb egg ($18)

chicken liver toast

chicken liver toast ($3/each)

kampachi tostada, herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut

kampachi tostada, herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut ($15)

charred octopus, rancho gordo bean, pistou, dandelion

charred octopus, rancho gordo bean, pistou, dandelion ($16)

crispy pig head, short-grain rice, bulldog sauce, soy egg

crispy pig head, short-grain rice, bulldog sauce, soy egg ($16)

barbeque pork belly sandwiches, slaw

barbeque pork belly sandwiches, slaw ($14)

smoked turkey leg, celery root, apple, white barbeque

smoked turkey leg, celery root, apple, white barbeque ($30)

balsamic pork ribs, grilled heirloom squash, yuzu, green chili

balsamic pork ribs, grilled heirloom squash, yuzu, green chili ($24)

strawberry, cheesecake, rose geranium, graham, basil

strawberry, cheesecake, rose geranium, graham, basil ($9)

bacon chocolate crunch bar, s&p ice cream

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.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American Mid-City West $$$ A

Animal on Urbanspoon

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Son of a Gun (2)

Son of a Gun
8370 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 782-9033
http://sonofagunrestaurant.com/

Previous visit: July 2011

I can’t believe it had been almost 2 years since my first and only visit to Son of a Gun, before my return this past weekend. From what I remember (or more like what came to me when I read about my previous post of the restaurant), I liked the place plenty, but it wasn’t without flaws, and was still solidly in big bro Animal’s shadows. However, I’ve been hearing and reading nothing but praises for the seafood-centric restaurant since, and when buddy Paul came into town to visit, it seemed like an appropriate time to return (since he was there during the last meal, and had initially wanted to return to Animal).

Comparing this dinner with what I remember about the last one (aided by the previous post of course), and I can say that Son of a Gun has gotten better. Like with Animal, portions are small and prices are (relatively) high, but there’s plenty of positives here, especially with regards to creativity with seafood (i.e. not just raw bar assortments), and more importantly, the dinner as a delicious meal. Also, the bar program is pretty damn good there. I don’t remember it from the last dinner (or whether it even existed back then), but we tried a handful of cocktails and drinks across the menu, and they didn’t disappoint (and they were strong too). Below are photos of what we ordered, with some notes:

Today's Oysters on the Half Shell, Condiments
Today’s Oysters on the Half Shell, Condiments ($3/each)

Didn’t hear what the varieties were, but they were certainly fresh, however straightforward with the standard accompaniments. A great way to kick off the night of seafood though.

Gloucester Scallop, Yuzu Kosho, Pickled Shiitake
Gloucester Scallop, Yuzu Kosho, Pickled Shiitake ($16)

Here was a single jumbo scallop from Gloucester, MA served sashimi-style, right down to the yuzukosho. The pickling of the shiitake mushroom wasn’t strong, but added an interesting, earthy flavor component to the dish. Nicely done.

Smoked Steelhead Roe, Maple Cream, Pumpernickel
Smoked Steelhead Roe, Maple Cream, Pumpernickel ($16)

I believe this has been on the menu since opening day, but I didn’t get to try it last time. Separately, it’s just steelhead roe (basically ikura), whipped maple-flavored cream cheese, and pumpernickel crisps. But get everything together in one bite, and the dish becomes a wonderful play on lox on bagel with cream cheese.

Uni, Burrata, Button Mushroom, Yuzu
Uni, Burrata, Button Mushroom, Yuzu ($19)

I’ve read plenty about this dish, and it didn’t disappoint. Uni + burrata is an interesting combination, seeing how it’s creamy-on-creamy, but it worked. However, it could’ve used more uni (greedy me) to get a better uni:burrata ratio.

Lobster Roll, Celery, Lemon Aioli
Lobster Roll, Celery, Lemon Aioli ($8)

The people’s favorite from day one. Still the people’s champ.

Curly Kale, Caesar Dressing, Walnut, Parmesan
Curly Kale, Caesar Dressing, Walnut, Parmesan ($11)

We felt the need to order a vegetable dish to counter all the protein, so we found it in the form of this kale Caesar salad. Straightforward, but well-executed.

