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Sep 21, 2011 12:04 AM

Animal Review

I'd wanted to visit Animal for some time and had the opportunity to drop in tonight. I arrived at 6:30 the place was 50% full (btw, why no restaurant name outside?), but by 7:30 the place was packed and people were being turned away...what recession?

The waiter was great. I ordered foie gras atop a biscuit with a maple sausage gravy. It was sublime, and I savored each smokey rich fulfilling!

Unfortunately they brought my next course, a marrow bone with an aromatic chimichurri sauce with caramelized onions, before I was done with the foie gras. I pushed it aside and continued to savor the unctuous foie gras dish.

The marrow dish was both rich and flavorful, paired with buttered brioche points. Well done.

For dessert I ordered the sticky toffee pudding with mascarpone & caramel fleur de sel sauces. It was very tasty but wins the award of being the smallest dessert I've ever seen in my life. It was so small that it looked odd on the plate. Oh well, a work area for Animal. Everything else rocked and I enjoyed a lovely meal, highlighted by A+ service personnel.

Looking forward to a second visit.

435 N Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90036

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  1. Animal is still my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles when it comes to wonderful food at a pretty damn reasonable price with great, attentive non attitudinal service. Funny about the dessert "shrinkage" that you mention. This must be a new (and unwelcome) move as dessert was always very substantial every time we went. I wonder if this isn't an effort to squeeze out better dollar numbers without being seen to raise prices? Passing time is almost always cruel to everything and everyone...except maybe for the taste of cheese and wine.

    1. I went this weekend for the first time...didn't get the hype.

      First off...wanted to change to a 6:30 reservation (had 6:00pm)...was told no, then said we would be quick...they needed table by 8:30...they begrudgingly let us in. Off course, we get there the place is only 30% full...they make us wait 5 minutes outside anyway...the restaurant was never more than 75% full.

      Ambiance is very spartan and NYC...noise wasn't an issue...staff was a little too cool for school, but at least waitresses were cute. Service was fine.

      As for food, we ordered:

      Chicken liver - This was good, but the jelly on top really masked the chicken liver flavor. It was more sweet than say the Pizzeria Mozza, which is a saltier, more livery (is that a word?) version. Also, I prefer thinner toast.

      Hamachi Tostada - Tasted like something I'd get in a nice thai joint...couldn't really taste the fish - in fact, if they had ommited the fish, it wouldn't have detracted from the dish one bit. Good, but not noteworthy.

      Quail - I'm not sure if it was a full quail or a half, but this was one tiny was a very nice dish.

      Fois Gras w/biscuit - Very disappointed...found flavors too cloying and sweet, and texture was very mushy with entire dish swimming in syrup. Rarely do I dislike fois gras - this was one of them. Guess I'm in the minority.

      Berries w/custard - like a deconstructed berry tart, was delicious but routine...any decent bakery or cook should be able to make this. Still, probably my favorite dish since I love berry tarts.

      Wine was pricey with small pours - definitely would recommend BYO.

      Overall, it was a good meal, but the attitude and hype turns me off...

      Pizzeria Mozza
      641 N. Highland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036

      17 Replies
      1. re: manku

        That now makes 3 people on the LA boards who don't get the hype surrounding Animal. I've been 4-5 times over the past 2 years which is probably more than the majority of Animal fans and I still don't get the hype. Most dishes are average-good but I don't see it as this shining LA star people keep making it out to be. Again, it is noted that those who are not "wowed" by it are in the super minority.

        1. re: Porthos

          maybe one reason these people don't get the hype is because "hype" is one of the most over-and mis-used terms on chowhound.

          a number of good reviews does not necessarily equal hype.

          1. re: linus

            I start counting "demerits" when my own 4 visits are so completely at odds with the service related critique leveled at Animal by manku. I've never had a whiff of attitude from anyone there, including the hostesses. I mean, waiting five minutes for your table was a negative? Good grief.

