Monday, May 17, 2010

Jeremy Fox at Animal (Los Angeles, CA)

435 N Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Mon 05/17/2010, 08:30p-12:30a

Animal Presents: "The Vegetable Dinners" with Jeremy Fox. May 17th-May 23rd.

Jeremy Fox at Animal. Yes, quite possibly the world's most famous "vegetarian" chef cooking at this unabashed shrine to meat. I'm liking this matchup already.

The story goes: Fox was in town for a charity event back in 2009, dined at Animal, and fell in love with the place. It turns out that proprietors Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook were as much excited about Ubuntu as Fox was about Animal, and the three chefs have been close ever since. Thus, when Fox was looking for a place to "pop-up" for a week in LA, Animal was a natural choice. Given my recent meal at Ubuntu (under Aaron London's command), this was an absolute must-eat event for me. Joining me were long-time kevinEats reader Jai (who has a self-professed "man crush" on Fox), Ryan of Epicuryan, and Brian and Will from FoodDigger (along with Brian's lovely wife Jan).

Animal Exterior

A brief biography: Fox was born in Cleveland in 1976, and ever since childhood, the young Chef knew that he wanted to own a restaurant some day. He moved to Atlanta as a teenager, and subsequently began his culinary career at a local Chick-fil-A; Fox was 17. He eventually enrolled at Johnson & Wales University, and during his studies there, began working in the kitchens of the well-regarded Anson restaurant in Charleston. However, in 1998, Fox left J&W only two courses shy of graduation. He continued to work at Anson, cooked at the popular Mumbo Jumbo restaurant back in Atlanta, and even did a stage at the Michelin two-star De Snippe in Belgium in 2000.

After returning from Europe, Fox landed a line position at Rubicon in San Francisco. It was here where Fox would meet Deanie Hickox, his future wife, who was working Rubicon's pastry station at the time. In 2002, the Chef left Rubicon for Charles Nob Hill, where he stayed until 2003. Although he achieved considerable success here--reaching the title of Executive Chef--he still wasn't satisfied, and jumped ship to Manresa, where he started from the bottom, cleaning and preparing staff meals. Under David Kinch's tutelage, however, Fox blossomed, and immersed himself in the restaurant, experimenting both with house-made charcuterie and the restaurant's own biodynamic garden. In 2004, Fox staged at Gordon Ramsay and Fergus Henderson's meat-centric, nose-to-tail eatery St. John, both in London. Upon his return, Kinch award him the title of Chef de Cuisine, a position he would share with close friend James Syhabout (of Commis fame).

A chef of Fox's caliber, however, needs his own restaurant, and thus, in 2007, he left to start the widely-acclaimed, vegetable-driven Ubuntu. It was here where Fox really began to receive national attention--he captured the San Francisco Chronicle's "Rising Star Chef" award in 2008, Food & Wine's "Best New Chef" award the same year, and was even nominated for James Beard's "Best Chef Pacific." Everything was going swimmingly, seemingly, until February 2010, when it was announced that Fox was resigning from Ubuntu "to pursue other interests." Since then, Fox has been floating around here and there, and back in April, he even did a one-off dinner at Commis before announcing his guest stint at Animal.

Jeremy Fox at Animal Menu
The $70, seven-course menu is veggie-centric, as expected, and reads not too differently from what he presented to diners during his Ubuntu days. Wine pairings are an additional $35, or $65 if you want the premium pours (listed first on the menu). Click for a larger version.

Jai's Carrot Hat and PJ
Jai, ever the good provider of booze, brought out a bottle of the Perrier-Jouët Fleur De Champagne for us to begin with. The hat was his gift to Chef Fox (told you he had a man-crush!).

marcona almonds
1: marcona almonds | lavender sugar, sea salt, olive oil
Interestingly, I actually had this same dish not too long ago at Ubuntu. The version here was subtler that what I had up in Napa, but the almonds were still a sweet-salty shock to my senses, a fantastic interplay of flavors underpinned by the marked nuttiness of almond.

crunchy 'french breakfast' radishes
2: crunchy 'french breakfast' radishes | soft chevre with nori, black lava salt
2006 Cava Brut Nature, Recaredo, Penedès
NV Brut Champagne, Premier Cru, Marc Hebrart
I'm a big fan of radishes, so it came as no surprise that I greatly enjoyed this next dish. I first tried one alone, and really appreciated its biting, vegetal astringency and superb crunch. As good as that was though, the chevre did wonders for the radish, tempering its sting and adding tremendous weight and profoundness to the dish.

3: 2X-SHUCKED PEAS IN A CONSOMME OF THE SHELLS | white chocolate, 'chocolate' mint, macadamia
2007 Pinot Gris, Domaine Ostertag, Vin d'Alsace
2008 Silvaner Halbtrocken, Gysler
Regular readers will know that I'm somewhat of a pea fiend, thus this was another strong course for me. I liked that the green essence of peas was so forcefully, so unambiguously conveyed here. What took this to the next level, though, was the chocolate, which added layers of complexity to the dish with its subtly sweet, weighty undercurrent.

