We’d laugh, catch up and sip our singular glasses of wine with the restraint and grace of Aubrey Hepburn. Then we’d both go our separate ways – me back to my apartment to make Bibimbapquinoa for dinner, and she out into the great LA yonder for a meal with her significant other.
But as usual, we had more to catch up on than we anticipated, and as any budding social flower with an overactive mouth knows, the giddy exchange of gossip dies without alcoholic fuel.
So our one drink each turned into two drinks each, and before I knew what was happening, her lips were posing the suggestion, “We could go to Animal for dinner?”
On a normal night – a night when I hadn’t consumed two glasses of P. Cottat Sauvignon Blanc on an empty stomach – I would say, “That’s okay… I have quinoa at home. Must eat it before the bed bugs try to steal it away!”
But as any social imbiber knows, alcohol fuels not only gossip, but hunger too – and an appetite for that which one would not normally ingest on a random Tuesday night when one should be eating something much more sensible.
What one doesn’t know, however, is that a trip to Chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s Animal Restaurant – a destination most often associated with poutine smothered with oxtail gravy, and foie gras loco moco – doesn’t necessarily have to be an experiment in over-the-top gluttony.
And contrary to what I believed when I was wrangled into a cab and whisked off in the direction of Fairfax Avenue last Tuesday night, it is possible to eat sensibly at Animal.
The Hamachi Tostada, which Bon Appétit Editor Andrew Knowlton recently named as one of his favorite dishes of 2010, is a study in freshness and acidity. The crisp corn tortilla base is layered with supple pieces of hamachi, crisp shards of green cabbage and crunchy onions and peanuts that almost eradicate the presence of the mild fish. The entire salad is dressed with a smattering of mint, fresh herbs and fish sauce vinaigrette that asserts a strong finishing presence of lime on the tongue. It’s nothing like a traditional tostada that lands with a thud on the palate and in the stomach. It’s clean, sharp and addicting.
Other green plates that explode on the palate include a composition of Romanesco broccoli, or Roman cauliflower, with sultry golden beets and parsley; and a jarringly acidic salad of raw baby kale, pecorino, crumbled croutons, and lemon chili vinaigrette. The kale beats one’s mouth up with its rough, lemon-dredged edges, but it’s a masochistically enjoyable experience. The flavors on these vegetable-heavy plates are as bold as they are in the meat dishes. Even when it goes green, Animal still takes no prisoners.
Because even Aubrey Heyburn couldn’t subsist on vegetables alone, the sweet, lacquered Thai BBQ Quail served with a rough heap of cabbage and indulgent drizzle of green onion sauce is the perfect transition into the animal kingdom. Ladies who have wined feel free to nibble on the bones. And feel free to use their finger tips as utensils to secure the remaining dredges of sauce.
On this night, the decadence that the meat-heavy restaurant is famous for is most apparent in the black cod with creamed spinach and caper brown butter. The sweet, deathly kiss of butter and cream oozes forth from every crevice and corner of the plate. A few bites more than satisfies the urge to engorge the waistline.
Until, of course, a sly server sneaks the dessert menu onto the bar.
Because even when a lady is being sensible at Animal, there is still no excuse not to order the bacon chocolate crunch bar with salt and pepper anglaise.
Especially when she’s, oh so very graciously, served a shot glass of beer to go with it.
435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036