Fried Chicken Sandwich, Spicy B&B Pickle Slaw, Rooster Aioli
Fried Chicken Sandwich, Spicy B&B Pickle Slaw, Rooster Aioli ($14)

The people’s co-favorite. One that I actually wasn’t as crazy about as everyone else in town. However, I found a much better sandwich this time around. Still the same-looking gigantic sandwich, but the chicken this time was juicy and flavorful. And of course, the slaw was great once again. Southern hospitality at its finest.

Linguine and Clam, Uni Aglio-Olio, Chili, Breadcrumbs
Linguine and Clam, Uni Aglio-Olio, Chili, Breadcrumbs ($19)

A lot of people like this dish, and what’s not to love, with it being an spicy, uni-infused version of the classic linguine and clams. But this dish was a little heavy-handed with the cream (I can’t believe I’m writing this), and a bit too oily. Too much of a good thing, really. Tone it down a bit, and the dish would be amazing.

Shrimp Toast Sandwich, Herbs, Sriracha Mayo
Shrimp Toast Sandwich, Herbs, Sriracha Mayo ($12)

I had more than just a bite this time around, and it’s…good. But I think it was one of the weaker dishes of the night.

Soft Shell Crab Tempura, Crispy Pork, Ginger-Soy
Soft Shell Crab Tempura, Crispy Pork, Ginger-Soy ($22)

This sounded great (especially given my love for soft shell crab), and came highly recommended by our server. Besides being a little too heavy with the batter, I thought this was indeed great. A nice variation of the traditional tempura-fried soft shell crab with ponzu you’d find at Japanese restaurants, with the crispy pork adding some extra fattiness.

Frozen Lime Yogurt, Graham Crumble, Toasted Meringue
Frozen Lime Yogurt, Graham Crumble, Toasted Meringue ($6)

Had this last time, a solid deconstruct key lime pie of sorts.

Italian Hamburger: Gianduja, Brioche, Caramel, Maldon
Italian Hamburger: Gianduja, Brioche, Caramel, Maldon ($7)

An interesting dessert here, basically an ice cream sandwich with a sweet brioche bun and gianduja (basically Nutella) ice cream. The caramel and maldon salt gave it an salted caramel flavor.

Today's Sorbet: Coconut
Today’s Sorbet: Coconut ($6)

Might seem standard, but the sorbet and ice cream were actually the dessert standouts, pleasant surprises. It was rich (but not overly so) for a sorbet, and I believe there was a toasted flavor to the coconut.

Today's Ice Cream: Dreamsicle
Today’s Ice Cream: Dreamsicle ($6)

Why don’t more people make creamsicle/dreamsicle-flavored things? They were one of my favorite frozen treats from my childhood, and it was really cool to see it in ice cream form here. This captured the orange + ice milk flavors perfectly.

To sum it up, an inspired and improved Son of a Gun has now stepped out of Animal’s shadow (in my eyes – I’m sure most people saw things differently), and is now standing toe-to-toe with big brother. It’s probably the best seafood restaurant in LA after Providence, but do know that the dishes do add up once you get too excited (and you will). It won’t be two more years until the next visit, that’s for sure.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
American, Seafood Mid-City West $$$ A-

Son of a Gun Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The Golden State

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The Golden State is one of those places that have been on my to-dine list for the longest time. I just don’t go out to that area much anymore (probably due to painful memories from high school – not really; just lazy). So when Han made me run an errand for him in the area during my lunch time a couple of weeks ago, it was a good opportunity to cross what supposedly houses one of the best burgers in the city off the list. Not the optimal time to try The Golden State (since I wasn’t going to drink on a working day lunch), but at least the place wasn’t busy.

Since everyone loves comparisons (especially me), I would compare The Golden State’s burger to a more economical version of the one offered at Rustic Canyon, with the interior and vibe being that of a less pretentious Father’s Office. But don’t let the “negative” connotations fool you – the burger here definitely stands up to the two burger havens. On a brioche bun, this 1/3 lb. patty came with white cheddar, bacon, arugula, and a smidge of ketchup. Got it medium-rare obviously.

I thought that the griddled patty could’ve used a bit more char, but the patty was beefy and juicy. Somewhat messy, but nowhere near the greasy mess that the burger was at Rustic Canyon. White cheddar was sharp, bacon didn’t overshadow the star, and arugula was a nice contrast. The broiche bun was on the thicker side (notice the bottom bun especially), but proved to be a nice vessel. Fries? Not bad, but not a necessity. They have other sides like sweet potato fries and coleslaw that might be worth trying on future visits.

