Quick Bite: animal, the Lauded Fairfax District Restaurant, Reopens

Owners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo are back, offering a new way to dine well without fancy accouterments

When the restaurant animal opened in the Fairfax District nearly 15 years ago, it took Los Angeles by surprise. Eschewing a swanky address, it was located in a gourmet dining wasteland surrounded by empty storefronts, shabby grocers, and the L.A. institution Canter’s Deli. In a narrow space with simple wooden tables and chairs, animal began turning out the type of plates expected from five-star restaurants but without the added flash (or expense) of a maître d, white tablecloths, or soft lighting. Quickly, the initial question of, “You‘re going where for dinner?” became “How did you get a reservation?”

Owners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, two surfers who’d met at culinary school in Florida, offer a new way to dine well without fancy accouterments.

“When we came to L.A., there was Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton of Campanile and Wolfgang at Spago,” says Dotolo. “They had brought new blood to the food scene, but they’d been doing it for a while.”

Angelenos were ready for chefs innovative in their use of well-sourced protein and produce, including some unexpected and less expensive cuts of meat. And for over 10 years, animal flourished. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. Like everyone else, Shook and Dotolo were hit hard.

“We didn’t think our food worked for take-out and we had no place for outdoor dining,” says Shook, so they opened an online grocer instead. “We were able to help vendors, farmers, and ranchers who supplied us for years and pay our own rent.”

Three months ago, almost two years to the day they shut the doors because of the pandemic, animal reopened. Yes, it’s animal. Nothing has changed as far as philosophy, say the owners, but there are differences.

“We’ve taken out about six seats, making more room for diners,” says Dotolo. “People are sensitive to being too close to one another. We don’t have as many items on the menu.” The big steak and lamb chop have been nixed from the menu because of the steep cost.

“It goes against our grain to charge over $100 a plate, even though the expense of the material justifies it,” Dotolo adds.

Regulars can still find the beloved chicken liver toast—though animal had to find a new supplier because their trusted source was no longer available. A cheese vendor went out of business—heartbreaking news—but the Hamachi Tostado and other favorites are still available. Of course, their fried pig ear has pride of place. The wine menu is as intriguing as ever, though the reserve list is smaller.

“It’s the same animal, ” says Shook, “But there are adjustments, which we see as challenges to be met. We’re excited to start again.”

435 North Fairfax
Sunday – Wednesday 6:00 to 9 p.m.
Thursday – Saturday 6:00 to 9:30 p.m.