Animal, the restaurant not the muppet

When traveling, whether for business or vacation, I try to make sure there is one fabulous meal at a local restaurant doing creative, innovative things with local ingredients. Not having picked anything out ahead of time, I went to Zagat to find a recommendation. Animal is a trendy restaurant that opened in 2008. I had a vague recollection of hearing something about the place, but nothing more. I was intrigued by the idea of an eatery that claimed to be a carnivore's paradise, so I bellied up to their seven seat bar, filled with a mix of single diners and couples, and began a true culinary adventure.

The bulk of Animal's menu is small plates of deliciousness. This is not two bite tapas, but a not quite luncheon size portion that allows the diner to course out a meal of their own choosing. I love this. Instead of only getting to have and app and an entree, I can have three or fours different entrees in a proportion that is not quite gluttonous.

I started simple with the crispy hominy with fresh lime accompanied by the rabbit loin with country ham, spring beans, and spetzel. The hominy was deliciously salty with the lime cutting in to make for little taste bombs exploding in your mouth. The rabbit dish was a perfect balance flavor with the salty country ham slice bringing out the gaminess of the rabbit. The beans and spetzel and asparagus with a splash of acid (lemon I believe) just created layer after layer of flavor. The addition of a coupled of perfectly cooked asparagus added crunch texture to a dish that could have easily gone soft and mushy. Bravo!

Now I am constantly pushing my friends to sample things that they are personally inclined to hate--raw oysters, sushi, foie gras--therefore I felt compelled by reasons of integrity to order my next dish. The next course was pig ear with chili, lime, and egg. I have never even seen pig ear on a menu. I have seen it on tv in a classic Spanish preparation of the entire ear Cooked until gelatinous. This was something completely different. The ear is braised until tender, which means they probably started cooking it last week. It is then shredded and deep fried just to add some texture back into it. It is then coated with chili for heat and lime to cut through the fattiness with some green onions added too. An egg fried sunny side up is served on top; the yolk helps with the heat and brings the entire thing together. It was delicious, but curiously I found the heat overwhelmed the flavor of the pig leaving only texture. Of course, I'm not a heat guy. I prefer to tasted my food.

Now anyone who knows me, or who has read through some of the food entries in this blog have noted that I love foie gras. It is, I believe, a gift from God himself. I never pass up an opportunity to sample some new presentation of this velvety delight. Animal offers one of this most innovative presentations that has neither foam nor fruit. Instead, this is the homiest preparation ever, foie gras with biscuit and maple sausage gravy. Dear Lord, foie with biscuits and gravy? It's a dream come true for a Southerner like me. Foie is easily overwhelmed, and the guys took this to the limit, but the maple complements and the sausage and biscuit give just enough structure to the lobe of fatty goodness. It was heavenly.

All night I kept trying to remember why Animal was so familiar. When my new friend dining next to me at the bar ordered the bacon chocolate crunch bar, my eyes were opened. Duff Goldman had chosen this very dessert for an episode of "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." it all cam rushing back. Of course, this meant I had to order the most decadent dessert ever. Chocolate and bacon, two of the greatest discoveries ever. How could they not be delicious together. (For chocolate aficionados, you should know that Vosges has had a chocolate bacon bar for a few years now; so this was not my first time at this particular rodeo.) This is a beautifully prepared chocolate hazelnut dessert with a layer of chocolate ganache sprinkled with crunch bits of bacon. Perfect decadence.

For wines, the bartender recommended a Cote de Provence rose with light cries sweetness and now acid and then for dessert an Asti Spumante, Italian bubbles made from muscatel so it was sweet without hurting my teeth considering the dessert I had. Kudos to the bar tender to perfectly matching my meals with wine.

Next time you are in LA, hit up Animal. It's so worth it. I can't wait for my next trip.

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Location:Los Angeles, CA