            1. re: Servorg

              I've never had an issue with service either. In fact I've usually found their wait stuff to be quite personable.

              I like this restaurant a lot. I get it. Completely. It found a niche and beat the living daylights out of it. It ain't health food, is about as politically-incorrect as you can get and it makes that a big statement. That's the half of it for me - the other half is the small plates. And a few other things - no bread, and they don't use stock. They've simplied their approach and that's interesting. Also, they're young, they have the appeal of youth, and attract a young, food curious clientel that I find kind of inspirational. It's nice seeing young hipsters who enjoy fairly serious food on the cheap.

              I took a serious chef here (actually, he took me because I was loathe to believe any of the hype largely because they had a TV show) and he liked it a lot. Vinny came out and sat with us and maybe he was a little intimidated by the chef, but admitted even he was a little embarassed by hype and pretty much considered himself more of a line-cook than a serious chef. Neverthless, I enjoyed my meal (but had a fat-attack the rest of the evening - I was fantasizing about guzzling down some garage floor degreaser afterwards. ) And I've been back (but I balance the fat intake with more attention). I know a couple other chefs who went last springy - one liked it (not a lot, but he's tough and never raves) the other was utterly disgusted by it. (Out of the three chefs mentioned, this one was - IMHO - the least accomplished and not terribly adventurous).

              Yeah, there's hype. Definitely. The TV show after all is a hype guarantee - it IS hype. When people say it's the best restaurant in town - and they sing that praise at the top of their lungs - they're promoting some kind of belief system about food. It's good but please don't get all nutty about it.

              It is certainly one of LA's more interesting and entertaining restaurants. And the food is good. I like the fact that I can wonder in on the late side and get a fun snack at the counter.

            2. re: linus

              Good reviews are fine. But some have claimed this is one of a kind, only in LA cuisine. Better pig ears, better ribs, better sausage pasta, better quail, etc can be found all over. The buffalo pig tail could be legendary if it weren't so salty as to render it inedible. That's the "hype" I'm referring to. Fwiw, no problems with service, have just had better versions of the food served at Animal. Good restaurant yes. Some unique genius cuisine going on here, no.

              1. re: Porthos

                "Some unique genius cuisine going on here, no."

                I'll just remark that I had never seen anything like the flavor combining that Animal came out with here in Los Angeles. Just their use of foie gras alone stands them in unique and genius cuisine territory in my opinion. Items such as coconut sweetbreads, raita, mango and tamarind or their poutine with oxtail gravy and cheddar cheese. What about the halibut with corn, lima beans, wild fennel, chanterelles and lobster butter? It's not exactly common to find a foie gras terrine flavored with boysenberry jam and black pepper gastrique. And finally you have their foie gras with biscuit and maple sausage gravy. I don't find that one at every Tom, Dick and Harry's ristorante...or their foie gras with loco moco, quail egg, spam and hamburger patty.

                Their twist on food is still a revelation in terms of taste, boldness and whimsy.

                1. re: Servorg

                  ll just remark that I had never seen anything like the flavor combining that Animal came out with here in Los Angeles
                  Out of LA no. Out in NYC, SF, New Orleans, yes. Even the pork bellly with kimchi dish which you think would come out of LA...I found it inferior to the version out in Miami at Michael's Genuine who was doing that dish about 1-2 years before Animal started theirs. And it's relevent because Animal is some knee jerk recommendation for every out of town visitor request when other towns have been doing this stuff for a while already.

                  The poutine. Tried it twice. Aside from the fact that I find it too salty (this from someone that can easily finish the boat noodles at Sapp), I don't get what's so genius about it. The original recipe is fries, cheese, and brown gravy. They substitute brown gravy with oxtail gravy. It's not a huge leap of culinary creativity in my mind. The foie gras poutine up in Montreal at Au Pied that intriques me.

                  The foie gras with biscuit and maple sausage gravy...I have always given due credit to this dish. It's genius and gets my utmost respect for the madness of it all. To me, that is one dish I can say I have never seen before and is one of a kind. But the other dishes, are not as rare as one might think and are bested even in LA (eg. pig ears, ribs).

