photo credit: the suite life

animal: a fun foodie adventure on fairfax

photo courtesy of yohei nakajima

photo courtesy of yohei nakajima

We’ve heard about it, we’ve driven by it, our friends have been there, we’ve dined at sister restaurant Son of a Gun, but for one reason or another we hadn’t made it into the unassuming doors of Vinny Dotolo’s Animal before.  Until Wednesday.

Hidden away on Fairfax just a few doors down from Canter’s Deli (and without a sign), we stepped inside the minimally decorated space with white walls and wooden tables and were greeted by our bearded server with a passionate, “Everything on the menu is delicious”.

Reading into the name Animal, I imagined the menu would feature familiar meats like beef and pork alongside more adventurous options like elk, bison, venison, boar, or emu.  Thinking this was going to be a carnivore’s paradise, I was pleasantly surprised to find enough veggie and cheese dishes to suppress my fear of eating nothing but, well…animals.  And instead of those exotic meats I had assumed would be on the menu, they just went ahead and featured all sorts of different beef and pork parts that I had never eaten before.  Until Wednesday.

The order of our shared dishes was skillfully selected and progressed from light to heavy.  After the first four courses, we went back for more (and then dessert).

the spread

  • Kampachi tostada with herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut – $15
  • Grilled asparagus with green strawberry, pistachio dukkah, lime, shungiku – $13
  • Local burrata cheese, baby broccoli, katsuobushi, green garlic, leeks, jalapeno – $14
  • Marrow bone, chimichurri, carmelized onions, toasted bread  – $9
  • Shrimp and rabbit sausage spring roll, mizuna, green curry – $14
  • Melted petite basque, chorizo, grilled bread – $14
  • Blueberry, frozen brown butter crumble, yogurt, bay leaf ice cream – $8

top nosh

It could be a three-way tie between the kampachi tostada, burrata, and blueberry dessert, but the top nosh honors would have to go to the local burrata.  It was unique in presentation with the green garlic smeared on just half of the bowl and unexpected in the taste and texture of the crunchy leeks and jalapeno juxtaposed with the soft Italian cheese.  The unusual combination seemed serendipitous and we were glad we took our server’s recommendation in ordering it.  (We fought over who got to scrape the bottom of the bowl.)

may we suggest

  • Definitely make reservations in advance or dine a little earlier (around 6) to be assured a table.
  • Animal is a great date spot if you’re looking to impress with your insider knowledge of “foodie” culture, hip LA restaurants, and to show off your adventurous nature.  Go on, order the veal brains.
  • Try something new!  This was our first time trying bone marrow.  Our server cleverly referred to it as “beef butter” and it was delicious when spread on our toast with a bit of the chimichurri to break up the richness.  Tip: If you’re weird about texture like I am, definitely spread it thin or you’ll get a big glob of gelatinous beef bone core.

the specifics

435 North Fairfax, Los Angeles 90036
323.782.9225
www.animalrestaurant.com

Sunday-Thursday 6:00pm – 11:00pm
Friday & Saturday 6:00pm – 12:00am


photo: the suite life

crossroads: vegan fare on melrose

photo courtesy of crossroads

photo courtesy of crossroads

As the Crossroads sign went up, I was busy wondering why they would put another recycled clothing store so close to the other location on Sweetzer and Santa Monica.  Then I read on Twitter that it was actually a new restaurant.

From 2003 to 2009, it was Italian hotspot Dolce co-owned by Ashton Kutcher (which we loved).  Then it was reincarnated into Mr. Chow’s Asian eatery Philippe (which we didn’t love).  Now in 2013, it’s upscale vegan restaurant Crossroads (which we actually liked).

Naturally, we had to see if the third time was the charm for this revolving door of restaurant renovation on the corner of Sweetzer and Melrose.  After looking over the all vegan menu online, we were intrigued enough to make a reservation and adventure into the plant-based arena of what seemed to be gimmicky and cliché LA stereotype dining.

One of the things we love best about living in West Hollywood is being able to walk to so many great places for dinner, so we took the short one-block stroll from the building over to Crossroads.  As we walked into the newly renovated restaurant, while the layout of the previous two restaurants remained intact, we were glad to see that the small mail slot-like windows had been replaced with huge, clear windows that faced West and allowed a ton of natural light to stream into the dining and bar areas.  The décor was rustic and felt warm and homey and we loved the lighting fixtures up above.

Everything on the menu looked delicious to this veggie loving gal and surprisingly, even to her carnivore obsessed boyfriend.  Our server explained that they offered small tapas-style plates designed to be shared and he recommended 3-5 plates per person.  He also suggested that we try the artichoke oysters and lentil flatbread plate and since these had already caught our eye after being left to peruse the menu for 20 minutes, we took his suggestions on the spot.

the spread

  • Lentil flatbread with leek pate, smoked white bean hummus, tomato braised banana peppers – $5
  • Kite Hill cheese plate with assorted cheeses, housemade jams, other goodies – $14
  • “Artichoke oysters” with artichoke purée, crispy oyster mushroom, yellow tomato béarnaise, kelp caviar – $8
  • “Crab cakes” hearts of palm, apples, beets, horseradish cream – $10
  • Kale spanakopita with harissa spiced smoked tomato fondu, mint oil – $8
  • Flat bread with pistachio kalamata tapenade, spicy roasted cauliflolwer, frisee – $10
  • Tortelloni with almond cheese, oven-dried tomatoes, parsley frisée salad, spinach cream – $12
  • Risotto stuffed banana pepper with basil lime beurre blanc – $12

top nosh

We were both pleasantly surprised that the vegan fare was both deliriously delicious and filling.  The almond cheese tasted like cow’s milk and the “crab cakes” had that familiar salty sting of the sea.  If no one told us, we would swear they were packed with subtly sweet briny crab meat by the taste and the texture.

Although the artichoke oysters were a close second, the top nosh honors are awarded to the savory and simple kale spanakopita.  They arrived piping hot and were delicious alone or when taken for a swim in the spicy and smoky tomato fondue.  If we could order the fondue with a side of melted almond cheese sandwiched between two pieces of that lentil flatbread, we’d be in LA hipster heaven.

may we suggest

  • Keep your mind open to trying (and enjoying) vegan food.  My carnivore boyfriend eats steak three times a week and often wants to go through the In-N-Out drive thru after a $200 sushi dinner, but here he was full and actually liked the healthy fare his gf made him eat.  So there.
  • Keep your eyes open for celebrities dining at the table behind you.  I couldn’t help but sing the theme song for Sister Sister in my head when Tia Mowry and her hubby walked in for a veggie date night.
  • Keep your adult beverages in check.  At $15 a pop, I was happier with just water.
  • Keep your water glass full.  Or in between bites or you will be bombarded with attentive busboys filling up your almost-could-pass-as-a-shotglass tumbler.  Now we’re all for great service, but filling our glasses after every sip of an already too small vessel was unnecessary and annoying.  So much so that we told the busboys, “Dude, we got this”.
  • Keep your schedule open after dinner.  It had been an hour since we sat down and we had still only been served two dishes.  The lag time between courses was way too long, but on the bright side, you’ve got time to mentally filter through your closet and pick out outfits you can sell to the other Crossroads.

the specifics

8284 Melrose Avenue at Sweetzer, West Hollywood 90046
323.782.9245
www.crossroadskitchen.com

Lunch:
Monday-Friday 11:30am – 2:30pm

Dinner:
Monday-Wednesday 5:00pm – 12:00am
Thursday-Saturday 5:00pm – 1:00am
Sunday 5:00pm – 10:00pm