Animal’s Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo Declared Lexus Culinary Masters

Vinny Dotolo, Jon Shook

When you get offered car service in a Lexus RX450h to a celebratory dinner at Animal because Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo are to be presented as the next Culinary Masters, you say Yes. Especially when last year’s anointed, Miami’s Latin fusion extraordinaire and longtime mentor to Jon & Vinny, Michelle Bernstein, is in town and also presenting dishes of her own at the dinner.

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Five Upcoming Food & Drink Events You Won’t Want to Miss

LudoBites 4.0 Greatest Hits: White Asparagus Veloute, Mozzarella Mousse, Candied Olives, Fennel, Salmon Roe

Now would be a great time to finally and formally introduce you to my “Upcoming Events” column over on the right (–>). It’s but a few months old, but a great way to short-handedly let you know about the best things that are coming up as far as goings on in Los Angeles. It also means less pre-event write-ups, since you can get the skinny right in that column. (You’re welcome.)

For now, though, I’ve anticipated a slew of food events in our beloved city – especially while everyone’s trying to get everything wrapped up before the holidays. I believe the following, however, warrant special attention. Be sure to make your reservations & buy your tickets. Here they are, in order of date:

1. Now: LudoBites 10.0 Reservation Window Now Open (until 10:59 AM Thursday, November 29, 2012)

Right now we’re in the middle of a 24-hour window that first opened at 11 AM PST. So until 10:59 AM tomorrow (Thursday, November 29), you’ll get to enter the lottery for a reservation on one of 14 days (weekdays, December 4-21) of LudoBites 10.0 at Gram & Papa’s in Downtown LA. No guarantees that any of you will actually GET a reservation, but all we can do is try, try, try, right? (No seriously – don’t submit that form twice. It will make Krissy very mad. Just once, guys.) Protip: To increase your chances of getting a reservation, be sure to be as available as possible, since you have to fill out your available days and time slots. Or maybe that was obvious.

And if you don’t know what LudoBites is, by now, I’m afraid I can’t help you…or can I?

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L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade Draws Top Culinary Talent in Fight Against Childhood Cancer

Chicken Oysters by Michael Voltaggio

L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade, for my third year in attendance, remains one of my favorite food events. The original idea of Alex’s Lemonade arose out of a courageous four-year-old’s battle with neuroblastoma and her desire to donate the proceeds of her lemonade stand to doctors who have helped her. Childhood cancer strikes a chord personally, as my first born nephew was diagnosed with Acute lymphocytic leukemia at the age of 1 1/2. Thanks to treatment and some faith, he’s now entering his teen years as a survivor. Of course, more research needs to be done.

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First Taste: Son of a Gun Is Not Your Mother’s Cooking

Shrimp Toast Sandwich | Herbs, Sriracha Mayo ($11)

The Animal boys are back at it with their heavy hand. This time, the medium is seafood, and there were certainly more hits than misses when I made my first visit last week.

Lobster Roll | Celery, lemon aioli ($7)

We started out with a lobster roll each, and were all glad that we turned this “shared plate” into a “per person” situation since it’s on the small side. It was a solid, Maine-style (with mayo) lobster roll with chips on top as a nice, crunchy touch and came in an appropriately buttery bun. Case closed.

The shrimp toast came next, and it was a quintessential umami moment. All conversation ceased as we chewed and thought, our tastebuds absolutely titillated, our eyes shut. We observed and relished the same reaction elicited from our neighbors by the dish at the large communal table at which we sat. This was a shared moment where I found myself not so annoyed by the communal, mess hall-style dining. On the other side of them, however, sat a New York food writer/ex-pat of a full year who amazingly stated that he didn’t believe Mexican food was better in LA than in New York. That’s another story. 😉

Brandade | Soft egg, arugula ($12)

Next came the brandade, which, not to belabor the point, was another essential small plate. The texture of the cod mixture was perfect – not too mushy, not too tacky. The whole grain mustard seeds kicked it up a notch. Though there might have been a period of time not so long ago where I was sick of seeing it everywhere, arugula was a nice choice, here, as the accompanying greens. The bitterness matched the mustard seeds really nicely. Of course, the runny egg with runny yolk is no small detail. What you have here is a bowl full of win.

While everything we had thus far was pretty rich, it wasn’t too much. But it was nice to mix things up with the Albacore Tataki, which was seasoned just perfectly with radish, citrus soy and a few sesame seeds. You could taste the freshness of the fish, and tt was a refreshing reprieve from all the other butter-based dishes we had. I’d order it again if only I weren’t so curious about the other fish dishes on the menu (like the Pink Grouper).

