I can’t really say I’ve tried enough restaurants here in LA to make any sweeping judgments. Pink’s was, well… hot dogs. Axe was fresh, a little severe, but absolutely delicious. Besides the local coffee shop, I’ve eaten twice at only one restaurant-Gjelina.
Gjelina opened just under a week ago on Abbot Kinney in Venice. The front of the menu screams “EAT LOCAL” and when you look at what’s for dinner, you realize they take this mantra seriously. Unlike most SF restaurants, the dishes are described simply with out the requisite three-adjective-family tree description for each ingredient. You can share lots of smaller dishes or pick a starter and a larger plate. A good option for people who are over the whole “tapas of the world” thing.
My friend W and I went one night and were seated outside on the patio. The wooden walls and overhangs, marble and iron tables, and very-LA couches and candles gave the place an urban-cool vibe without being pretentious. Service was a little slow but, the dishes came out paced well and almost everything was tasty. The vegetables really shine here and the ones we ordered benefited from their time in the wood oven-roasted baby artichokes with cipollini onions and gremolata as well as eggplant with tomato confit and Parm. Seasoned perfectly, both dishes were nicely caramelized without being charred and very straight forward, letting the veggies shine without too much else. The pizza took took a turn in the wood oven too, creating a crisp crust, California style-not too thin, not to thick with a bit of blistering around the edges. Ours had Gruyere, caramelized onions and arugula. We also had the white prawns with chili, lemon, and mint-served in their own cast iron dish (also from the wood oven), these didn’t quite hit the mark. The shrimp were fresh but, the we didn’t detect the chili and the dish just fell a little flat. The net? I made a reservation on the way out so I could return a few nights later.
Flash forward to tonight. I went back with my husband and two friends we hadn’t seen in ages. We were lucky to get a seat on the patio again. I had talked up my last meal so much, we ended up trying a lot of the same dishes. In addition, we had the mussels with ale, tomato and garlic bread, the sea bass with farro and the sweet pea and creme fraiche ravioli. The mussels came in a generous bowl with crusty bread for the broth. I didn’t try them but, it seemed like a bottomless dish and it was getting rave reviews. The sea bass had a gorgeous crispy skin and it was just the right size, a really beautiful piece of fish. The ravioli…not so good. The pasta was on the thick side and the filling tasted of too much mint rather than peas or creme fraiche. The flavor combination sounded so yummy, we were sad it didn’t live up to our expectations. Dessert-butterscotch pots de creme (with creme fraiche on top!) and a nectarine almond galette. I think we were so full we couldn’t dive in too deep here. The pots de creme had a silky texture and was not too sweet, something that often happens with butterscotch. The tart was a little soft-the crust seemed to have gotten soggy somewhere along the way and the nectarines were no where near as sweet as the ones I’ve been getting at the farmer’s market.
Still, Gjelina is a great spot. The crowd is smart, the space is cool and the food is fresh. The service needs some help (please don’t take the dinner dishes from the table until everyone is done eating!) but, their commitment to seasonal, local food is clear. The menu rings of San Francisco but the space is definitely L.A.