Though there’s a new eatery in the neighborhood, its proprietor is anything but a stranger. George Abou-daoud’s newest venture (The Bowery, Rosewood Tavern, Township, The Mercantile) does not actually include a liquor license.
Instead, you’ll find fresh Lebanese made from scratch. Your trusty Mediterranean selections like babaganoush, lebneh yogurt, organic chickpea & quinoa falafel, tabouli, fattoush salad, vegetarian kibbeh, lentil mujadarra, stuffed cheese rolls, fried cauliflower can be found at Urban Garden for an average combo price of $9-$15 a pop. It’s a great addition to Fairfax Village, at once metaphorically and physically across the street from mainstays as historic as Canter’s and iconic as Animal.
I have to admit: It wasn’t my idea to visit Animal. It was good that I had opportunity to go, though – since it was on @gregwong‘s LA hit list as a visiting New Yorker. He’s diligent like that; rather, I am probably lazy. But the unmarked restaurant in the heart of the Fairfax District was a pleasant surprise that exceeded whatever expectations I didn’t have.
I was intrigued with the idea that Animal gets its kicks out of including menu items that make you go, “What?” It’s ambitious but the key is that they actually do an incredible job with execution. The menu changes “daily” – although I was able to find online the same menu I ordered off two weeks ago. I find it hard to believe, though, that a menu becomes tired within a 24 hour period. You’ll also notice with these menus that they don’t try and name any of these concoctions with the intent of superficial glorification. Instead, you order each item as in each of its ingredients – as above. As some like to say, Is it what it is?
I’m only about a year late since Animal was first opened by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo – who were named Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs of 2009. Also on their resume are Iron Chef America appearances and a cookbook on the NPR’s 10 Best of 2008 list.
But I’m glad I didn’t know that from the get-go. I like my palate surprised.
And varied. We started off with the amberjack – which was citrusey and refreshing. Since it’s in the same family as yellowtail, its tenderness had a texture that was very similar. We then moved on to their variation on a southern favorite, crispy hominy – sprinkled with lime. It’s a nice fried, salty consistency to chew on while also being a departure from your typical calamari. With hominy being corn without the germ – and back in the day doubling as animal feed – its novelty as a gourmet appetizer as presented at Animal comes well-served with a fluffy shell.