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Monday, August 17, 2009
not taipei/los angeles: i strongly recommend Animal
"I'm an animal. I'm an animal. I'm an a-a-a-a-a-a-a-animal." The lyrics to Far East Movement's "Animal" echo in my mind when I'm thinking about what to say about the restaurant Animal.
I'd been reading and hearing about Animal for months and after taking an informal poll on Facebook, I decided I had to try it for myself. Animal's menu changes daily and features all sorts of (ahem) animal parts- from the unusual (pig's ears and chicken liver toast) to fusion (kimchi pork belly or scallops with black eyed peas).
I made reservations for dinner a few days before and chose an early 6:30pm dinner over 7:40pm. When we arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find the restaurant not packed. More elbow room for all the dishes we were going to order.
The waiter we got was exceptionally friendly and enthusiastic- happily making suggestions and answering questions and checking in on our table, without being over the top or fake. It might be some of the memorable and best service I've had in LA.
I hate it when I ask the waiter to recommend something and they say something like "Depends on what you like" or "Everything is good." Obviously, if I knew that, I wouldn't ask. But our waiter was helpful and steered us in the right direction.
We ended up getting mostly appetizers and one main dish and sharing. The more people you come with, the more you can order to share. Unless you can eat a lot like me and my very good friend.
I appreciated that the waiter did a great job pairing the appetizers that we chose and spacing them out so we could enjoy the dishes, rather than crowding up the table with everything we ordered like some restaurants do.
The first two dishes were two dishes I heard a lot about and deservedly so- the pork belly with kimchi, peanuts, chili soy, scallion (US$12) and the melted petite basque, chorizo and garlic bread(US$11).
While I think you could do practically anything with pork belly and it would be delicious (think of the Taiwanese gua bao), I loved how the outside of the meat was crispy and crackly and then the inside fatty pork melts in your mouth.
The toasty garlic bread was perfect for dipping in the cheese, but the chorizo got a little lost in all the gooeyness.
Round one winner: kimchi pork belly!
I don't know what the look was like on my face when the second round of appetizers came out, but I was amazed that the foie gras was so huge!
We decided after asking the waiter to get the foie gras appetizer over the main dish (foie gras loco moco) since he said that there was a lot going on the main (hamburger, egg, spam, rice, sauce) which some foie gras lovers felt that the foie gras flavor got lost in it. And I think it was a good choice.
I've definitely never had foie gras over a country style biscuit and maple sausage gravy,(US$22) but it worked. Kind of like having fried chicken and waffles, I suppose. The sweet mixing with the salty with the fat and the starch. Just enjoy the dish and don't try to think about it too much!
The scallops (US$12) were perfectly seared and I think it was my first time having black eyed peas, sort of a cross between lima beans and edamame.
Round two: very very close, but winner is foie gras.
Next was the huge rack of balsamic pork ribs, blistered corn and zucchini (US$37). I don't know if I was still trying to savor the taste of foie gras and scallops, but the pork ribs just didn't do it for me. They were tender and sauced up, but I only wanted to eat a couple ribs. The corn and zucchini were great though- sweet and fresh- tasting like they were dressed in a heap of butter.
And like true animals, we gnawed and chewed the meat away until only the bones were left.
For dessert, one of their most popular and unusual selection is chocolate covered bacon. But having just sampled it and fulfilled our curiosity at the OC County Fair, we decided to stick to something lighter and get the tres leches cake with dulce de leche sauce (US$7).
Like a spongecake soaked in milk, the tres leches was sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. It was a nice end to a memorable meal.
As we walked out of Animal, the twilight sky was a perfect indigo with clouds adrift. I thought about how amazing it was that we had things like food blogs and Yelp to help us discover awesome little places like Animal- which I doubt I would have ever visited otherwise- it's in an older neighborhood aways from my house and there isn't even a sign to capture your attention if you happened to drive by. So I'm glad I didn't miss out and maybe this post will help some of you discover a new favorite restaurant.
435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Hours: Sunday - Thursday. 6pm-11pm. Friday - Saturday. 6pm-2am