Eater's Journal: Luau, Animal, Gjelina

Luau: Two details are fairly shocking about this restaurant, just now settling into itself in Beverly Hills. First, for a tiki-themed venue of moderate size, it's not really that kitschy; for a tiki-themed venue of moderate size, the food is at times quite good. (The backstory, of course, is that this is re-mastered, re-release of the original Luau, the 60s-era celebspot. This one, backed by Andy Hewitt and cheffed by Makoto Tanaka, is a sophisticated affair on Bedford Dr.) A mid-week dinner stop check late last month (comped; thanks, Mr. Hewitt) proved quite enjoyable, if, re the lighting program, a tad bit dark. Cocktails deliver for those who enjoy fruit, although why the margarita is being pimped as a house 'classic' isn't entirely clear in this Polynesian context. Wok lobster, peanut lychee lamb, and curried vegetable lettuce cups were all hits; there are no categorical fails on the menu, though the pork ribs are being touted as a winner a bit too aggressively for their industry standard—sweet, glazed—delivery. All-in, what with the prices and theme and all, here's the shocking twist: Chance we'll go back: good-to-very-good.

Animal: Sweet, sweet Animal, with its bare-bones, loud as hell, fuck-you-if-you-want-a-seat-cushion interior and its kitchen maverick owner/chefs, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. So, look. There's an undeniable cool that permeates the place, and not just because Top Chef Marcel was in the house on our most recent visit. There is, too, a palpable sense of adventure running through the joint. But, the thing is that just because you put bolognese on polenta, it doesn't mean you've got anything. And when you're about to crush us with the news that you've run out of rabbit & kale ravioli, don't preface by saying it's amazing, eh? Here's to hoping that in time more of the boys' dishes measure up to their enthusiasm, which is certainly contagious. Chances we'll go back: Yes, dammit. Despite ourselves, yes.

Gjelina: File Gjelina under, Meanwhile in Venice. To our eye, a couple of good dishes here—certainly, the brandade and any of the wood roasted vegetables—can't help but play back-up to the decor, which is painfully current, but also, if we are to get over ourselves for a moment, legitimately snazzy. For the food set, the biggest issue these guys face is that in light of more serious fare elsewhere, most of this menu the stuff of amateur hour, especially the pizzas. For a more relaxed group, Gjelina delivers on being hip, current and tasty -- it certainly did on a recent weekend night, when the place was packed with the prettiest locals experienced owners can buy. The staying power of Robert Schwan (Wabi Sabi) and Travis Lett's (Tengu) joint is less clear—this type decor gets dated. On the other hand, there's something timeless about the open fire pit they've got out back. Chances we'll go back: Sure, when in Rome...

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