4: 'FORONO' BEET BAKED IN A ROSE GERANIUM SALT CRUST | 'fuerte' avocado, pickled green strawberry, pistachio
2008 Morgon, 'Côte du Py', Jean Foillard
2007 Bandol Rosé, Chateau Pradeaux, Provence
Beets are no friends of mine. They actually weren't terribly "beet-y" in flavor though; perhaps the salt crust baking helped take some of their edge off. The acerbic tang of the strawberries way key for me, as they really formed a great, tartish counterpoint to the sugariness of the beets. I also enjoyed the smooth, creamy "guacamole" and how it helped balance the dish.

2006 Azienda Agricola La Torre Rosso di Montalcino
Sarah's new beau, Ben, was kind enough to give us some of his 2006 Azienda Agricola La Torre Rosso di Montalcino to pair with the following course.

5: 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
Here, the star was the "salsa maro," a wonderful commixture that really captured the quintessence of fava. It was quite vegetal in savor at first, but then the saltiness of the "anchovy" really kicked in, while the Parmesan gave things an overarching heft.

6: HEIRLOOM CARROTS RESCOLDO STYLE, IN ROOT EMBERS | vadouvan spices, coconut labneh, parsnip
2005 Rosso de Véo, Paolo Bea, Umbria
2008 Campagnès, Corbières
The "rescoldo" refers to tortilla de rescoldo, a sort of Chilean bread baked using hot coals. Fox substitutes in root embers, but the result is that the carrots' sweetness was cut, replaced with considerable depth and complexity. This heaviness was nicely moderated by the labneh, and I also appreciated the use of vadouvan, which gave things a nice "Indian" tinge.

7: ROAST CELTUCE STALK & FRESH LIPTAUER CHEESE | ruta-kraut, pumpernickel, horseradish mustard
2007 Savennières, 'Croix Picot', Chateau de L'Eperonnière
Shoenramer Saphir Bok
The celtuce, or stem lettuce, had a somewhat celery-esque flavor that I wasn't terribly fond of. Fortunately, this was tempered greatly by the creaminess and gravity of the Liptauer, as well as the superb mustard-y tang of the horseradish.

8: SWEET FENNEL & PUFFED WILD RICE KRISPIE | fennel bulb, 'page' mandarin, bronze fennel
Kopke White Port
A very unconventional dessert. I quite liked the crisp, crunchy puffed rice, and I even enjoyed the fennel, which had a fascinating, vegetal spicy sweetness to it. The fennel was a touch overwhelming though, so the use of citrus was absolutely crucial.

9: TOASTED BRIOCHE & SHERRY "CREME BRULEE" | fried cornbread, chocolate ganache, shiitake
1998 Rivesaltes Ambre, Domaine Fontanel, Roussillon
Another very unconventional dessert. The crème brûlée portion was rather nice, and I really appreciated the use of cornbread here to counter some of the dessert's sugariness. However, the shiitakes contributed a savory counterpoint that I found rather disconcerting. I'm a fan of bacon in dessert, but the mushrooms were a bit beyond me!

Fiona, Jeremy Fox, Jai Jai, Sarah
Apparently, Animal was the place to be on this particular Monday night. Other food cognoscenti spied during the meal: Bill of Street Gourmet LA, member of the Twitterati Brian, Diana of Diana Takes a Bite, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, Jill Zimorski (Beverage Director for José Andrés), Josh of Food GPS, Kat Odell (current Eater LA chief, also of Cork and Rind), Ken Iwamoto from Harry's Berries (his aunt and uncle run the biz), Lauren of Harb Knock Life, Lesley Balla (former Eater LA chief), Roy Choi (the Kogi guy), and last but not least, the always glamorous Sarah of The Delicious Life.

It's amazing what Fox has been able to achieve in the kitchen with so little use of animal products, but what's important to realize is that his food isn't about spurning meat, it's about celebrating the bounty of vegetables. It's not vegetarian, or even vegan, cuisine; it's vegetable cuisine: you'll find no tofu, no seitan here. This cooking--so focused, so confident, so vibrant--makes me wish that I'd hit up Ubuntu earlier! No matter, when Fox decides to open up his next place, you can bet that I, and his legions of fans (Jai especially), will be waiting, salivating.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

the meal looks a bit disappointing from the photos. I am a fan of Jeremy Fox and Ubuntu but - from the looks- I would not have been happy with this meal.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010 10:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Jai Kohli said...