Not a perfect burger, but can compete with the top dogs for sure. The burgers at Rustic Canyon and The Golden State are like the Lopez twins (NBA players for those not basketball-familiar). One is the more talented and highly-regarded one; the other more of an everyday workhorse. The talented one periodically underachieves and gets hurt, while the lesser one just keeps on churning. That’s how I see The Golden State’s burger: a bougie burger for the everyday man ($11 – includes side) that always comes to work prepared.

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Chris Hei grade: B+

The Golden State
426 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 782-8331

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Meals by Genet

Photo credit: The Actor’s Diet

When I was in high school, I lived near Pico and Fairfax for a year. During that year, I frequented the Carl’s Jr. on Olympic and Fairfax on a regular basis. On my way back home after making myself fat, I would bypass the block on Fairfax that is Little Ethiopia. I ended up trying a couple of the Ethiopian restaurants on the block before I moved out of the area, but for the most part I disregarded them. Oh, young Chris Hei.

A couple of Fridays ago, when deciding what to eat for dinner with Ben and Danno, I decided to choose something unconventional for the group. Ethiopian it is! Figured that a three-person group was perfect to share one of those huge platters of food that people might be familiar with regarding Ethiopian food. We got there a bit past our reservation time of 9pm (since street parking is really hard to find – had to park a few blocks away closer to Pico), and had to wait maybe 10-15 for our table. But no big deal, and the servers were more than courteous before and during our dinner.

Each of our servers were very knowledgeable, and we were obviously not about the cuisine. So they suggested ordering a vegetarian combination, which had a salad and a bit of all of the side dishes, as well as a couple of their dishes. We chose the dorowot (what they’re famous for, and probably the most popular Ethiopian dish) and the kifto. The dorowot is chicken slow-cooked in a red pepper sauce (I think they said for 50+ hours), and also has some hard boiled eggs in it. The kifto is a steak tartare with Ethiopian butter.

All of the items came out on one big platter (well, the kifto actually came out a bit after, but there was a designated space on the platter for it). All of the veggies were placed on the outer rim, while the dorowot sat in the middle. And everything was served on a big bed of injera, which is a sourdough-y, spongy flatbread that is used to scoop the food up in lieu of utensils. Each of us got an injera of our own to eat/use. FYI: they can give you more injera if you finish yours, but I suggest attacking the sauce-soaked one on the plate if you do finish yours.

I’m glad I revisited Ethiopian cuisine after all these years. It was fun eating with your hands with a couple of close friends, and made for a good conversion centerpiece. The dorowot was cooked very well, and had a good slight kick of spice. The kifto was good too – the butter gave the tartare a smooth and warm texture. The veggie combination was a great suggestion by the servers, and it was fun trying to mix and match different ones with the proteins. I don’t think any of this strikes me as amazing food, as spoiled as I’ve been with dining out. But sometimes, simple and hearty ethnic food really hits the spot.

1/20/12
Mamoshye’s Special Kitfo ($14) – steak tartare, Ethiopian butter and spices
Dorowot ($18) – spicy chicken stewed in red pepper sauce with Ethiopian butter
Vegetarian Combination ($14)
– Ethiopian Salad
– ALITCHA KIK yellow split peas
– SHIRO orange split peas
– MESIR red lentils
– SHIMBIRA ASA sauteed garbanzo beans
– ATKILT sauteed potatoes, green beans, carrot and onions
– GOMEN collard greens
– TIKIL GOMEN cabbage and carrot
– TIMATIM FIFIT tomatoes, jalapeno, red onions, olive oil and lemon juice
– SOUF FIFIT pureed sunflowers with jalapeno, onion, olive oil and lemon juice
– AZIFA green lentils with Ethiopian mustard

Chris Hei grade: B+

Meals by Genet
1053 S Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 938-9304

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Mezze

1/12/12

Fancy Mediterranean? You probably couldn’t drag me to such a restaurant a year ago. It’s like fancy Chinese – are you fuckin’ serious, right (although I actually do want to try WP24)? But that was when Mezze opened, near the Beverly Center on La Cienega Blvd (or as my gangsta high school Spanish teacher would pronounce it, La See-A-“Ninja”). I certainly wasn’t going to go to Cleo, so what would change my mind with regards to this new restaurant? Well, the good vibrations rolled in from critics and bloggers alike, and made the latest version of the Bible a.k.a. Jonathan Gold’s 99 Essential L.A. Restaurants. And I received a 30% code from BlackboardEats to use for dinner – God is telling me to eat at Mezze. So I dragged Greg and Jen (the idiot below) along with me for the spiritual journey…

