"I remember walking these streets wasted," said Jon Shook, who along with Vinny Dotolo make up the chef and ownership duo behind the highly-acclaimed restaurant Animal. "I'm back."
Dotolo and Shook are a few weeks away from opening their newest restaurant venture, Son of a Gun. Located on West Third, it is also just a few blocks from where they rented their first apartment in Los Angeles. It was 500 square feet, and they shared it with one other guy. Rent was 900 dollars a month. "So I guess I'll be walking these streets wasted again," said Shook.
As they recently told Food & Wine Magazine, Son of a Gun will have a primarily seafood-focused menu, and their current ideas include items like bottarga taramasalata; uni with carrot, nettle curry vinaigrette, and apple; pimento cheese fries; and baked clams, "mafia style." Though there will also be fried chicken, "inspired by Chick-fil-A and Bakesale Betty."
Inside, there is still much to be done. A small crew of close, long-time associates are sorting Mason jars, putting up decorations, and going over plans. Beautiful Walton Ford paintings hang on the walls, as do the horns of a few Michigan deer which were shot by Dotolo's stepfather.
This has been a very different process than opening Animal was back in 2008. Dotolo and Shook are bigger names in the restaurant world now, with a nationally-acclaimed restaurant, and even a New Yorker profile under their belts. Unlike with Animal, they get to open their new space with a brand new kitchen, and more of a design plan in place.
"Construction [at Son of a Gun] has been kind of a pain in the ass," said Dotolo. "We didn't really change much over there [at Animal]. It was a different sort of effort." But the opportunity to do something in a different way is not lost on them. "For me," continued Dotolo, "it's exciting to have the challenge."
But while that new challenge is a major driving force, one of the biggest reasons for opening a second restaurant is the chance to create more opportunities to the people around them. "The company is a lot bigger. The people that we have around are so fucking talented," said Shook, citing the work of Director of Operations/Beverage Director Helen Johannesen, and Chef de Cuisine Frank Anderson, referring to them as family. "In order for family to move up," added Shook, "you need to create more opportunities."
They have enlisted the help of Ruth De Jong, a designer and production designer who has worked for directors like Terrence Malick and Paul Thomas Anderson. The bar, which will serve classic cocktails, is custom-made, using Maker's Mark 46 barrels. The communal dining table is custom too. Then there are the "much disputed captain's chairs" at the bar. Shook found them at the Jewish Women's thrift store just up the street from Animal. He loves them, though their accountant disagrees, maintaining that if the chairs were a little less wide, they could fit more seats at the bar.
Meanwhile, the duo is also on the look-out for more "old nautical stuff" to put up around the restaurant. In fact, if anyone has any they are willing to donate, they are encouraged to send an email to Animal.
At the moment, the chefs seem most excited about getting into the kitchen. "I haven't cut a vegetable in this joint," said Shook. The menu is still an ongoing process, and much of it, Dotolo told us, will be dictated by their severely limited storage space. But we can expect "raw fish, oysters, more salads," said Dotolo, also adding that they're "trying to focus on U.S., and local [ingredients]," placing responsibility above concept.
"Sardines," said Dotolo, "squid, geoduck, oysters, sea urchin." There will be spot prawns too, once they're in season, though "local spiny lobsters are really expensive this year." As for the raw oysters, Dotolo told us that there would be classic cocktail sauce (made in-house), fresh horseradish, and possibly an ever-changing mignonette sauce. But while the menu will be noticeably lighter than the one at Animal, "there will still be stuff that's decadent," Dotolo told us. "A lot of that Southern seafood is super heavy."
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And for dessert? "We don't have a pastry chef," Shook said, "but we do have an ice cream machine."
To start off, the 55-seat restaurant will only be open for dinner, but they plan to add lunch service after a few weeks. The current plan is to open seven days a week for dinner, and to serve lunch on weekends only. You will be able to make reservations for one side of the restaurant, while the large communal table and bar will be walk-in only. They're shooting for opening on the week of February 21st, though if they have too many private cooking events, that could push things back a bit.
As we finished up our chat, Dotolo and Shook sat in the banquette, which Dotolo told us was his favorite seat in the house. "You can see the whole restaurant," he said. We asked them if they are more confident and relaxed than the last time they opened a restaurant.
"Of course," said Dotolo, while Shook added, "Why wouldn't we be?" Though Dotolo was quick to point out that it wouldn't be easy. "We're gonna make mistakes," he said. "But hopefully not as big. I learned the most at Animal by doing things wrong. But there's room for growth here," he went on. "There's still a lot to learn."