I have 6 years of Thanksgiving blogs on Unrivaledkitch, which to me, shows my commitment to being there for my family and I am truly grateful that I have been able to take on this tradition for the ones I love and to share these awesome moments with the people who mean so much to me. Thanksgiving, as I’ve said before, is one of my favorite meals to cook. This year I was pretty ahead of schedule with cooking and cleaning, so big thumbs up for me, because, of course, that can be a challenge with an overly ambitious menu. Our Thanksgiving meal has some staples that we always enjoy and then the rest is open to my interpretation, which is the fun part for me.
This is a simple showing of beautiful, undying love. The fact that life changes and you have to change with it, if those changes can sustain a relationship, that’s when you know you have true love. My parents have been married 31 years today. They are my biggest support, love and inspiration and I’m eternally grateful for their everlasting encouragement. This is a short photo montage of dishes that are in my arsenal of delicious insight that they have given me. I love you Mom and Dad.
Slow cooked Pot Roast
Enchiladas with Fresh Pinto Beans
Beef Teriyaki skewers
Cream of Chicken Rice Casserole
Japanese style beef bowl and Chicken Chow Mein
In a tucked away space on a street lined with trash, a high school, a kosher market that looks closed down and parking meters blinking red and green lights, is Animal. Don’t look for a big flashing sign here in L.A. off Fairfax—you won’t find it. The exterior has a medium-sized printed number 435 and if you look twice, you’re liable to miss it. Animal’s drawn down to the simple elegance and shining patronage of brilliant cuisine. Chefs Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo are doing what should be done everywhere: good food done the way they perceive it to be.
Animal is an interesting concept. The menu ranges from the extravagant body parts of animals to the more accessible pieces of meat for less adventurous audiences. There is a sprinkling of vegetable dishes and seafood, also items to salt and pepper the pallet for your liking. The menus are two-sided printed pieces of beige paper with a 28 savory choice list and a list of four desserts. Modifications to dishes are politely declined, but you know when you bust your *** to envision something, sometimes that’s just the way it has to be. The other side of the list is a wine list and offerings of beer and soft drinks. As I perused the menu, I found my eyes wondering over certain things at a glance and other things were zoned in on. I was dining with rather adventurous foodies: my brother Kyle, my sister-in-law Viet-Linh, and Kyle and Viet-Linh’s friend, Bryan. Viet-Linh is an avid Yelper, so she had a couple of dishes in mind that she wanted to try. We settled on 11 items, which we enjoyed throughout the course of the night.
The restaurant set-up is very minimalistic, though chic and to the point. A small bar with high shelves of stacked wine bottles is a focal point and seats walk-in guests at the back wall. The tables are made of dark wood and a long lighter wood bench slides down one side of the restaurant. There are no large tables and mostly two tops and four tops line the other wall and the center of the restaurant. Getting a table here is difficult; you need reservations maybe even a week or two in advance for peak dinner hours. This place seats, at maximum, about 45 people. This is why these guys can do the things they are doing. The precision in plating and the small details in the dishes are what a small restaurant can translate to its customers.
Let’s eat, shall we…
chicken liver toast
The smoothness of the chicken liver was really indulgent—the fatty rich flavor of pulverized chicken liver into this fine almost mousse like mound, atop crunchy grilled pieces of bread and topped with a sort of onion jam with balsamic vinegar and small chives. Chicken livers are something I’m very familiar with, although I wouldn’t say they are my favorite, but this was a divine bite.
marrow bone, chimichurri, caramelized onions
Marrow is very gelatinous. It’s what I would call meat butter. It completely melts in your mouth with the composition of the perfect roasting technique, which gives the bones a richer deeper flavor. The accompaniment of chimichurri (a Argentinean condiment), with its elevated notes of garlic and parsley and clean sweetness of caramelized onions, invites the pallet to welcome it’s flavor combination with a touch of toasted thick, almost Texas-style grilled white bread toast for contrast. Rich Meaty Goodness.
crispy pig’s head, pickled vegetable aioli
Crunchy pork head meat is made into a small disk and inside the contrasting pig head flesh is tender and sweet, while outside the pork is crunchy and salty. The almost tartar-like sauce had a perfect balance of acid, vinegar and creaminess with the addition of grilled scallion, pickled red onion, pink beets and pickled romanesco, which wash away the perfect amount of indulgent fat from the pork.