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I didn’t take a photo of the interior, but it was quite nice. Not necessarily fancy nice, but it was a very bazaar-y fancy (an actual one, not the sexy restaurant nearby) – nice “authentic” touch, if you will. And it was quite the hot spot that night: two American Pie actors were at a nearby table, some Hollywood execs were poppin’ bottles in the back, and these familiar-looking has-beens who I can’t seem to identify were on the other side. Add a group of young Yelp-Elite-type Asian girls behind me, and a FOBby Asian family who said “herro” to the American Pie guys and then stood at the kitchen window for ten minutes waving at the chefs, and you got yourself the place to be on a Thursday night.

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Merguez Sausage Flatbread

Merguez Sausage Flatbread, Tomato Jam, Aleppo Pepper ($16)

We were recommended by the server (who Greg pointed out looked like David Cook of American Idol fame) to order about three things per person. Good call, David. Started with one of the flatbreads, baked in a wood-fire oven visible to the dining room via the kitchen window. Nice and simple – like a pizza (duh).

Grandma's Chopped Chicken Livers

Grandma’s Chopped Chicken Livers, Apple Mostarda, Challah ($12)

If only my grandma knew how to make these…they were delicious! One of my favorites of the night. The mostarda added some needed sweetness, and the combination was great on the freshly-baked challah bread. Challah!

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Wild Salmon

Wild Salmon, Purple Onion, Pee Wee Potato, Rye ($14)

This is a play on lox and bagels. Good, but nothing spectacular once you got over what it’s supposed to be – and how little those potatoes were. Pee wee indeed.

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Foie Gras Terrine

Foie Gras Terrine, Saffron Lebne, Warren Pear, Pistachio ($21)

Gotta’ get my foie fix before the ban later this summer. A bit disappointing, however, as the foie has this slight (metallic?) aftertaste which I wasn’t crazy about. Still, combining all the stuff on the plate and smearing over the pita was quite nice.

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Shawarma

Shawarma, Brisket, Amba, House Pickles ($10)

Jen apparently hates sharwarma. Good, one each for me and Greg then. I thought that the beef brisket was well-seasoned and cooked, and enjoyed trying amba (a mango pickle condiment used in Middle Eastern cuisine) for the first time.

Farm Egg Shakshouka

Farm Egg Shakshouka, Yogurt, Sweetbread, Pita ($12)

Probably the best thing I ate that night. Enough said. Okay a little more – shakshouka is basically a dish where an egg is poached in a tomato type of sauce. Very hearty and even more delicious. Fried sweetbreads and pita were nice textural contrasts.

Lamb Shoulder

Lamb Shoulder, Freekah, Dukkah Spice ($27)

I like lamb, but I didn’t read much about this particular dish before coming. However, Greg said that this was the thing to get according to Yelp (blah). Of course Yelpers would be right…not! I really wanted to like this dish though when it was all said and done, but unfortunately, the lamb was a bit over, and quite bland to be honest.

Potato Flatbread

Potato Flatbread, Young Onion, Bottarga ($16)

There was a Serious Eats article about this particular flatbread the morning of our dinner, so I thought it was a sign from above that I should order it. Plus, I love bottarga (mullet roe). But the bottarga flavor was a bit muted here – mostly just potato and young onion (basically scallion). Still pretty good though.

Wood-Oven Cornish Hen

Wood-Oven Cornish Hen, Zatar, Natural Jus ($26)

Like I always say, it’s usually stupid to order chicken dishes at restaurants (or keeping up with the religious undertones that I unintentionally developed at the beginning of the post and ran with, blasphemy). This cornish hen was great. PERFECTLY cooked, and was very flavorful despite not having too much seasoning. The natural flavors were able to shine.

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Lebne Cheesecake

Lebne Cheesecake, Persimmon, Ginger, Hazelnut ($9)

Dessert time! The lebne (Middle Eastern yogurt cheese) cheesecake was highly recommended by David Cook, and I had heard some good things about it. It was presented as these cute little minis you see above. Very good.

