Ok, I have to confess, I love Ubuntu in Napa. I still dream of the strazzopreti carbonara with mushroom jus. The carta da musica, with its cloud of petals and leaves on top conjures a spring meadow with an earthiness supplied by a truffled cheese. I admire then-chef Jeremy Fox’ ability to pull in all of the senses. One looks, then inhales, then tastes. Magic. So it was with great excitement I discovered Jeremy would be a guest chef for a week at Animal, the meat-centric restaurant of wunderkinds John Shook and Vinny Dotolo. The night of our reservation, I briefly spoke to a bubbly John Shook, who was clearly energized by Jeremy’s presence. Jeremy’s cooking is artistic and harmonious. Gone is the traditional vegetarian scaffolding of strong onion, garlic, and spices. These have been replaced by a careful balancing of rare ingredients, obscure techniques, and skill until a rich tapestry of incredible depth and complicated tastes is created. No one flavor crowds out the rest. Often, I had a difficult time deconstructing the components. The results are breathtaking. We started the evening with marcona almonds lightly dressed with lavender sugar, salt, and olive oil: The flavors as comfortable and soothing as a warm Mediterranean breeze. At the same time, a miniature forest of French breakfast radishes arrived atop a small hill of chevre flavored with nori beside a diminutive field of back salt. These nibbles whetted our appetites as we contemplated a menu that confounded us with words like ‘agretti’, ‘calaloo’, and ‘rescoldo’. Having read Quarrygirl‘s review earlier in the day, we were anticipating slow service. John Shook had informed me that they had remedied the problems from the previous night and indeed they had. Our server Jessica was attentive, efficient, and charming. There were no gaps in service whatsoever. The next course of spring peas with white chocolate, chocolate mint, and macadamia left us marvelling at the ingenious inclusion of white chocolate which added depth to the already sweet peas. Beautifully garnished with petals, it tasted like spring. Next came the pee wee potato salad with 3 hour favas, anchovy flavor, and parmesan. Impossibly tender, buttery baby potatoes were nestled among earthy favas as citrus, delicate fava tendrils, toasted bread crumbs and wisps of parmesan recalled a freshly dug, early season garden and impressed us very much. This was followed by heirloom carrots rescoldo style with parsnip, vadouvan, coconut, and citrus. Unfamiliar with ‘rescoldo style’? So was I. Jessica explained that it is an Argentinian method of roasting root vegetables until they turn into charcoal, then in turn using them to slow roast other vegetables such as the tiny carrots here. The information I found online doesn’t mention using vegetables as the charcoal, but that is how it was told to me. Tiny delicate carrots cavorted with parsnip puree flavored with coconut, blood orange, vadouvan, and a dusting of coriander flowers. Although the carrot tops had been removed, the stems remained and provided a delightful crispness. Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while knows that I am fascinated with vadouvan, or French curry. (Look for it in Josiah Citrin’s cooking.) The parts created an entirely new whole of intriguing flavor. This was to be our favorite dish of the evening and we marvelled at the thought that went into its creation. Next came a triple corn anson mills grits with smoked cast-iron corn and agretti. Warm, cheesy, smoky…its aroma taunted our noses as soon as it was set down. Dancing on the top were green spikes resembling pine needles. These were the agretti. Again, our server came to the rescue, describing agretti as an “Italian succulent”. Besides visual intrigue, they added an interesting grassiness to the dish. The last savory plate was slow roasted beets, ruta-kraut, calaloo amaranth, horseradish. We wondered if this was a nod to the Eastern European roots of the Fairfax district. Small beets played with the kraut, horseradish, mustard sauce, and liptauer cheese with the amaranth as a garnish. Ambitious, but by this point we were beginning to display some culinary overload. Still, we enjoyed playing with the various combinations of sauces and vegetables. Dessert was a chocolate pudding with puffed wild rice, which added a curiously addictive toasty texture. It was topped by strawberry gel into which was set a green strawberry. One would expect the strawberry to be sour, but dipped in the gel, I was amazed to find it resembled an apricot in flavor and texture. We were duly impressed. Afterward, we were fortunate enough to corner Jeremy Fox. He is an affable, easy-going, unassuming man. I pressed him about if he was planning on opening a restaurant in LA. He deflected but alluded to wanting to see the response from his week at Animal. We could only hope he would consider it.
Jeremy Fox Radishes
heirloom carrots rescoldo style triple corn grits and agretti
chocolate pudding with puffed wild rice
The Vegetable Dinners at Animal continue through May 23rd, reservations required.
435 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036