1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291
Date of Visit
September, 2010 circa 7:30pm
On the east end of Venice’s bustling-with-great-eateries Abbott Kinney, you’ll find the nondescript Gjelina. Pronounced “juh-leena,” this spot is so nondescript that my wife and I walked past the corner building three times prior to realizing that this monolith of a building housed the ballyhooed restaurant. Told by numerous friends, ersatz experts & credible sources that it’s a “must eat,” we did what we do best, sauntering in, putting our name down, and maneuvering to the bar to get a drink while we were to wait for seating.
The tight, narrow, and very wooden seating structure did not leave much room for sauntering, so we squeezed in the German Brewhaus-looking setup to get our bebidas. Noticing long, communal tables toward the front, I wondered if the entire restaurant would be cafeteria-style, which thankfully it was not – solely a few bigger tables, which actually makes the restaurant more conducive to group eating, if that’s your thing.
The short wait was appreciated, and we were sat in another narrow walkway adjacent to the bar, which proved convenient as it enabled some good people-watching. In short, the place had a ‘dry’ charm – modern, upscale, elegant brewhaus. The patrons were on the younger, hipper side (median age: 29ish) and the servers were quick and knowledgeable.
First of all, let me praise chef/owner Travis Lett for his singular focus on utilizing local ingredients wherever possible. Though this practice is hardly the novelty it once was, the constantly evolving menu is reflective of the seasons and available locales/providers of these selections. Also note that Gjelina is a purveyor of my favorite ‘style’ of ordering/eating: a la carte items at reasonable prices, thus offering the curious eater the most variety possible.
Kumamoto Oysters – From Washington State, these are about as local as late-summer oysters are going to get. Served with various sauces, the oysters were chilled, fresh and delicious. Perfect palate starter for a meal.
Hen of the Woods Mushroom Toast – I have no idea what ‘hen of the woods’ mushrooms are, but spread on toast, they were sensational. A newfound respect for mushrooms as a condiment after this head-turner.
Broccolini with Garlic, Chili & Vinegar – Clean, fresh, simple and delicious. Nice subtle course.
Seared Diver Scallops with Romanesco, Pinenut, Currant & Sherry – Classic ingredient with dynamic twist. Pinenut is a delicious complement to the buttery scallops. Nice restrained use of currant & sherry, too – just a taste.
Crispy Niman Ranch Pork Belly with Soft Polenta, Bitter Greens & Apple Cider– Niman Ranch, home of the all-natural meat, provided us with this pork belly that was absolutely divine. Great finish, and the polenta was a show-stealer as well. Wow.
Charred Niman Hanger Steak with Watercress-Horseradish Pesto, Red Onion & Piquillo – Niman Ranch is at it again, though frankly this was the least outstanding dish. That says more about the caliber of the restaurant than anything lacking in this dish, though – steak is rather limiting, and dressing it up in unique fashion is fine, I prefer the pure joy of eating a pure, dry-aged steak in it’s natural environment.
Grilled Monterey Bay Squid with Lentils, Roasted Red Peppers & Salsa Verde – Decidedly not rubbery, not chewy, and in fact quite enjoyable as a texture. The Hispanic influence is noted, and is a known flavor profile for squid/octopus, which the chef plays perfectly. An absolutely wonderful small plate.
My wife & I both enjoyed Gjelina. . .immensely. Perhaps our best meal in 2010, the variety, comfort-level, service & preparation highlighted the food. An urbane restaurant in a charismatic neighborhood, with plenty of bars & shops within walking distance (always a plus, being that its a rarity in L.A.)
In L.A. Terms: Drive 19 minutes OFF THE FREEWAY to eat at Chego.