Roasted Apples

Roasted Apples, Honey, Zatar, Brown Butter Gelato ($9)

Our lady of the table Jen chose this dessert, and it was a hit as well. Simple enough – just roasted apples and a scoop of gelato. But combining everything together, and it was like a delicious apple pie a la mode. Good thing Greg didn’t make a pie joke at Jason Biggs…

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I have to say, I was very pleased with our dinner at Mezze. Just about all of the dishes we had were at least solid (except the lamb shoulder), and some were truly great (chicken liver, shakshouka, cornish hen). Not that it truly matters, but I already mentioned that the decor was fun, and service was really good (water refilled every time glass was half-full – no joke). I am finally convinced that sophisticated Mediterranean cuisine is attainable, and Mezze is a welcome addition to the dining scene in L.A. I don’t need a discount to convince me to return.

Chris Hei grade: B+

Mezze
401 N La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 657-4103

Mezze on Urbanspoon

Pioneer Chicken

11/3/11

After a decade, I finally tried Pioneer Chicken again. I used to go quite often when I was in elementary school and lived around Melrose and Vine, and there was one on the corner where Popeye’s is now (next to Mario’s Peruvian). I also went to the one on Fairfax and Olympic a few times as well. But I remember my last few visits being very mediocre, and that was my high school palate talking. So it never came to mind for me to go back and give it another shot.

However, I was craving some fried chicken on a random weeknight, and Pioneer came to mind. It’s not too far from my work, so I hopped in the Hei-mobile (my busted 1996 Toyota Camry) and headed east on Olympic. As I approached the restaurant, everything looked familiar again – until I looked at the menu. The usual fried chicken and typical choices of sides are still there, but menu is much expanded. There are other fried goodies like fish, oysters, and even soft shell crab. I chatted with the new owner a bit – a really nice Korean guy who assured me that the fried chicken was better than ever.

On that assurance, I decided to get a family meal, the one with eight pieces and three sides. Went conventional with two of the sides in the forms of mashed potatoes and coleslaw. Those were just okay. The third side I got was the fried okra. They used the same batter as the chicken – really good. The okra still had some of that sliminess, but that batter worked very well. As for the chicken: I wished I had it there on the spot, because by the time I took it back to the office (and home later) it was a little cold and soggy since I was in traffic. Also, the batter was a bit heavy on some of the pieces in my opinion. But still some of the best I’ve had in a long time. Then again, I’ve only had the likes of KFC in recent years.

I’m glad I gave Pioneer another shot, and from now on I’ll go there whenever I have a fried chicken craving. But I’ll probably need to have it there at the restaurant, to give it an accurate assessment. It’s too bad they close so early (at 7pm) or else I would’ve been back much sooner.

Chris Hei grade: B

Pioneer Chicken
5970 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 954-0454

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Ramen Bull @ Breadbar

7/25/11Another one of my long past-due posts (this dinner was on 7/25/11), Ramen Bull was a pop-up at the Breadbar location on Third St (which seems to be a popular place to have pop-ups) that lasted until the beginning of this month. The interesting thing about the ramen served at Ramen Bull was that the broth and meat for each ramen was all beef-based. Another interesting thing was that different noodles were used for each ramen variety. I had my doubt though, about whether a beef-based broth would be able to match the richness and flavor that the normal pork-based ramen broth possessed.

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Hibiscus Tea SodaHibiscus Tea Soda

Pineapple SodaPineapple Soda

Beef TongueBeef Tongue

Corned BeefCorned Beef

Beef Tongue RamenBeef Tongue Ramen

Corned Beef RamenCorned Beef Ramen

Short Rib RamenShort Rib Ramen

Spicy RamenSpicy Ramen

Ox Tail RamenOx Tail Ramen

PhotoSince it’s very hard for me to recollect the details of each specific ramen, I’ll just provide an overview of what I do remember. I honestly couldn’t tell the differences of noodles used for each variation, but the noodles were cooked well. The proteins were also solid. The marinated egg, meanwhile, was really good. Full of flavor and cooked to a perfect soft-boil – a pleasant surprise. All the varieties were good, but if I had to choose, I would choose the Spicy Ramen as my favorite, which was a surprise since it had the most basic protein of all of the ramen (ground beef). While each ramen was able to develop a nice beef flavor in the broth, the traditional pork-based broth is still on a whole different level in terms of flavor. Just imagine this variation as a good Japanese-style beef noodle soup. Nice try though, Ramen Bull.

Chris Hei grade: B

Ramen Bull
Breadbar
8718 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 205-0124