Animal is “the epitome of a promiscuously meaty approach to cooking that might well be called the Carniwhore School, ” says Frank Bruni in his article ‘In Los Angeles, Trying to Live by Pork Alone.’
The Carniwhore School holds that no beast bests the pig in its multifaceted pleasures, that offal shouldn’t be relegated to just one or two dishes on the margins of the main feast, and that if you think something might taste better fried, go ahead and fry it, arteries be damned.
As a student of the rival school of Balanced Plates, I’ve thus far steered clear of Animal in spite of its bevy of solid press. I appreciate meat from snoot to tail, but Animal’s culinary approach always struck me as too over-the-top. I fancy my meat paired with embellishments other than additional meat.
Or so I thought.
Ironically, it was chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s ridiculous loco moco creation that ultimately brought me through Animal’s doors for a meal. Go figure…
With layman’s loco moco base tastings completed the night before, Bex, The Astronomer, and I were game for Animal’s gourmet rendition the following evening. Part two of “A Tale of Two Loco Mocos” commenced at 6 PM on Fairfax. We were joined by my friend Carissa and her boyfriend Joe.
Perusing the menu, I was pleased to see that the renegade chefs had taken S. Irene Virbila’s critique to heart and added more vegetation onto the menu. During our visit, beets, baby broccoli, avocado, and lettuces all made an appearance on the protein-laden bill of fare.
Between my four dining mates and me, we selected four small plates and two large ones to share.
Dinner began on a light note with a plate of sliced fluke dressed with citrus, mint, sea salt, and jalapeno ($12). The fresh fluke shined the brightest on this colorful plate, while the de-seeded jalapenos brought a smidgen of heat.
Next, we dug into a heaping pile of poutine, a classic Quebecer delicacy comprised of French fries doused in gravy and cheese. Animal’s version employed tenderly braised oxtails and savory Vermont cheddar ($15). Whereas it pained me to share the fluke five-ways, the poutine was much more enjoyable in small doses. Salt-overload would have been inevitable had our party been smaller.
The melted petite Basque with Fra’ Mani chorizo and garlic bread ($11) came highly recommended by our waitress. The first few bites of this dish were terrific—the toasty bread was a fine vehicle for the molten cheese and chorizo. As was the case with the poutine, the petite Basque would’ve been overwhelmingly salty had we not split it five-ways. Ms. Virbila was right when she advised that the salt shaker be hidden from the boys in the kitchen.
Our final small plate of the evening, the bellwether ricotta ravioli with English peas and mint ($9), was a favorite of Bex and The Astronomer. Sweet peas and cool mint are a classic and delicious pairing, especially with creamy ricotta.
The massive rack of balsamic pork ribs ($37) made the entire table swoon with delight. Cooked for ten hours, the meat fell cleanly off the bone and melted in our mouths. The sweet glaze atop the meat was Yankee all the way, but we didn’t mind because we reside to the left of the Mason Dixon.
The ribs were served with a side of good but forgettable roasted parsnips and carrots with pine nuts and raisins.
After five courses of eager anticipation, the loco moco finally arrived at the table.
Piled high Alfred-Portale-style, the loco moco consisted of a fried quail egg, seared foie gras, Spam, a Niman Ranch burger, and Anson Mills gold rice ($35). From the egg up top, to the Sriracha infused gravy below, every single element was well-seasoned, well-prepared, and well, stellar.
I couldn’t have appreciated this dish to the fullest without the less-than-perfect base tasting the night before.
We closed out the evening with two decadent desserts. Joe’s doughnuts with caramel sauce ($8) were simply plate-scrapin’ good. The texture of the doughnuts was impossibly light and the gooey caramel sauce was dreamy. If my friends and I weren’t so civil, I would’ve thrown down for their portion of these awesome orbs.
Animal’s signature bacon chocolate crunch bar with salt and pepper anglaise ($8) didn’t quite kill it like the doughnuts did. The idea of bacon making a sweet appearance was endlessly appealing, but the execution left something to be desired. In the end, we all felt that the chocolate was too dense and bitter to meld well with the crunchy and oily bacon bits.
To erase the taste of the poorly constructed bacon dessert from our memory, we licked the caramel sauce clean off the long-gone doughnuts’ plate. That’s how we do.
435 N. Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036