On the day I turned 25, I stood outside an unmarked storefront on Fairfax waiting for a gate to go up. All I wanted to do for my birthday was eat at Animal, and I knew that without a reservation, the only way to ensure a seat was to get there early and wait. This is partly because Animal is small–from the front glass doors you can see the entire thing, the one not very deep room–but it is also partly because, through some magic combination of publicity and amazing food, lots and lots of people have discovered the secret that is behind the unmarked entrance to one of Los Angeles’ essential restaurants.
Animal is perhaps the poster restaurant of the nose-to-tail movement championed by chefs like Anthony Bourdain and Michael Rhulman, a fact that one understands immediately after first glancing over the menu. House favorites include crispy pig ear with a fried egg, bone marrow with chimichurri, and foie gras loco moco, an insanely opulent rice dish with hamburger, quail egg, foie gras, and spam. Last month, Animal was the host for an all-out foie-centric meal, a defiant statement on the recent California ban that will take effect next year. Having never tried foie gras, I went in with a determination to order it. But in what form?
Seared on top of a biscuit with maple sausage gravy? As a classical terrine with shmears of fruit on the side? In the end I ordered a dish in which foie was more of a side so that I would have an opportunity to try more new foods. The veal tongue with smoked foie gras and crab apple was a deconstructed play on pastrami: the tongue, somewhere in between pastrami and jerky, had pastrami seasoning and a sweet glaze; a streak of spicy sweet dark mustard held little bits of sweet crab apple; a see-through thin crisp of toast hinted at sandwich bread.
The foie gras itself was a mousse, the thickest and richest several bites of food in my memory. A significant smoke flavor emerged soon after my tongue was coated in fat, as ridiculous an introduction to foie gras as I could imagine.
I also grabbed the chicken liver toast, with syrup-thick caramelized shallots to cut the salty liver, and the tres leches dulce for desert. How this cake resisted disintegration from all the soaking it had done is beyond me. Cold, creamy, not too sweet, and sitting on a deep caramel sauce. We can’t all eat like this every day, nor, I think, would I want to. But if you have something to celebrate, I can think of no better way. Happy birthday to me.