One glance at the menu at Animal would make any vegetarian want to curl up into the fetal position or turn tail and run. Oxtail gravy, chicken livers, rabbit loins and pig ears? Holy molies. There are just some of the many carnivorous “delicacies” that are available on the Animal menu.
In fact, what can a vegetarian possibly find at restaurant that positions itself as “delicious, rustic and unapologetically carnivorous”? It really is sort of a strange place to go considering you can trip over a vegetarian restaurant almost at every turn. Well, their vegetarian dishes – of which they have several – are made with fresh, local produce and are bursting with unique flavors. They are created with the same attention to detail and, dare I say, “love” as their meat dishes.
Animal is located in a nondescript building, with no outside signage on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. Once inside, it’s a small space bustling with activity and filled with billowing laughter and animated conversation.
Jon Shook, co-owner of Animal, walked by us as we waited for our table. His eyes lit up when I mentioned I was a vegetarian and was looking for suggestions. Even though Animal is known for it’s extensive menu of animal parts I think sometimes the care and attention they place on their vegetable dishes gets overshadowed. He assured me that I would be more than happy with what they had to offer and pointed out some of his favorite vegetarian dishes including the blood orange salad.
The servers were pleasant, funny and knowledgeable, recommending which dishes were vegetarian, and treating us with the same respect as the others at the table that were ready to dig into their meat dishes.
Animal is very serious about not making changes to the menu. We tried to get some of the gnocchi without the bologenese sauce but it was a no-go. They pre-mix the gnocchi and the sauce and do not make special orders.
As the wine flowed, we were slowly served our plates as they were ready. It’s a family style restaurant so be ready to share with your table partners.
The carrot salad had a light and tangy green goddess dressing. The delicate carrots were sliced into almost translucent sheets and served with sunchokes and avocado.
The crispy hominy was simply made but complex in the taste experience. Visually, it wasn’t a stunner. However, once you popped them into your mouth, the crisp outside of the hominy gave way to a warm chewy interior. (Although, some of the smaller bits of hominy were a bit over-battered and were a little too chewy.) With a spritz of lime juice, these tiny bits were an unexpected treat.
I can’t think of enough superlative adjectives for the blood orange salad. Simply put, it took all attention away from every other dish we ordered. The spicy chili oil and the subtle tang of the red onion swirled with the bitter blood orange and the salty castleventrano olives. This plate was hands-down the best example of how fresh ingredients and a creative culinary view can turn dinner into a dining experience.
Coming in a close second was the baby kale salad with pecorino cheese, lemon and smashed croutons. The croutons were more like crunchy and salty breadcrumbs and the kale was perfectly cooked with still some crispness left in the leaves.
Don’t forget to end your meal with a plate of donuts. They come to your table piping hot with a warm caramel sauce. They were in high demand at our table and were quickly devoured before I could take a picture of them.
The menu changes every day as I’m sure they base their selections off of what’s available in market that day or week. I’d recommend calling to see what vegetarian options are available and to secure reservations. The restaurant was packed when we were there on a rainy Friday night. (As for the carnivores in your group, I was assured, by our pack of meat eaters, that they will not go away hungry.)
435 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
I must apologize, due to the dark ambiance my pictures came out a little blurry…