CHOW Tour
Two CHOW editors on a caloric extravaganza exploring innovation, novelty, and deliciousness. rss
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Riding the Gravy Train at Animal

The night we visited Animal, the meat-centric Los Angeles restaurant from chef-owners Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook, there were about nine different creatures represented on the menu. But we started with a salad, just to see how vegetables were prepared here. We weren't disappointed. A big old pile of lettuce tossed with creamy sumac dressing, chunks of feta, and beets showed up, and we demolished it.

Fried quail was a miniature version of fried chicken, grits, and greens. The batter on the quail was crispy, fried but not greasy, and salty. You could pick up the quail and eat it with your hands, something we found ourselves doing throughout the meal with other foods. It didn't seem to get us any weird looks, probably owing to the fact that Animal is a pretty casual place. The décor is stripped down, with white walls and simple tables and chairs.

Pig tail

Fried quail

Foie gras with biscuit and gravy, a.k.a. dessert

We're not really sure if Animal is a place you could eat an appetizer, entrée, and dessert without keeling over in a meat-fat coma, but Dotolo and Shook have certainly built a drunk-food powerhouse. The poutine (shown at top), with a dark, almost sticky oxtail gravy with big chunks of meat and grated sharp cheddar cheese, could sober anyone up. The one thing we missed were real cheese curds, which give textural contrast to the traditional preparation. (Squeak!)

A smart move that we've noticed chefs doing to get people to try "weird stuff" is preparing it in an ultrafamiliar way. In Animal's case, that translated into pig tails (the meaty top portion, not that cute little curly part) prepared like Buffalo-style chicken wings. The tails were crispy on the outside, covered in a spicy, vinegary sauce, and sitting on blue cheese dressing. One thing we did not eat with our hands: the biscuit and gravy with foie gras. We ordered it instead of dessert, which worked, since the gravy is much sweeter than most. It was pretty much what it sounds like: an over-the-top gravy and meat grease masterpiece, creamy, sweet, salty, and fatty.

It was looking like vegetables were about to get their heyday with chefs like Mario Batali and José Andrés talking them up, and in Andres's case, calling meat overrated. But at Animal it was hard to deny that meat is still cool: We found ourselves gnawing it off pig vertebrae and sopping up every bit of gravy in a packed, noisy room.