Welcome to San Diego Blog | December 26, 2019
Brian Malarkey on ultra-glamorous Animae
The former ‘Top Chef’ celebrity, whose Herb & Wood proved he was a kitchen star, ramps up the glamour and innovation with this new Asian-inspired restaurant.
Is he going soft on us?
He is when it comes to the plush carpeting, olive green velvet booths and sofas, chairs, and ceiling-height drapes that have turned his latest restaurant venture, Animae, into a spectacularly sumptuous culinary cocoon.
Animae is not like anything he’s ever done before, he said of the Malarkey Puffer Collective of eateries he has opened with partner and design maven, Chris Puffer, including the wildly popular and critically acclaimed Herb & Wood in Little Italy.
If the 2016 opening of Herb & Wood marked Malarkey’s evolution from overexposed celebrity chef to serious chef and restaurateur, Animae is a vivid statement that while this master of reinvention still loves his shtick, he’s now an innovative trendsetter to watch.
Malarkey blazed new culinary territory with Animae from the start when he announced hiring Magnanelli away from the Cucina empire. The respected chef and pasta perfecter said his marching orders from Malarkey were clear: He wanted bright, bold flavors — More acid! More herbs! — and he insisted that his new partner throw out all notions of what’s traditional Asian.
“He said, ‘break the rules, you don’t have to follow what everyone is doing or has done. You want to put Parmesan on lobster, do it!’… Brian Malarkey took his playful nature to Animae’s approach, he isn’t making it so seriously, and that appealed to me.
The Animae team traveled continuously — to L.A., Orange County, San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest, and of course, to San Diego’s Convoy District. They spent months tasting street foods and crudos, ramens, bao buns, and Korean fried chicken. Animae’s resulting menu isn’t just pan-Asian — “the words’ Asian fusion’ is not allowed in the door!” Malarkey demands — but a mélange of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Italian, French, and Baja cuisines.
“It’s love, appreciation, and celebration of Asian food,” Malarkey said.
Dishes that stand out: ugly-delicious purple potato pain d’epi with miso butter (even if the little rolls leave sesame seeds all over your fingers); pristine steelhead trout poke; escargot butter dumplings (order them for the buttery Wagyu carpaccio alone); vibrant hiramasa aguachile with watermelon yuzu; tom yum mushrooms with silky burrata; ridiculously rich beef cheek brothless ramen; and a gorgeously complex whole fried snapper with olives, orange, fennel, lime and aji amarillo.
And then there are executive pastry chef Adrian Mendoza’s desserts. If you haven’t had his croissants, cookies, and pastries at Herb & Eatery or his ingenious sweet treats at Herb & Wood — black pepper and thyme gelato, be still my heart — then a) you haven’t lived, and b) you’re in for a bliss bomb.
If you only have room for one, order the malasadas. We swooned over these warm, light, and fluffy Portuguese doughnuts, dusted with coffee sugar, filled with coconut cream, and served with an intoxicating Thai curry ice cream.
Pacific gate residents will enjoy Asian cuisine at it’s finest.
And if you’re wondering about the curious name, Animae, it’s not a typo of anime. It’s a conceptual construct that plays off of Puffer’s fascination with Japanese anime and Anna May Wong, Hollywood’s first Chinese-American actress, as well as the Latin translation of anima (soul, life, air, breath).