Even before getting seated, we were drooling ravenously over the single page menu, simple in design but rich in diverse flavors. The menu changes daily, and I'm not sure if we just lucked out all the way, or if the Two Dudes are this consistently incredible - but every single dish listed lit our eyes on fire. That the bottom of the menu warns: "changes and modifications politely declined" makes me fall in love with the place even more. The chefs obviously put a lot of thought into their menu and it makes a lot of sense that they would want the dishes to be experienced as they were intended!
Realizing eventually that our wallets and stomachs cannot physically handle every item on the menu - we finally made our choices begrudgingly, and decided to start off with the grilled baby broccoli, soft egg, pancetta vinaigrette, parmesan ($13).
This was simply amazing, and though I normally do not crave or get inspired by vegetables - this dish turned out to be one of my favorite veggie focused dishes of all time. Though of course, true to theme, this was definitely not designed for vegetarians. The baby broccoli was perfectly grilled, with just the right amount of crunch - and infused with such rich pancetta flavor, punctuated by vinegar and oil, that it sent us into an immediate feeding frenzy. Temper that with shavings of nutty parmesan, and top off the heap with a beautifully poached, deliciously runny egg and you have perfection in a bowl. We devoured this dish within seconds, like bears who had just come out of hibernation - leaving not so much as the carcass of its prey. I never thought I would say this of any vegetable dish, but I could eat this every day for the rest of my life.
So when we saw pig tails, "buffalo style", celery, ranch ($11), we knew immediately that we had to try it. This seemed to really live up to the promise of the restaurant's name - it's all about the animal, in its holistic glory and celebrating every piece of it. We chose not to ask our server what the dish would involve, preferring to be surprised - all part of the fun of a meal in a place like Animal! I think in our minds, we expected an offal version of curly fries - cute little crunchy curlicues plucked from porcine behinds and plopped onto our plate. When the dish arrived, it was a bit of a surprise, the 'tails' were chunks of meat with a bone in the middle (I guess the upper cut of the tail) - lightly fried and flavored with a sauce that you would normally associate with buffalo wings. Overall, this was a tasty dish, but not as exotic as we had hoped - and reminded us more of buffalo wings made with short ribs.
A poutine fan ever since my visit to The Gorbals - I had no objections when Foodie Mentor recommended the poutine, oxtail gravy, cheddar ($15). The oxtail was smooth, amazingly tender and flavorful, and provided a great contrast to the crispy fries underneath. Animal does not skimp, and the mound of oxtail makes this a very hearty dish, a potential meal in itself.
The foie was seared with skill, teasing out its earthiness and highlighting the creamy interior with a lightly crisped crust. The whole thing was served at a perfect temperature and enhanced by the buttery, flaky biscuit drenched in a rich blend of savory / sweet in the maple sausage gravy. I could still taste this dish in my mind, weeks after the meal.
All in all, I found that Animal offers an exciting spread that makes rational human beings lose any sense of restraint - I for one fell prey to pure primal instinct to feed from the moment I set eyes on the menu. There were so many things still left on the menu that I wanted to try, including veal brains and sweetbreads, and rabbit legs - no telling whether the same preparations would be on the menu again on my next visit - but one thing I know I can count on, is that we definitely would not be bored. I also loved that you can experience the menu that dares to be different, without the snootiness of some fine-dining venues. You get the sense that the chefs' disclaimer about declining substitutions is more about sharing their visions of what their dishes are meant to be, served true to the way they were conceived, than about any sort of elitist attitude. I definitely plan to be back soon. And all this over vertebrates...as someone who is normally much more excited by creatures of the sea - this definitely propels the Dudes' most recent venture, Son of a Gun (seafood focused restaurant that just opened shop yesterday) - to the top of my list of places to bolt to next.
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 5.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%
435 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90036