Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Vegetable Dinners at Animal - 5/17/2010

435 N Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 782-9225

I recently had my first vegetarian fine dining experience at Ubuntu in Napa. There is no doubt in my mind that the critical success of Ubuntu was due in a large part to Chef Fox As such, I was disappointed to hear of his abrupt departure just before my visit. Naturally when I found out Jeremy Fox was doing a vegetarian dinner I knew I had to attend the opening night. The dinner was held at Animal, ironic considering the restaurant's reputation for specializing in super-heavy meat courses.

marcona almonds - lavender sugar, sea salt, olive oil
One of the few holdovers from Ubuntu these lacked the same finesse of the ones I had up north. The subtle floral character of the lavender and olive oil were noticeably muted in favor of the sea salt.

crunchy 'french breakfast' radishes - soft chevre with nori, black lava salt
2006 Cava Brut Nature, Recaredo Penedès
NV Brut Champagne, Premier Cru, Marc Hebrart
The refreshingly crisp radishes were a bit too vegetal on their own but absolutely delicious when taken with the mustard and gamy tang of the cheese. The black lava salt had a unique minerality that was used to great effect with the radishes.

2X-SHUKED PEAS IN A CONSOMME OF THE SHELLS - white chocolate, 'chocolate' mint, macadamia
2007 Pinot Gris, Domaine Ostertag, Vin d'Alsace
2008 Silvaner Halbtrocken, Gysler
As expected the dish started with the characteristic verdance of the peas, but it was the addition of the subtle tinge of cocoa and mint that truly made the dish unique.

'FORONO' BEET BAKED IN A ROSE GERANIUM SALT CRUST - 'fuerte' avocado, pickled green strawberry, pistachio
2008 Morgon, "Côte du Py', Jean Foillard
2007 Bandol Rosè, Chateau Pradeaux, Provence
Perhaps I would reconsider my dislike of beets if they tasted more like this. I suspect that the salt crust helped temper the sweetness of the beets as did the mild creaminess of the avocado. What was left was the perfect foil to the tang of the pickled strawberries.

YOUNG FAVAS, ROASTED WHOLE, THEN SHUCKED - salsa maro of the pods, anchovy "flavor", parmesan
2007 Chablis, 'Rosette', Alice A Olivier De Moor
2008 Macon Fuissé, Domaine Cheveau
Fava beans are one of those vegetables that screams spring for me and this dish did an excellent job of highlighting their distinctive flavor and the snappiness of the pods provided an appropriate textural accompaniment to the dish.

HEIRLOOM CARROTS RESCOLDO STYLE, IN ROOT EMBERS - vadouvan spices, coconut labneh, parsnip
2005 Rosso de Véo, Paolo Bea, Umbria
2008 Campagnès, Corbières
This was much better than the carrot dish I had at Ubuntu. The rescoldo style refers to the use of root embers here. As with the beets the sweetness of the carrots are tempered. Similarly the vadouvan was applied sparingly giving an appropriately weighted curry temper to the dish. The amalgam of the carrots, vadouvan, and the labneh was a marvel to behold.

ROAST CELTUCE STALK & FRESH LIPTAUER CHEESE - ruta-kraut, pumpernickel, horseradish mustard
2007 Savennières, 'Croix Picot', Chateau de L'Eperonnière
Shoenramer Saphir Bok
I thought this was one of the more impressive dishes of the night. Some of my companions didn't care for the celery-like flavor of the celtuce but I felt the pickled tang of the ruta-kraut and the gamy tang of the cheese.

SWEET FENNEL & PUFFED WILD RICE KRISPIE - fennel bulb, 'page' mandarin, bronze fennel
Kopke White Port
The anise-like flavor of the fennel is overwhelmingly apparent though the toasty flavor of the puffed rice manages to come through on the finish. I enjoyed the individual elements in this dish but felt they didn't really work as a cohesive whole.

TOASTED BRIOCHE & SHERRY 'CREME BRULEE' - fried cornbread, chocolate ganache, shiitake
1998 Rivesaltes Ambre, Domaine Fontanel, Roussillon
An interesting idea and I applaud Chef Fox for his daring but shiitake mushrooms and chocolate are just not a winning combination. I appreciated the subtle savory-sweet interplay of the cornbread and creme brulee but the muskiness of the shiitake

It's always a bit touch and go with these special dinner series especially on opening night. There were certainly some flaws: the staff seemed overwhelmed at times and the wine pours were overgenerous, but the food itself was spot on. I didn't enjoy every dish that we had but by far this was the most complete and complex menu of vegetables I have ever tasted. I am sure the food at Ubuntu still has Chef Fox's touch on them but what we had tonight was a level above. Simply put Chef Fox can make vegetables come alive like no other.


j said...

wednesday night was stronger

Epicuryan said...

Not surprising. I'm sure the staff was more familiar with the menu. Did any of the courses change and were the wine pours more manageable?

Jai said...

Menu changed totally except for amuses. Wine pours still very generous -- this time we split 1 between 4 ppl + 1 bottle of champagne and a beer