                  1. re: Porthos

                    completely agree with this review. i had two bites of the poutine and put it aside. i'd rather have another bone marrow or especially biscuit and gravy. i actually dont think the foie gras is necessary. it's all about that sweet and savory gravy.

                2. re: Porthos

                  "some have claimed" is hardly hype. you say you don't understand "the hype," but it sounds to me as if you simply disagree with the good reviews.

                  1. re: linus

                    it sounds to me as if you simply disagree with the good reviews.
                    Linus, I don't know how to make my previous statement any clearer: "Good restaurant yes. Some unique genius cuisine going on here, no."

                    1. re: Porthos

                      For what it's worth, probably not much, but I agree with you Porthos.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Actually, it's pretty notable considering how little we agree on Ipse!

                      2. re: Porthos

                        porthos, i understand your view of animal. i just dont understand the use of the word "hype" in this context.

                        1. re: linus

                          i just dont understand the use of the word "hype" in this context.
                          Also see my previous statement: "Good reviews are fine. But some have claimed this is one of a kind, only in LA cuisine"

                          I find Animal to be a good and decent restaurant. I do not find it to be one of a kind, only in LA cuisine (I have provided examples inside and outside of LA and referenced specific dishes). The latter has been claimed by more than one highly respected LA Hound in many past Animal threads and is reason why I have returned multiple times to a restaurant that did not live up to my expectations. To me, that "one of a kind, only in LA" claim is "hype" or hyperbole. The operative words being: to me.

                          Some may find that my views on my favorite restaurants contain similar amounts of hyperbole or "hype" (eg. P. Mozza, Mori, Spice Table, LQ@SK).

                          1. re: Porthos

                            i guess we have different views as to what constitutes "hype."

                            1. re: linus

                              This is hype:


                              How many other restaurants in LA have gotten New Yorker profiles?

                              1. re: manku

                                i respectfully disagree.
                                that's a positive article on a restaurant and its chefs.
                                i don't find it to be "Extravagant or intensive publicity or promotion," as per one online definition. i don't feel shook and dotolo or any journalists i can think of "Promote or publicize (a product or idea) intensively, often exaggerating its importance or benefits."

                                anything kardashian is hype. the eight zillion articles about, and, indeed, the phrase "the food truck revolution" is hype. the ad campaign for the new foodcentric abc television program, "the chew" is hype.

                                perhaps i'm picking pepper out of fly shit here. my point was there is a distinct difference between a bunch of positive reviews and hype.

            3. Wow, bizarre responses. I liked what I had simple as that, I'm hardly buying into any "hype". If I hadn't liked it I would have said so--I have no problem going against the grain.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Funwithfood

                I've been to Animal on five occasions with different guests. We've never had a problem with service. The food has been consistent and memorably flavorful ("too salty" is very subjective) not to mention original. For me and my guests, who have eaten all over the world including New Orleans, Singapore, Paris, Miami and San Francisco, it's always been a terrific experience. Maybe you can get "better" (again, subjective) pig's ear, tail, etc. elsewhere but I've yet to see the menu that compares to theirs.

                Restauranting is very much like the parable of the ten blind men and the elephant. It all depends on your own, unique, perspective.

              2. yes, the dessert at Son of a Gun is also on the small side.

                Son of a Gun
                8370 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90048

                1 Reply
                1. re: mc michael

                  I have to say that my strawberry shortcake dessert at S of a G was really pretty darn big...(I was waiting for some dainty, diminutive dealie-whacker (g) and it was surprisingly robust). Enough so I didn't mind the fact that my wife attacked it savagely from a flanking position. ;-D>

                2. Wanted to bring back this topic back to see what people think about Animal now.

                  Finally went last night with the girlfriend.

                  I thought the Hamachi Tostata was fantastic in that it tasted more or less identical to a papaya salad that one would find on the streets of Bangkok. The fish sauce was spot on. It seems this has to be the intention, correct? Anyways, very good.

