I’ve been wanting to go to ‘Animal’ for ages, there was always a certain amount of hype surrounding it. It’s been around for quite some time now, opening in 2008, but still there are residual murmurs concerning its pockets of greatness. The two “renegade chefs”, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, are known for playing by their own rules and being particularly inventive within their own rustic style. So after all this time, has it maintained the kind of “young hipster adoration” it was famed for?
Unfortunately, I find it difficult to praise this restaurant. There’s something fundamentally wrong about the experience; it just doesn’t meet its mark, fill its shoes, catch its prey, all of the above. I’m not referring to the food because some of the dishes really hit the spot, but it’s the general feel about the whole place.
For starters the tone for the dining experience was crushed from the get go. The stone-faced little blonde thing at the door had seemingly crawled out of the driver’s seat of a week old DUI incident. Even her lips were an unsavoury shade of dead, although I think that may have something to do with Halloween. She refused to let my mother sit at the table without the whole party being present, despite the fact that the rest of us were either parking the cars or smoking outside. The restaurant was half empty, and denying a gracefully ageing lady a seat at her own table is beyond me. It’s a travesty to good service, neither welcoming nor accommodating and frankly a complete joke
The restaurant space is small, quite cozy and minimalistic. It’s certainly no frills, which suits me fine but there’s a general lack of atmosphere to the place.I can’t quite put my finger on it but it just hasn’t got that ‘thing’ that excites you when you take in your surroundings. There’s also a certain lack of finesse, especially regarding the restrooms, something that could be said to be a mark of a good establishment. The corridor is drab and dreary, and the facilities themselves extremely sloppy. It’s as if they’d been rushed by ‘Uncle DIY’ to get the place fit for opening, although it’s definitely not. The tiling is messy, the miss-matched paint jobs are decaying, and the floor would be better suited to a prison shower block.
I’m feeling extremely disappointed at this stage so I took a deep breath and had a stiff drink; oh wait, no I didn’t, because they only serve beer and wine. Screw it, bring on the food I say, after all it is predominantly a filling station. The food was a bit of a mixed bag but did not disappoint. Rustic and inventive, classics with little twists, and some small sparks of brilliance. All small dishes made for sharing, so you can sample plenty of dishes with a party of four.
The dishes that were good were really fantastic; the bone marrow for example, roasted nicely, rich, soft and delicious. The sweet caramelised onions cut with sharp and spicy chimichurri was balanced perfectly with an extremely buttery brioche toast. The strong melted petit basque cheese, was tasty with a great punch, the grilled toast for dipping worked nicely. I loved the delicate ricotta gnocchi, the six-hour bolognese topping was one of the best I’ve had, incredibly moreish, and the chicken liver toast was a heavenly mouthful. The stand out dish for me was the ‘spicy beef tendon chip’. It was simply a snack, similar to chicharrones, but they were quite special. Crisp bites of deliciousness, the sweet and spicy seasoning had great depth, and the charred onion pho dip danced with levels of flavour. I’d never seen tendon done in this way and frankly it was a revelation, a few beers and a portion of these and you’re laughing.
The other dishes were all substandard, quite forgettable. The roasted figs, covered in saccharine soap suds were truly disgusting though, and all the desserts followed suit. It’s the kind of place you discover a few dishes and stick with them, experimenting is not the best idea should you not want to be met with disappointment. However for the price tag I think the food is relatively accurately priced.
So how do I feel about Animal? The food is reasonably priced and frankly many of its dishes are damn tasty, to the extent that I might even return for a specific few. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone that actually wanted to have a good time. I’d drop in, have a couple of the dishes that I loved, and leave in under an hour. You wont want to stay any longer. It’s like there’s no pride in anything other than the food. Two guys who love food, yes. You can see it in their cooking, the excitement, the execution, but this alone cannot hold up a restaurant. Front of house is just as important, it’s not a drive thru, it’s a dining experience. A restaurant is only as good as the sum of its parts, and this one is missing its brain.
435 N. Fairfax Ave
+1 323 782 9225