Had to go check out the new bistro on Abbott Kinney. We have another player in the whole Eat Local/Small Plate/Bistro Atmosphere phenomenon that has become all the rage in LA. Up until Gjelina, (silent "G") Akasha was our most recent experience in this genre and we hated it.
Wasn't sure what to expect. We had some logistical issues even getting in. Had trouble getting a Thurs night reservation for 4 people at 8:30 PM, which we had made a week ahead of time. They had the audacity to call me the day of asking me or telling me (unclear which) that they were giving me sub-par "couch" seating with "low" tables. Did not even know what that meant, but by their tone I gathered that was a bad thing. Confused why I was the one getting demoted versus other people, I reacted negatively to their suggestion(?) and found when we arrived we were given a proper booth in the main dining room. (Once there, I saw they have an outdoor patio in the back that has the "couch" sitting, fire pits, etc.) Looks nice for a more casual experience.
The room is great...big windows, subdued lighting, soft woods, big bar in the center of the room with view of some of the kitchen. Funky slicers and other kitchen paraphernalia are visible on the bar. Overall, it's very warm and inviting, which explains why the place was completely full this late on a weeknight. The diverse clientèle also caught my eye: Young parents with an infant sat at the bar along side of the Venice Bohemian locals, middle aged and older couples, and everyone in between. The appeal of this venue is truly far-reaching.
The menu is based what is most fresh and locally available, so of course it changes daily. It's divided into 5 sections: Raw, Meats and Cheeses, Vegetable, Salad, Pizza, and Plates. In general, we found all the food vibrant, appealing, and delicious in a refreshing way, reminiscent to what you would find in a Napa Valley local eatery. Most dishes had just one or two dominant flavors which varied from proteins to veggies. These items were then enhanced to elicit their most intense flavor by simple accompaniments and assertive but complementary seasoning. This is the kind of dinner and atmosphere I crave after a hard day of wine tasting. Or work.
Wine list is flexible, with a lot of great options $50. Plenty of by the glass choices as well.
Some sample menu items we enjoyed:
Gioia Burrata & Heirloom Tomato Salad & Sea Salt: Simple, yes. But also impeccably prepared and bursting with the flavor of tomatoes picked at that exact right moment. We ordered a 2nd one.
Braised Summer Corn with Marscapone: Again, simple enough. But the corn was exactly spot on - just the right amount of sweet and cooked until the kernels were just about ready to burst. Not al dente, not soft. The technique and flavoring was perfect. A second one of these showed up on the table as well.
Asparagus with fried farm egg, frissee, and Parm: The asparagus was incredible, more so because of the perfect balsamic vinaigrette. This was simply the best balsamic dressing I have ever had. The egg was overcooked and had brown edges, probably due to butter that was allowed to get too hot. THey should have just left off the egg, it did not need it.
We ordered 3 pizzas. All were pretty good, but the favorite was:
Mushroom, Tallegio, Pea Tendrill: The crust was cracker thin and a bit yeasty, reminiscent of what you get at Mozza. The tallegio was not as "smelly" as I expected, and the mushrooms and pea tendrills were perfect accompaniments.
The plates were also mostly successful. One of the favorites was:
Crispy Niman Ranch Pork Belly with Apple Cider and Mustard Greens: It just worked. Nice grouping of complementary textures and flavors.
My conclusion: Gjelina handles their vegetables the way a seasoned Sashimi Chef handles his fish. Extreme precision in choosing and preparing the vegetables so you feel like you are truly getting the best the season (and that vegetable) can muster. No need to smother them in fat or big sauces like what you typically get in restaurant veggies. These carefully chosen vegetables were vibrant and simply prepared, but were accented with with complementary items that gave them complexity in flavor, texture, and overall experience. They were just perfect.
I have to say, I think this place will really give Fraiche a run for its money. I predict big things for this restaurant. Go now before reservations become impossible.
My only complaint is that I mentioned that it was one of our dining companion's birthday to multiple people both before and after we got to the restaurant and it was never acknowledged. Maybe next time.
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291
I have also posted this review on my blog: