They’re popping up every where.
The Los Angeles dining scene seems to be on fire right now. Every day there comes word of another eatery (or Eataly) on its way to being the next big thing in a city that is fast-becoming one of the most exciting dining destinations in the country.
It’s intoxicating for a food blogger. There are so many options for that next “breaking” post and it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of wanting to be the first one to get there – to be the first one to taste the pizza at Sotto, the chicken pops at Lukshon or the lobster roll at Son of a Gun.
Because it’s fun to be first. And it’s fun to be a camera-clad insider to all the buzz. For foodies, dining at an acclaimed chef’s newest venture is the equivalent of attending a movie premiere with Julia Roberts. In some cases, like with the opening parties at Fig and Olive on Melrose Place, it actually does entail a red carpet and all the requisite cocktail attire, coifed hair and fake eyelashes that come with it.
And waited nearly a month after it opened to do so.
While I’m always game to try some place new, and had a great experience at Playa Rivera last month, lately, I’ve been more excited about the restaurants that already have a year or a few years under their belts – the ones that have reached a point where there isn’t that frantic, almost spastic energy pulsating throughout the dining room.
There’s a sense of calm, a sense of “we got this, you just sit back and relax” roaming about the familial spaces. The food and service are executed with a steady hand, the tables are dotted with regulars who don’t need a run down of the best dishes or the best way to order them, and the menu is focused and confident – polished by time and a well-oiled kitchen staff.
The meals that have most stuck out to me recently are the ones I’ve had at these “veterans” – Osteria Mozza, the Golden State, Terroni, and, this past Thursday night, at the restaurant that Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo opened before Son of a Gun, Animal.
With its ever-changing menu that features both new dishes and classic favorites, Animal on Fairfax offer diners the best of both worlds – a touch of the unexpected, as well as familiar plates like the poutine, foie gras loco moco and bacon chocolate crunch bar that have made the nearly three-year-old restaurant so revered.
There’s confidence in these offerings. There’s confidence in the service too. The same faces are there night after night – roaming through the assertively unembellished space like a well-tuned crew manning a ship filled with blood-thirsty sailors. The food – the blood everyone is thirsty for – is equally impressive.
The hamachi tostada with fresh herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette, and peanuts ($14) is so fresh, so bright and so texturally exciting that it still warrants two orders between three diners who have all had the dish before.
A red leaf lettuce salad with beets, avocado, crunchy pita croutons, feta, and creamy sumac ($11) is a testament to salads – astutely composed so that one tastes flavors rather than a heavy blanket of ingredients that assault and weigh down the greens that hold them.
Tender slices of rabbit sausage are a delicate partner for a ricotta gnocchi that comes ensconced in a puddle of parmesan cream ($15). Speckled with sweet English peas and woodsy morels, it’s familiar and exotic – comfortable, yet fresh.
Grilled baby broccoli
Grilled baby broccoliwith pancetta vinaigrette, chards of parmesan, pickled fennel, toasted breadcrumbs, and a soft egg ($13) is even more compelling with its aggressive interplay between sweet and savory components. The runny egg and caramelized bits of pancetta seal the deal before it even arrives. It’s breakfast for dinner with flare.
But for me, it’s the grilled octopus with chorizo, spicy brown mustard, and chowchow, a sweet relish composed of cabbage, ($17) that most arrests my attention on this visit. It’s the steak of the meal – ingestible only through use of a knife and fork. The flavors are bold, the smoke on the octopus is authoritative, and the components are somehow complimentary because of their contradictions.
Even after four meals there, Animal still surprises me with plates like the grilled octopus and the grilled baby broccoli. It gives me the thrill of a new restaurant with the stability of a mature one. And, perhaps most importantly (at least for a food blogger), it still makes me want to race to my keyboard to tell everyone about all the great bites I took there.
435 North Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90048