A couple weeks ago Tuesday, I was lucky enough to score an early rez at the restaurant Animal, the much-hyped LA restaurant run by chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook (Vinny’s the bushy one, photo courtesy of Animal). A few weeks earlier, in town for a gig at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (bet you didn’t know I played the cello!), a friend took me to their second restaurant Son of a Gun. I told this friend I loved it and that it reminded me of The Greenhouse Tavern, because it did the same kind of food. (Only of course it didn’t really–Greenhouse doesn’t sell alligator schnitzel!–so what did I mean? Fabulous dish, that schnitzel.)

It wasn’t till I ate at Animal with my friend the writer Dan Voll and our kids that I realized what I’d been feeling at Son of a Gun. Our server asked me if I was enjoying everything. And I said yes. But that wasn’t enough, I needed her to know there was more to it than just yes: “What those guys in the kitchen are doing is about more than just food,” I said. “They’re doing what they love, it’s so obvious, so clear in the food. I wish everyone worked that way.” She said, “Wow, thanks!” I’d had a couple glasses of wine and numerous dishes of truly fine and original food–my absolute favorite food, succulent fatty bone marrow with excellent grilled bread, pig ears with an egg on top, hamachi, foie, shrimp and rabbit spring roll, and the best crispy pig tail I’ve ever had, see checked items below–so I was kind of effusive. “You don’t understand what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that if everyone did their work in the same way those guys are cooking food, those guys back there rocking in the kitchen, if EVERYONE did their work exactly that way, the world would be a better place! An incredible place. The whole world, imagine it! If everyone just followed this kitchen’s lead.”

The server smiled nervously and departed. Dan and I were thrilled by the food, my daughter and her friend, 16-ish, we’re mainly grossed out and asked when can we go someplace normal? But Dan’s son, 13, was ecstatic, bless him, a cook in the making.

The menu at Animal.

It’s the same reason I love Greenhouse Tavern. Because it’s so clear from the food that Jonathon Sawyer is doing exactly what he loves, just as Vinny and Jon are doing. They aren’t just cooking, they are conveying their love of the world, through the food, directly to the diner. Love, passion, exuberance for life—that’s what these dishes are. And if the man or woman or youngster who walks through their door are willing, they can open a vein and mainline that goodness.

So yeah, wonderful server whoever you were, I’d say I was enjoying myself.

If you liked this post on doing what you love, check out these other links:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved




71 Wonderful responses to “Mainlining”

  • Epicuranoid

    Inspiring and reasonably priced menu. Most loved by me: “Changes and modifications politely declined” ! As a chef/owner I love that and think we all should adopt it. It can be so painful when one puts together a plate that is meant to nourish the guest and flatter the elements just to have some moron decide they want to build their own dish 😀
    Kudos Animal!

    • Dick Peppermill

      To Epicuara-roid
      ——– you and the 1% you rode in on.

    • some chefs are dumb

      People that ignore food allergies are bad people. What a bunch of smug assholes.

      • Jen B.

        There are 32 (!!!) items on this menu–if you can’t find something to eat without picking the dish apart and re-casting it to suit your “allergies”, you are probably too delicate to eat out.

  • Matt

    These guys seem amazing. I have seen them on television, read a number of articles and a piece in the book Primal Cuts by Marissa Guggiana and in every case they come across as two dudes who are having the time of their lives. I have pored over their menus a number of times, fantasizing about making the cross continental pilgrimage on more than one occasion. Glad to see that the food reflects their attitudes and that it’s as delicious as it sounds.

  • Sharon Scott

    For sure Michael it has to be about love. Recently an article ran in the Chicago Sun-Times “What I Didn’t Learn in Culinary School”. Because it’s such a tough business to be in, at the end the day its got to be passion that drives you or it will show.

  • allen

    That is a very large menu, did you try the poutine? I’m a poutine snob so the fries have to be fresh cut and crispy.
    That’s an April fools joke about the cello, right? You are already to cool for school, that would make you beyond cool!

  • Karen J

    Sometimes the internet is a bad thing. Instead of flying out of Chicago to eat at the Animal, I can look at the menu, get ideas, and make it myself. That’s boring. I want the marrow bone with Chimichurri and caramelized onion!!!!! You play cello? Ever play that beautiful Bach Suite in G? <3

  • Nick

    Animal is hands down my favorite restaurant in LA, and I’ve eaten almost everywhere there. I’m actually from Cleveland originally… guess it’s time to try Greenhouse tavern next time I’m at home!

  • Roberta Wennik

    I believe that eating out should be an experience of eating foods that you wouldn’t make in your own kitchen. Save your restaurant dining for the unusal and special. That’s not to say that once you’ve had a interesting dish out, you wouldn’t want to give it a try at home, just maybe with your own spin. I think it’s the variations on a dish that make cooking fun. Try it one way tonight and another way tomorrow. There’s creativiity in us all if only given a chance to emerge.

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    Hah! I play clarinet. After taking my magnifying glass to the above menu I can say that in my lifetime to date I have eaten most of what is on the menu except the Pig Head and the Pig Ears. However my dog lays claim to the Pig Ears, dried bought from the farmer on a RR 45 minutes north of Montreal and not the dog store. I am afraid it is also a Horse Farm…

    • allen

      Montreal, where the poutine baseline is set and they have best curds, they have them shipped from Montreal to the best places in B. C. You are so lucky to have access to that numptiousness.

  • sarah

    i lovelovelove the hamachi tostada and order it EVERY single time we eat there!

  • Lia

    These are my favorite restaurants ever. Jon and Vinny never disappoint. Every bite surprises me, even if I have had the foie gras biscuit like 4 times. And the shrimp toast.

  • Elmer

    I’ve been meaning to comment on this piece for a week now.

    I too had the opportunity to try out Animal recently on a trip to LA for work. It really is great. I think my wife and I tried a lot of the same dishes that your group had. The only complaint I had was the serving size. It was too big! I wanted to clean the plates, but knew there was more coming. Animal compares very favorably to a few places here in Atlanta, just as it does to your haunts in Cleveland. It’s funny how people find the same styles of restaurants when they travel… The biggest shock was the check. I was expecting the final bill to be larger than it was by at least 25%. Pleasant surprise.

    Michael, if you ever get the chance to check out Atlanta (I know you didn’t have time when you were here on the Elements tour) let me know. I’ll give you a list of places to work through. I’ll even play tour guide if you’d like. Maybe you’ll make it down for this spring’s Food & Wine Festival in May.

  • Jacob

    The Poutine and the Bone Marrow with Chimichurri was AMAZING! Can’t wait to go back!

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