Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I had a great experience at the brand new Animal on Fairfax the other night. It is not called Animal for nothing - the menu is filled with pork belly, sweetbreads, quail, rabbit, chorizo, steak - and don't forget the chocolate crunch bar with bacon bits. It is noted on the menu that "changes and modifications are politely declined," followed by a contradictory "please notify us of any food allergies." Allergic to meat? Skip this and read my last three posts.

Chef-owners Vinny Dotolo and John Shook, along with sommelier Eric are in their twenties - still young enough to read the tiny font on the wine list without extra light and magnification. Now all you Boomers out there know what to bring.

The decor is bare bones modern. Stark while walls with bare light bulbs as sconces, and a small bar in the back. Check out the ladies restroom. It has tile walls, lots of mirrors, and is scented with flowers - totally out of line with the rest of the place. It is comfortable, but gets very loud when it fills up. Service was polite and attentive. They were there when you needed them, and not when you didn't. Everyone seemed pretty relaxed and cool, especially for such a new restaurant.

Of the eight appetizers, we chose the "burrata, beet and green olive caponata" ($10). Just about anything with burrata is terrific, and this was no exception.

The "country pork ribs, balsamic, giarderneria" ($15) was nice too. I liked the fatty, sweet-salty ribs, but not the pickled vegetables "giarderneria," which apparently is the same stuff you see arrainged in those giant decorative glass jars. I always thought those looked disgusting, but luckily these vegetables tasted better than they look.

The highlight of our appetizers was the "melted petite basque, garlic bread, fra 'mani chorizo" ($9). A bubbly queso fundido, of leeks, chorizo and cheese, this was devowered right away.

I had the best entree at our table. "Flat iron steak, bordelaise, potato, fava, sweetbreads ($23)" I only ordered it for the sweetbreads, which were a disappointingly small amout - 3 nuggets. But, once I started on the corn (didn't see any fava beans) and potatoes smothered in a rich bordelaise sauce, I forgot about my ever present desire for sweetbreads.

My friends dishes looked almost identical. Frank had the "quail fry, anson mills grits, long cooked chard, slab bacon ($23)" while Heather had the appetizer of "soft shell crab, pork belly chili soy ($18)." Both were a pile of deep fried, extra crispy meat on pork. I liked them, but my friends were a tad underwhelmed. They thought both dishes were undersalted and oversauced. I did request salt for my steak, then I gladly ate every single bit on my plate.

All the wines on the list are available by the glass, carafe, or bottle (except for the wines on the reserve list, which is yours for the asking), and they have a good "animal house wine" at only $20 a bottle. A casual, lively atmosphere, ambitious and creative menu, very reasonably priced meals and wines, Animal is worth checking out. Don't bring you vegetarian friends, or even the picky ones.

You cannot leave without (what I am sure will become) their signature dessert. "bacon chocolate crunch bar, s&p anglaise ($8)." It was three slices of what seemed to be (at this point, the place was so loud, and I had had a couple glasses of wine, I couldn't hear what Eric was telling me about the dessert) a gianduja chocolate terrine, with real bacon bits. I have always enjoyed savory-sweet combos: fries and ice cream, membrillo and blue cheese, etc. This is the ultimate.

435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sushi, Roman Style

Over lunch one glorious Saturday afternoon in Rome, my friend Charlie (of Rome Review fame) and I were pondering the possibilities of non-Italian dining in Rome, that would make for an interesting podcast. We were thinking of North African, Chinese, Sengalese, but he had a jones for Sushi - so that is what we settled on. We went to a sushi restaurant called Sushisen, in Testaccio. The centerpiece of this sushi restaurant is the large oval bar, with a little conveyor belt filled with small plates of sushi and other Japanese treats.

The plates are color coded according to price. I can see how easy it would be to start of with the 3-5 Euro plates, then after a few Sake Bombs, reaching for the 9-10 Euro plates. I was a bit leery about the revolving plates - there was no way of telling how long they and been circulating. But, we quickly learned the advantage of sitting where we did, near the chefs. As soon as the fresh plates were put out, we grabbed them!

Remember folks, like our meal at Gianni's in Rome, we discuss the Shushisen on Charlie's podcast, Rome Review.

Sushisen is just like all the nice sushi joints here in LA, with just a couple of indicators that you are, in fact, having sushi in Rome. The menu is virtually all photos with very little text. It was funny to see some Italian words on the menu. My favorite was "sake freddo," cold sake. Also, the beer glasses are just like the wine glasses you find in almost every single other restaurant in Rome. And, you can catch the Japanese chefs speaking Italian to the wait staff. Other than those things, you feel like you are enjoying sushi in your own town.

Everything was good. Sake out of a box, no waiting for the food (if you dine from the conveyor belt), and a large menu (with plenty of traditional Japanese cooked fare).

Just one snafu of the night: we thought we were ordering a scallop dish, but what arrived was the Mystery Loaf. After some exploration, we found a bed California rolls under some fish, under a whole bunch of goopy sauce. Not good.