Albacore Tataki | Sesame seeds, radish, citrus soy ($12)

We had heard that the Fried Chicken Sandwich ($11) was a must-order, and so we did exactly that. It had a tasty, peppery breading surrounding hot, tender chicken. The jalapeno coleslaw with pickles was a really nice touch but I actually found myself wishing there were more jalapenos and much more kick in it. It was still solid, though.

The Alligator Schnitzel with hearts of palm and oranges ($14) came last, which was really the only miss in our whole meal. The schnitzel was largely forgettable and seemed an item that was put on the menu in order to widen its range. No matter. There are plenty of other delicious items to try.

With the menu changing daily, depending on ingredients, I feel like I had barely scratched the surface that is Son of a Gun. It’s a bustling dining spot with mostly communal tables and walk-in opportunities. They also have a good selection of cocktails (I did enjoy my Sazerac, but consumed it while occupying “standing room only”) which range from $8 – $16 and is only more reason why I feel like I need to go back. Although they’re open until 11 PM or even 1 AM on the weekends, they do run out of favorites. Don’t wait – it’s a really exciting place to eat. Just don’t be surprised if you bump a few elbows; it’s guaranteed you will.

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Sun – Thur: 6 PM – 11 PM
Fri – Sat: 6 PM – 1 AM

Lunch service coming soon

Son of a Gun
8370 W. 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
323.782.9033

L.A. Times Celebration of Food & Wine: September 5, 2010

L.A. Times Wine & Food Festival at Paramount Pictures Studios | Photo credit to isayx3 on Flickr

It’s another culinary bazaar (we here in Los Angeles know how often these come around) but this time, it’s our city-wide flagship publication pulling out all the stops. It looks like the L.A. Times will live up to their name, too, because there are names to be had at this event held at on New York Street (yeah, pretty funny) in the backlot of Paramount Pictures.

Feelin’ a little indie with your wine? There will also be music, as She & Him are scheduled to headline the event with a full set. Angela McClusky will support.

Demonstrations will be taking place for your pleasure and education, as will panels by the following:

  • Michael Voltaggio – Winner, Top Chef Season 6
  • Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo – Animal Restaurant
  • Mark Peel –Campanile, The Tar Pit, Top Chef Masters Seasons 1 & 2
  • Suzanne Goin –AOC, Lucques, Tavern and The Hungry Cat
  • Jimmy Shaw -Loteria Grill
  • Ludo Lefebvre – LudoBites
  • Betty Fraser – Grub, Top Chef Season 2
  • Chris “C.J.” Jacobsen – The Yard, Top Chef Season 3
  • Alex Reznik – Ivan Kane’s Cafe Was, Top Chef Season 7
  • John Sedlar – Rivera
  • Barrie Lynn – The Cheese Impresario
  • Ricardo Zarate – Mo-chica
  • Russ Parsons – Food Editor, Los Angeles Times
  • Noelle Carter – Manager, Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen
  • Rene Lynch – Assistant Food Editor, Los Angeles Times
  • Jessica Gelt – Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times
  • Betty Hallock – Deputy Food Editor, Los Angeles Times
  • Krista Simmons – Associate Editor, Brand X

And of course, high brow or not, it wouldn’t truly be a Los Angeles food event without food trucks present. Don Chow Tacos, Wahoo’s, The Sweets Truck, The Buttermilk Truck, DosaTruck, Coolhaus will all be there if you so prefer your food off a 4-wheeler.

Wine, sake and spirits from various vendors will help you wash down your bites. Blackheart Spiced Rum, Broc Cellars / Broadside Wines, Conway Family Wines, Dutcher Crossing Winery, Evan Williams Hong Reserve Bourbon, Flora Springs Winery & Vineyards, Gekkeikan Sake, Hook & Ladder Winery, Lunazul 100% Agave Tequila, Kook Soon Dang Beer, Michael David Winery, Rideau Vineyard, Sinatra Family Estates, and Venteux Vineyards will all be present during the event.

If you buy in advance, you’ll save $10. The best part is that general admission attendees also get to enjoy a good number of pours (8 to be exact) with their food. But if VIP is more your speed, you’ll get unlimited pours and in addition, you’ll get to taste bites from these participants. Benefiting from ticket sales are Share Our Strength and the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, so you can feel good that you’ve spent your day also supporting worthy causes.

Seems like a it’ll be a great debut. I’ll see you there.

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

12 – 8 PM

$125 VIP Admission ($135 door)
$55 General Admission ($65 door)
$40 Concert Only, advance and door

Tickets

L.A. Times Celebration of Food & Wine at
Paramount Pictures
5555 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038

Animal On Fairfax

amberjack, nectarine, jalapeno, citrus, mint

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.

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