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Animal, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo's Modern American Nose-to-Tail Cooking on Melrose Avenue in Beverly Grove

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Managed to luck into a dinner reservation at the apparently still-hot Animal, which I'd encountered in a New Yorker article a couple of years ago, forgotten the name of and then rediscovered while leafing cluelessly through the Food Lover's Guide To LA ("David, would you say we're more in 'Central City,' 'West Side,' or 'West of the 405'?"). Turns out the place was in walking distance (think Miracle Mile or The Fairfax District) and since someone was trying ot bail on a reservation, they needed to fill a table for five and we fit the bill.

What a great place. It's nose-to-tail at its finest, featuring uncomplicated but creative preparations. The chef/owners are largely lacking in formal kitchen training which -- as with the Ramones lack of actual music lessons -- seems to bring a simple but powerful focus to their work. There are a lot of ears, innards and the like on the menu, which changes daily but which is approximated on their website. Plates are small and five of us went through about a dozen, despite having worked through some very passsable red beans and rice at the (misnamed) LA Farmer's market just hours before. Highlights included -- well, pretty much fucking everything we ate, including the tendon crisps; the tandoori octopus with tamarind, mango and raita; a bit of flat iron steak prepared in such a way that it tasted exactly like what a Philly cheesesteak would taste like if they'd served it at that wedding in Cana and Jesus had addressed the entree after taking care of the beverages; and marrow with chimichurri. Surprisingly, or not, the kale and apple salad was great, and necessary to cut the cholesteral on occasion. And while I grow weary of Brussel Sprouts, serving them in a bowl with a poppable poached egg on top is not a bad way to go.

Despite being the most obvious thing on the menu, the barbecued pork belly with slaw on buttered brioche is impossible to describe without falling into equally obvious cheap sexual metaphors (or similes) and -- in terms of pork-as-dessert -- far better than bacon chocolate (so we had a very creditable tres leches cake with a dulce de leche sauce, which seems as though it makes the dessert into actually a "quatro leches"-type dessert, but my Spanish is poor, so who knows).

The room is comfortable without being memorable -- high ceilings, spare art, wooden tables -- and the service is friendly. competent and unpretentious. Minimal but tasty wine list.

Prices per plate are generally low -- those tendon crisps are $4 -- but if you've ever been on a good two- or three-day crack binge, you know even at $10 a rock plate, prices add up. With 2.5 mid-priced bottles of wine, a few beers, tax and tip, we dropped about $600 for five people, and were delighted to have done so.

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