barbeque pork belly sandwiches, slaw
This small slider was a little bit of a letdown for me. These simple pork sandwiches held a small piece of smoky pork in its center, but this piece had been overcooked and was seemingly dry, which may also be because the pig head was so tender and juicy. The flavor of the BBQ sauce was nothing remarkable and the slaw was just the same. After all the richness of flavors in the other dishes, this one just sat on the side line; maybe they should have served them first.
shrimp & rabbit sausage spring roll, eggplant, sprouts, green curry
The colors were so vibrant on this plate and the dish itself was delicious. The shrimp and rabbit were a little difficult to decipher between because of the strength of the sauces on the plate; however, each sauce was masterful. Curry popping with lemon grass and so many familiar Asian flavors dance on the tongue together with the crisp spring roll and sauced eggplant, sprouts, and heirloom carrots.
hamachi tostada, herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut
At the bottom of this outwardly simple dish is the perfectly crisp shell, which atop is built a spicy, vinegar fish sauce cabbage, a small bit of creamy avocado, and perfectly sliced pieces of delicate hamachi coming together in a sea of harmony. The crispy shallots lent a nice contrast to the spice from the peppers.
coconut sweetbreads, raita, mango, tamarind
These small pieces of sweetbreads — cow pancreas — tend to have a bit of a spongy texture, but these were not that way at all. They were perfect little coconut battered morsels, fried until extremely crispy and served with a chilling and cooling raita, which is a yogurt sauce with mint, lovely mango puree, and small pieces of what almost reminded me of sweet relish made of watermelon radishes or cucumber. The tamarind was swirled around the plate to give a nice tart sweet flavor to the sweetbreads. One of my favorite dishes of the night
poutine, oxtail gravy, cheddar
If it were up to me, I would probably have sent this back. The Poutine was a stepchild; and I love oxtails, I really do. The meat was braised very well and super tender, but the concentration of salt on the plate was overpowering. The fries were good; however, everything was just salt on salt and the cheddar took a backseat to the whole plate. This was my least favorite thing of the evening. Not everything is going to please everyone’s palate.
grilled quail, plum char-siu, apple, peach, yogurt
This quail was succulent and delectable. The addition of the plum char-siu sauce was just wonderful. The plum was so prevalent in the small pieces of meat with the sweetness that contrasted with the tart yogurt. The plate was adorned with small pieces of peach and apple that work as palate cleansers and textural changes.
black snapper, peperonata, corn butter
The Black Snapper had the most crispy perfect fish skin sear I’ve ever seen. It’s an art form. This plate is magic and definitely something I’ll remember for a very long time. The fish was cooked flawlessly with the crunchy skin and the flaky perfectly tender snapper flesh sitting on a bed of crunchy sweet seasonal buttery corn. The peperonata was blended and gave spice and sauce to the dish with accents of basil. This was my favorite thing I ate at Animal.
foie gras, biscuit, maple sausage gravy
The dish was a bit of a mess to share, but no one aside from me had had Foie Gras, which is enhanced goose liver. It’s so buttery and sweet with a slight sear to warm it through. It sits atop a homemade biscuit with white sausage gravy that reminds you of home. Just yummy.
berries, vanilla custard, lavender crumble, opal basil
Last but not least, a little berries to end the meal. We were all pretty full by now, but I opted to get the berries because after the Foie I wanted something a bit tart to cleanse my palate before we left—and it worked. The freshness of the berries and the creamy contrast of the custard and the extremely crunchy, almost bark of the lavender crumble were a very nice combination. A fruit-filled way to end a fantastic meal.
I found the food overall, to be satisfying and intriguing. Some things were a little disappointing and others overwhelmed in an incredible way, which made me want to dissect the whole plate and figure out its secrets. I love dining with others and having small plates because food, like this, deserves a spotlight. The absolute care and concoction of these types of flavors and ideas are my culinary soft spot. The team at Animal is doing it right: our service and our food was wonderful, but just like anything, something’s are great and some not so much, but we can learn from it all. Thanks for an amazing evening of food and culinary adventure.
I hope you’re all out adventuring in others’ kitchens as well.
Thanks for my birthday dinner Kyle, Viet Linh and Bryan!