The tiny strip of Abbot Kinney is a hipster epicenter in Southern California’s Venice Beach, with cute boutiques, artsy bars, an Intelligentsia coffee bar, and fashionable restaurants.
But the hipster anchor has got to be Gjelina, a neighborhood restaurant serving up California-Mediterranean food to celebrities and out-of-towners since opening in 2008.
I was among the out-of-towners drawn to Gjelina because of its constant buzz. While in Los Angeles for Easter weekend, I visited this bustling hotspot with my sister and niece. We didn’t make reservations so had to wait an hour for a table, but we went early so we could check out the shops before they closed at 7 p.m.
The restaurant has a cozy feel, with a strong communal feel because of the large tables both in front of the bar and the back patio. Service both from the hostesses to the general manager to waiters were friendly, despite a bit of wait between our starter dishes and entrees.
The food from chef Travis Lett really reminded me of the fresh, seasonal approach to food being done by many chefs in the Bay Area. I couldn’t help think how Gjelina would fit nicely next door to Outerlands.
Jett uses a wood-burning oven to cook some of his dishes, like wood-roasted asparagus or cauliflower. As usual, I found the small plates that started our meal more interesting than our entrees. For example, the Mary’s Chicken and Duck Liver Pate ($11) had depth but wasn’t very rich, instead providing a light and enjoyable flavor with each bite. I’m generally not a fan of pate but Gjelina’s version didn’t have that metallic liver taste, which made me a fan.
My niece loved the braised Baby Artichokes with Burrata ($14) served with crispy shallots and mint pesto because of the perfectly cooked artichokes heart and light burrata cheese. I chowed down on the tender Niman Ranch Pork Belly ($15) with apple glaze, although I found the Anson Mills corn grits had an odd texture, almost like little pearls instead of creamy grits.
My sister thought her Duck Leg Confit with Roasted Kumquats and Chicories ($24) was tender but it didn’t wow her, nor did the pretty potato gnocchi with artichoke, nettle, shallot, white wine, lemon and oregano ($18) that my niece ordered (she thought the gnocchi would have benefited from some pan-frying for a crispier edge).
I guess I ordered right, for once, with my squash blossom pizza ($15), which was a colorful thin pizza also topped with thin zucchini slices, cherry tomatoes, burrata and parmesan. Although parts of the pizza was on the wet side, the overall flavors and substance of all the ingredients left me satisfied.
The Last Bite
While the wait during peak times can sometimes seem ridiculous, the friendly staff and rustic but fresh flavors of Chef Lett’s menu make Gjelina a perfect neighborhood spot even though the neighborhood it serves is growing larger and larger every minute.
Gjelina, 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, Calif. PH: 310.450.1429. Open all day Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–midnight; weekends, 9 a.m.–midnight; weekend brunch until 3 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.gjelina.com
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