Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo are to Los Angeles what Jose Mendin, Andreas Schreiner and Sergio Navarro are to Miami. Born and bred in South Florida, the buddy duo opened Animal on the busy street of Fairfax (hipster central) in 2008.
As the name suggests, animal is the main attraction in this joint, but by no means is it utilized in a traditional manner. While other places get adventurous with items like bone marrow, Animal likes to explore beyond the bones of its creatures. Here, you can choose between veal (brain or tongue), pig (ear or head). Or you can have swine mixed in right into your chocolate crunch bar, which comes with a scoop of salt & pepper ice cream.
With dishes like these, it's no wonder Shook and Dotolo are nominated for a James Beard Award (Best West Coast Chef). On a recent visit to the city of angels, we simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit the place that was rated number 8 of the top 101 restaurants in American by the Daily Meal.
Our sister publication, LA Weekly, named it top five of the top 20 restaurants in Los Angeles.
See also: The Pubbelly Boys, Sovereigns of Swine
Long before food shows and getting intimate with animal parts was the thing to do, Shook and Dotolo co-authored an award-winning cookbook and started in their own TV show on the Food Network. In their book, Two Dudes, One Pan: Maximum Flavor for the Minimalist Kitchen, the duo uses just one pan to make more than 100 dishes.
A year after opening Animal, the boys won Food & Wine's Best New Chefs in 2009. With an expanding restaurant empire that includes Son of a Gun and Trois Mec, which they opened with Ludo Lefebvre, as well as two more rumored projects, these boys have no intention of slowing down anytime soon. Michael Schwartz has even been a guest chef in their kitchen.
Unlike its neighbor, street-wear maven Supreme, it has no sign overhead or inside. Lighting is scarce, as is space to get around, and chatter fills up the quaint space that can't possibly seat over 75 people. It's this juxtaposition of pretentious simplicity that makes this restaurant a whole other animal.
Winner winner chicken liver. Is that not how the saying goes? It should. This simple toast is the reason people eat chicken liver in LA. At $3 a pop, one could easily do some liver damage - no alcohol necessary.
Wild big eye tuna with calabrian chili vinaigrette and bread crumbs ($5).
Spicy beef tendon chip served alongside a charred onion dip ($7) takes chips and dip to an entirely other level. The spice and crunch of the chips combined with the cool and smooth texture of the dip balances out effortlessly.
Chicken wings are glazed with orange gastrique, mango amba and cilantro ($10). Although warm in color, they are unexpectedly hot.
Every story has a climax. Meals are no different. We didn't think it could get any higher than the chicken liver, and then this happened - sweetbreads. If you've got the stomach for thymus glands from lambs, calves or pigs, then these crispy sweetbreads with JW's black sriracha, variegated lemon and sesame will change your life, or at least the way you'll look at sweetbreads for the rest of your life.
Hidden under this flawless sunny side up egg is pig ear doused with chili lime ($12). Putting an egg on it is always a good idea, but putting an egg on pig ear and adding heat and acid is pure genius.
We're pretty sure these are the barbeque pork belly sliders that inspired 100 imitations. Hell, remember the beginning of the pork belly craze? It all makes sense now.
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The poutine has been on the menu since Animal opened in 2008, even through all the seasonal changes it remains unchanged. Why would anyone want to change a dish that fuses medium thick cut fries with sharp cheddar and adds a third layer, of braised oxtail gravy.
Fried rabbit legs, because, fried rabbit legs. They're seasoned in lemon pepper and drizzled with sour cream gravy ($24).
Salty meets sweet in this bacon chocolate crunch bar with salt & pepper ice cream dessert.
Our only fail was not being able to have the ricotta gnocchi bolognese, which they were out of on both our visits. Oh well, just another reason to go back.