I enjoyed the oysters very much, and the sashimi, but some of the rolled sushi was a bit heavy on the rice. I prefer to fill up on fish rather than rice. Sushi in Rome is not cheap: my share was 50 Euro, more than I have ever paid in LA. I usually have a hard enough time making a $20 all you can eat special worth it. It was a nice reprieve from all the pasta and pizza, sort of a palate cleanser, getting you ready for more Italian food!

Via Giuseppe Giulietti, 21A
Roma 00154
06 57 56 945

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Vegan Joint

While on the lookout for new (to me) interesting neighborhood joints, I came across this vegan one. Right across the street from giant karaoke dive Boardwalk 11 on National, The Vegan Joint is a small, cozy little cafe with a huge vegan menu. Heavy on the Asian fare, they offer many soups, salads, wraps, sandwiches, noodles, curries, and fake meats. They use soy fish, soy meat, tofu, soy cheese, "egz" and soy bacon. When I eat vegan, I prefer to stick with vegetables nuts and grains, and pass on the phony meat. I eat meat, so I don't need a substitute.

Everything we ordered tasted good, was hearty for a carnivore like me, and inexpensive. We started of with the vegetable soup. The vegetables were pretty, but quite large for a soup, much bigger than bite size, which required you to try to cut them with your Chinese soup spoon. The broth was very delicious, though.

We shared a couple vegetable spring rolls, which were standard fare. It is difficult for something deep fried to be bad (bad tasting, not bad for you!). Everything was brought out piping hot, within a few minutes of ordering.

For my main, I had one of the curries, the shitake curry with coconut milk, eggplant, bamboo shoots, and tofu, with a side of brown rice. Not too spicy and very satisfying.

My meal made me forget that animal products were absent, it kept me satisfied the rest of the afternoon (or maybe that was the post lunch espresso macchiato we drank in our Rome-homesick-state). Breakfast, lunch and dinner is served all day, and they even deliver. While you are at the joint, go check out the cool time warp clothing store on the same street - you can load up on your ultra-hip 50's garb and pomade.

The Vegan Joint
10438 National Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Euphoria Loves Rawvolution

Every once in a while I feel the need to eat lighter, perhaps detox a bit. So I will head to Leaf, a raw vegan cafe in my neighborhood. As much as I try, I usually enjoy the first couple of bites, then find myself struggling to enjoy the rest. Surprisingly, raw cuisine (other than your average salad) is quite filling. Also, there is some tangy, lip-puckering, underlying flavor that all the food there has, that I can only take in small doses. This time, I thought I would try a relatively new raw cafe in Santa Monica called Euphoria Loves Rawvolution. Much better than Leaf, and certainly with more character and charm. You walk in, see the shelves of herbal supplements, the cool, neo-hippies, and the crowded elixor bar - and you realize there is a whole raw eating community out there. All the patrons were thin, good looking and all seemed to know each other. You may almost call it a lifestyle boutique- they offer classes and private sessions with practitioners for things like meditation, psychic readings, energy therapy and much more.

The menu is fairly extensive. They offer many soups, salads, sides and juices. I choose the Detoxer's Delight ($12) salad, which came with their (surprisingly) delicious and refreshing Cleansing Green Juice, loaded with some kind of cleansing supplement. It tasted of cucumber, and was quite enjoyable. Our appetizer of veggie cakes ($7) was just the kind of raw food I don't enjoy. Some kind of dehydrated cake of unidentifiable ingredients, dry, firm and chewy. The mystery dipping sauce was quite good, and I took the rest home to use as a salad dressing. I find the problem with raw dishes like these dehydrated cakes is that they are extremely filling, tough to chew, and just not enjoyable.

My mom had the celery soup ($4), of which the celery flavor came through nice and strong. But after a few bites, she grew tired of it. She ordered the small portion, which was actually quite large. My salad was simple - baby greens with a very tangy dressing. It came with two enzyme pills and some spirulina. I took the pills, and was a bit unsure of what to do with the spirulina. I sprinkled some on my salad, but I couldn't stand the taste. I took the rest home, perhaps for a smoothie later.

The point of keeping the food raw is to keep the enzymes in the food "live." When these enzymes are live, they require less work of the body to digest. I have to admit, I felt good after the meal, and have maintained lots of energy since. Unlike eating (and enjoying imensly) a big ol' hamburger and fries.

The best, by far, was our dessert. They call it a chocolate chip ice cream cake, which it was, sort of. It was made with coconut, cashews, vanilla, agave and cacao. It was not unlike the "cheesecake" we had at Bloom cafe, but this was much better. The crust had cocoa and coconut, and was actually sweet enough. I don't dig all the raw food, just some of it, but I did enjoy my time here. Go for an interesting meal, and a nice, welcoming vibe, and good people-watching.

Euphoria Loves Rawvolution
2301 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Happy Hour in Rome

Well, actually, every hour while in Rome is happy. But there are certain hours that are even happier. In the early evenings, many bars in Rome offer fantastic buffets included in the price of your drink. Many nights we would order a glass of wine (or two) then step right up to the bar and graze on the pastas, frittatas, salads and savory pastries. After all this I didin't really need dinner, but that didn't stop me.