                  Next up was some pears and berries in foam which I quite frankly did not understand. Good pears. Good berries. No idea why I paid thirteen dollars for it.

                  Then the Japanese Uni with heirloom cucumbers and zataar and fried cheese which was unceremoniously delivered at the same time as the pears. The two dishes definitely did not mesh. Anyways, this was my least favorite of the night. The fried cheese gave the dish an almost meaty quality. It certainly had a middle-eastern feel to it with the cucumbers and zataar, but it felt impossibly forced. What's interesting is I loved the uni and burratta at Son of a Gun so I had high hopes for this.

                  Next up was the pig ear which also underwhelmed. The lime and chili were there in abundance. I think the dish is just too fatty for me.

                  Lastly, the grilled quail with plum char-siu and various fruits. I thought this was superb. The quail itself was very moist, and the sourness of the yogurt really worked nicely with the smokiness of the bird and the sweetness of the fruit. Up there with the best quail I've had in LA, although I think I prefer the garlic one at Marouch.

                  We had the cheesecake pudding for dessert and I was blown away. Definitely the highlight of the night. So it's a guava granita on top of small bits of graham crackers, an abundance of strawberries, and a tart cheesecake pudding. Bites with all those combined were just divine. I wish more restaurants would do granitas. I'm thoroughly obsessed.

                  The waiter was quite nice and attentive but had almost no opinions on any of the dishes. He kept insisting they were known for everything being good which is fair but surely something must have stood out to him.

                  Anybody else been recently? Thoughts?

                  19 Replies
                  1. re: set0312

                    I'd love to go again, but alas it probably isn't going to happen anytime soon. Enjoyed reading your review and I was underwhelmed by the pigs ear when we had it one time. I also concur totally on the hamachi tostada. A home run. If they are serving loco moco I'll get that, but I guess the foie ban has put the kibosh on that dish as well as the one with the biscuit and maple sausage gravy.

                    Animal was a thrill for me every time I went.

                    1. re: set0312

                      went a couple of weeks ago and thought the same of pears and berry until i had the one bite with everything. just made sense. my gf agreed. separately, nothing special. the 2 or 3 bites where everything worked made sense.

                      still a fan of the oxtail poutine.

                      think it's still as good as ever.

                      1. re: set0312

                        I'm set to go there this weekend. I'm so excited, and yet so sad that foie is no longer on the table. The poutine and bone marrow are definitely on my list of must eats, and it sounds like I should eat the hamachi, too. Any other recs from CHs who have recently gone?


                        1. re: attran99

                          still a fan of the bacon crunch bar.

                          the pig tails are good too.

                          1. re: cdub

                            Honestly, my party found the pig tails to be too fatty and the buffalo wings sauce wasn't very exciting either. In our opinion, it was one of the few misses, but different strokes...

                            1. re: Butter Fight

                              I've had pigs tails now at a few restaurants (spice table, tar&roses etc), and am convinced they are "the emporers new clothes"...fatty, in a bad way, difficult to eat, no meat...they are just gross, IMHO. I'm not a huge proponent of nose to tail's appears to be gimmick designed to increase restaurant profits.


                              1. re: manku

                                The pig tails are no good at Animal.

                                Go to Night + Market and try the ones there. Meaty, tender, delicious.

                                1. re: manku

                                  I haven't had pig tails, but I feel the same way about pig ears. Every time I've had ears they are tough, chewy and simply not a tasty pig part.

                                  I'd love to get to Night + Market. <sigh>

                                  1. re: lynnlato

                                    Every time I've had ears they are tough, chewy and simply not a tasty pig part.
                                    The only tough chewy version I've had were the ones at Animal. It's a shame that's how they do it and continue to do it.

                                    When done properly they're crispy, tender, and delicious. The best version in town was at Lazy Ox but I haven't been in 3 years. The difference is as stark as crispy hot french fries, and soggy, gross french fries...or as stark as the difference between pig tails at Animal and pig tails at Night + Market.

