Animal Restaurant, Los Angeles
May 9, 2011 2 Comments
I can’t remember where I first heard about Animal Restaurant, a stripped down, no-nonsense, experimental kind of place whose menu supposedly changes almost every day. But after reading some interesting things about the place, and realizing that Animal serves only foods featuring some kind of meat, I thought trying it out would be fun for a Friday night.
Knowing Los Angeles’ ridiculous rush hour traffic (especially on a Friday), we left ample time to get to Animal’s Fairfax location and actually arrived about 30 minutes early for our 6:45 PM reservation. Even getting street parking, which is usually like extracting teeth, was easy. We found Animal surprisingly quickly, considering that their storefront is unmarked. We were seated early and eagerly anticipated our choices.
Don’t expect a binder of options à la the Cheesecake Factory. Here, one page will suffice. I would have preferred some breaks in the text delineating starters, sides, and entrees (or some other configuration, perhaps) because the art history student in me almost wanted to annotate the menu to keep track of what we wanted to order.
Service at Animal is really fast. Glasses are refilled instantaneously, magically. In fact, we were in an out in about an hour.
To start, we had some pig ear with chili, lime, and a fried egg. The gooeyness of the fried egg cut the tartness of the lime deliciously for me, though Stephen said he really enjoyed the full, unadulterated lime flavor. The pig ears had a nice texture in between chewiness and crunchiness. In the words of Anthony Bourdain, I’m kind of an egg slut, so I really liked this dish.
While the pig ears were an undisputed triumph, our second dish, was unfortunately inedible. We ordered pig tails, “barbecue style” with celery and ranch. The barbecue sauce was much, much too sweet and the skin on the tails was rubbery and stretchy. The ranch did not complement the sweetness, and there wasn’t enough celery to balance the intense fattiness of the meat. We left the rest on our plates after a few bites. Unfortunately, Animal does not switch out your plates after a course or two, so the offending barbecue sauce stained our plates for our next dish.
Thankfully, the clean, fresh flavors of the rabbit legs (our third plate) shone through the lingering displeasure of the sweet barbecue sauce. The crispy breaded crust pulled back to reveal meat that was dense, moist, and taut. We hadn’t had rabbit before, so we were delighted that we enjoyed it so much. After eating so many meaty dishes, it was really refreshing to have the balance of the rabbit with the sugar snap peas. Unlike in the previous dish, the ranch sauce was cool and creamy, pairing well with the chicken breast-like texture of the meat.
Though still slightly concerned about what Animal’s definition of barbecue being “sickly sweet,” we thought their barbecue pork sandwiches looked pretty appetizing. The barbecue pork turned out to be much more finessed in terms of flavor; owing much, I think, to the texture and seasoning in the slaw. The slaw (especially the carrot component in it) had a nice crunchiness and tartness to balance the pork.
Now, I know this place is called Animal and I’m eating various cuts of pork that are known to be fatty, but the large slabs of fat in my sandwich overwhelmed me a bit. The fat was well-cooked, don’t get me wrong, but I think I am just not into the bubbly, oily, oozy consistency of pork fat. The lean parts in my sandwich were absolutely heavenly though, the pork had been clearly been cooked with care.
Though surprising full at this point, we did want to try one of their desserts. Having read about their bacon chocolate crunch bar in the Los Angeles Times, we thought we’d try it ourselves! I really loved the presentation! It’s almost exactly like two thick slices of bacon. :)
The bar was nice and chocolatey and the combinations of nuts and bacon bits was quite nice. I’m glad we tried the dessert because now we know how the flavors of bacon and chocolate come together, but I think at the end of the day, I’m a chocolate cake kind of girl.
My experience at Animal was pretty good overall. I think we would definitely go again if in the mood to eat lots of protein or non-traditional meats. The rabbit sausage and the balsamic ribs looked very promising on their menu. We spent just over an hour at the restaurant, the food came out very quickly after we ordered and the servers were responsive and attentive.
I’d also definitely recommend reading the (in)famous Ms. Virbila’s review of Animal in the Los Angles Times if you want a different perspective. She definitely has some really great insight about the food and I totally agree with her about wanting to eat fresh greens or carbs (anything non-meat!) at various points during/after the meal. She also says this:
Piling on the richness and the tony ingredients doesn’t always result in something amazing. And the menu offers little relief from the sweetness and richness. What’s needed are some perspective and discipline.
I think her comments are pretty spot-on, but we thought our meal was still enjoyable. More than anything, I thought Animal made me realize how much I should really appreciate meals that balance all the food groups harmonically with surprising, interesting, and just plain tasty flavors. And that rabbits have amazing legs… (what a thought!)
435 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036