His eyes were dreamy... ;)

Radman: I can see where you're coming from. Having never eaten at Ubuntu, I can only speak to the plating I've seen in pictures. Unfortunately, Chef Fox doesn't have the luxury of working with the produce from his own garden & he's working in a foreign kitchen. There were some positives, some minuses, but overall a great meal. Even though I'm no vegetarian, I really appreciate what Chef Fox is doing: vegetables are neglected far too often by chefs & diners a like. Its only within the last 50 years that we've come to eat meat so regularly, I think its important to remember that vegetables are more than a garnish or side dish. As Jose Andres said on 60 minutes, "vegetables are sexy!"

Major thanks to Kevin for inviting me to this meal!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 11:45:00 PM  
Blogger Frequent Traveler said...

As you know, I prefer vegetables to eat more than anything else. (Although I crave steak tartare, pasta and beau soleil oysters on occasion)

I've been to Ubuntu (and was disappointed) and been to The Square and The Lebury (okay, they are both 2 Michelin starred restaurants in England) and they, with their meat/fish based menus still do vegetable tasting menus MUCH better than Fox does.

Manybe Animal is some of the best Los Angeles has to offer for vegetables as a tasting menu -- but on the whole I think you can find better vegetable offerings on menus elsewhere, say at Spago in Beverly Hills.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 9:13:00 AM  
Blogger nelehelen said...

wow.. monday night was the night to go huh! lol

kevin, i wish you would just learn to love beets as much as the rest of us do! join us.... lol

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger nelehelen said...

oh.. and the pics looks awesome as always! i have new found love and appreciation for vegetables... maybe because i'm on a diet. :T

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 12:25:00 PM  
Anonymous joey said...

Vegetarian is Apache for "lousy hunter". Good review Kevin but if I'm eating vegetarian I like it plain such as brown rice and beans with a nice big salad with diverse ingredients. Then an apple or pear for desert. Animal origin ingredients lend themselves more easily to doing fancy and interesting things. But gussying up an almond?...there is artifice and limitations. Fruits and vegetables can dress up meats, poultry and fish but can't do the same to themselves

Just my two cents

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 1:51:00 PM  
Blogger gourmetpigs said...

dammit kevin, told you not to use that photo! tsk tsk use ryan's instead, much better!! I hate that one ..
Also, you didn't get wine pairing? Really???

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 2:57:00 PM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

when you hitting up Red-O?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 5:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Ken Iwamoto said...

We thought the food was great. The only dish we didn't care much for was the "creme brulee". With Rick and Molly Gean being 20+ year vegetarians, they really appreciated the fact they were able to enjoy the whole meal instead of just getting side dishes. Do you have plans on going back before it ends? It was a pleasure meeting you Kevin, I really enjoy reading your reviews.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 11:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Food GPS said...

Food cognoscenti? I had no idea.

That was an interesting meal. Not every dish was a knockout, but each plate was thoughtful, and nobody else is doing high end "vegetable" cuisine in L.A. I heard night two was fairly different, which is impressive.

Thursday, May 20, 2010 4:06:00 PM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

i'm going to try and sit at the bar tmrw with a buddy of mine (vegetarian). burgundy and champagne for all!

Thursday, May 20, 2010 11:28:00 PM  
Blogger Le Bon Vivant said...

Josh: Much better subsequent time around
Charlie: I think its normal Animal menu Fri & Sat.

Thursday, May 20, 2010 11:55:00 PM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

just double checked their website, the veggie dinner is from may 17th-23rd so I think i'm good! =) Thanks for the heads up tho

Friday, May 21, 2010 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Nomsnotbombs said...

Were you hungry afterwards too or was that just Diana? lol

Friday, May 21, 2010 2:16:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

radman: I think Jai beat me to the punch in responding here. ;)

Jai: Thanks Jai. I don't remember--did you ever give Fox that carrot hat?

Annie: I actually left Ubuntu quite impressed. Fox's style is perhaps a bit unorthodox, so I can definitely see how you might prefer Spago's version (though personally I haven't had the veg option there).

Helen: 'Twas indeed--are you going to make it out for one of the nights? And I don't think that you need to be dieting. ;)

Joey: I think that it's the "brown rice and beans with a nice big salad" type of non-meat cuisine that Fox is actually explicitly trying to step away from. Rice and beans must get a bit tired after a while right?

Fiona: Sorry, I don't recall you not liking that photo; I've replace it with another. And I definitely did get the wine pairing--why would you think otherwise?

Charlie: Red O? First night, natch. Let us know how the meal turns out tonight.

Ken: Great to meet you too Ken! I don't have any plans to return unfortunately, since I (mistakenly) thought that the food wouldn't really change much over the week.

Josh: Yeah, it definitely seems like each night is different. Here's a report from May 18th.

LBV: I think Fox is only going to grow stronger as the week progresses. It'd be great to have blog posts from each night.

Misty: Amazingly, I wasn't hungry. Maybe the booze filled me up. ;)

Friday, May 21, 2010 4:01:00 PM  

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