                                    1. re: Porthos

                                      I shall keep trying to find the "crispy, tender and delicious" ones you describe, Porthos.

                                  2. re: manku

                                    I agree with you, though I won't quite call them the emperor's new clothes about them. I assume that those that like them actually do.

                                    I've had them at Animal, Spice Table, and Night+Market. While Night+Market's rendition was clearly superior, I just don't love the cut. Fatty in a bad way pretty much covers it.

                                    Interestingly, the pig ears at Animal are, to me, one of the best versions of the dish I've ever had. I love the crazy amount of acidity they reach with the lime juice. I love the spice, and the ears haven't been overfried in to a nasty, crunchy frizzle that so many restaurants are plating now.

                                    1. re: cacio e pepe

                                      i agree. i like animal's version though i haven't had them at night + market. to each their own.

                                    2. re: manku

                                      I think Asian cuisines do nose to tail superbly well because they have always been doing it. I appreciate the sustainability of it and always find it interesting when I find something I love that I'd never have eaten before. (Aka the pork neck at Night + Market)

                                      With that being said, I think the US based chefs who are just being initiated into the nose to tail movement are going to strike out sometimes. And if they aren't great too begin with, they might strike out a lot.

                                    3. re: Butter Fight

                                      Agreed. The pig tail at Animal was so-so at best. Best version of the dish I've had was at Cragie on Main in Boston. Fried crispy and seasoned with nuoc cham. I could eat that weekly.

                                  3. re: attran99

                                    I would say the pork belly sliders are a must have if you haven't had them before.

                                    Also, if octopus is on the menu I would recommend it. Very tender.

                                    1. re: Butter Fight

                                      Last night's dinner was terrific. Dinner was casual, leisurely, and straight-out yummy. Service was great, and wine suggestions were good. We had an overall good experience.
                                      We ordered the chicken liver toast (yum), the hamachi tostada (AMAZING!), roasted bone marrow (very nice), poutine (it was good), and the BBQ pork belly (lovely). That tostada was so good, I still can taste it in the back of my mouth 24 hours later.
                                      For dessert we tried the bacon crunch bar (that S&P ice cream was something special...the rest was okay) and the cheesecake pudding (admittedly, anything cheesecake-y that I can get my husband to enjoy is good...but on a serious note, I liked it...didn't love it, but liked it just fine).
                                      Thanks to everyone for their input.

                                  4. re: set0312

                                    We went last Friday and I had several of the dishes you mention and had basically the same impression:

                                    -We loved the hamachi. It was the favorite of a few of the folks in our party of 8.

                                    -Underwhelmed by the pig ears. I'm just not a fan of the texture, frankly. Too chewy.

                                    -Enjoyed the bone marrow with chimichurri.

                                    -The melted petit basque & chorizo was good, not great.

                                    -All of us thought the chicken liver toasts were light and tasty with no residual iron taste.

                                    -The sweetbreads = two thumbs up.

                                    -The prosciutto, fruit and buttermilk foam - I didn't get it at all. Flavors muddled, nothing popped.

                                    -We had the veal brains w/ apricot purée and it was tasty, but didn't leave a big impression.

                                    -My favorite dish, interestingly, was the beets with avocado, feta & creamy sumac. I really enjoyed this chilled dish and the slight crunch of the beets. Delicious.

                                    -We finished with the bacon crunch bar w/ salt & pepper ice cream and it was a nice way to end the meal.

                                    Our server was attentive but seemed kind of disinterested in helping guide our selections with both food and wine/drinks.

                                    Overall, we all left with full bellies and very happy. I would return.

                                    1. re: lynnlato

                                      I have to agree on the beets. At both Animal and Son of a Gun, they have a very deft hand with their salads and vegatable-based dishes

                                      1. re: djquinnc

                                        Gosh the octopus salad at SoaG is crave worthy.