On my last LA trip, my coworker and I visited Animal in Mid-City West (according to Urban Spoon…I still don’t have the neighborhoods down). We were fifteen minutes late for our reservation (LA traffic really does suck), but they were able to find a seat for us. The menu of small plates was a long list of animal parts, farm eggs and local veggies. We chose a balance of textures, acidic qualities and a tiny bit of adventure. *Pardon the awful pictures. As the sun set, so did the lighting.
To start, the heirloom tomato with egg. The tomatoes were very fresh and sweet. The small cherry varieties were peeled, dressed lightly, and topped with chopped egg. Everything was very tasty, but the texture of the dish was very round. And it kinda looks like a bowl of cereal.
Next to arrive was the hamachi tostada, one of the waiter’s favorites. It was a successful combination of ceviche flavors and textures. And the flowers were pretty too.
There was pork belly on this menu. We ordered pork belly. For a West Coast interpretation of barbecue pork, it was good. It was no Georgia BBQ, but the slaw was tasty, the pork was yummy belly, and the bread held up while offering good flavor.
Here’s another glamour shot of the pork belly.
To contrast, the pig ear was a dish that spiked the pallet up a few notches. Fried and cut into strips, the meat itself was dressed in a sharp vinegar, which was partially balanced by the fresh fried egg on top. This dish was intense. It needed the smoothness of the other dishes we ordered to neutralize it. We were very glad we ordered it, though.
One of the more overdressed members of our plate assembly was the rabbit loin spring roll. Beautiful and well cooked, it was ostentatious compared to the other plates we were served. I wish the decor was incorporated into the spring roll instead of dancing about the dish.
Of course two women who are watching their waist lines ordered dessert. At opposite ends of the spectrum were the tres leches cake with dulche de leche sauce and the bacon chocolate crunch bar with s&p ice cream. I’m not really a cake person, but the tres leches was a nice, moist cake with a light and sweet sauce. My dining companion enjoyed it.
The bacon bar was a dense, creamy, bitter chocolate with bits of bacon sprinkled on top. I don’t get the national bacon obsession. It was a lovely smokey compliment to the dish, but sort of distracting from the chocolate in my opinion. The ice cream was good, but not remarkable. I could have just had more chocolate goo.
All in all, the food at Animal was adventurous and well-prepared. Our selection of dishes ranged from crisp to tangy, smooth to robust. Their use of seasonal, local fare was admirable. As my friend and I discussed the layers of complexity, the plating, the story of Animal, our conclusion was that it was trying just a liiiiiittle too hard to be unusual. Sort of like that kid at the mall with a carefully planned gothic lolita outfit who gives you a dirty look for staring. She would have been pretty if she just didn’t try so hard.