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The New Gjelina - Fresher than Fraiche!

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wasabica Aug 10, 2008 05:34 PM

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.

$25 Corkage

GJelina
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 450-1429

I have also posted this review on my blog:

http://foodandwineblog.thefoodietrave...

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  1. westsidegal Aug 10, 2008 10:16 PM

    would you mind saying how much this meal cost?

    1 Reply
    1. re: westsidegal
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      wasabica Aug 11, 2008 07:02 PM

      um, we ordered way too much food for 4 people and had 4 bottles of wine (brought 2 at $25 corkage each) so I don't know if it is "fair" to give the whole total. Suffice it to say, the salads are $10, veggies are $8, meats & cheeses are $10-$15, pizzas are mostly $15, and plates are ~$10-$25. Kumomoto oysters were $16 for 6 - this was the only thing we felt was outrageous, rest was fair. I would recommend 3-5 items pp depending on whether or not you get a large plate, so could run $30-$60 pp before drinks. We went much higher.

    2. e
      exilekiss Aug 10, 2008 11:14 PM

      Hi wasabica,

      Thanks for the great review. Sounds delicious and it's nice to find a locavore-type restaurant that's down-to-earth.

      1. BunnieBear Aug 11, 2008 01:05 PM

        I had posted this earlier on another thread about Gjelina...
        I ate at Gjelina on Thursday night and it was packed--reservations are definitely necessary. The design of the place is gorgeous--dark with amazing brick floors and a really cool bathroom. It looks like it could been in any urban city in the world with a very charming patio in the back (which also requires reservations). The walls in the main dining area are especially stunning, with a really interesting sculptural quality. There are three communal tables in the middle where I suppose you could just stop in and might be the only reservation-less spot in the place.

        There were four people and we drank a lot, but not crazy and had quite a few of the local plates. The tab was around $90/person with tax and tip--$360. The mushroom toast is, indeed wonderful, though I wish it were larger. Not Bar Pinxto size, but still. We had the cheese plate (again, pretty small) and the cod, the mushroom and taleggio pizza, aforementioned mushroom toast, heirloom tomato with Gioia burrata salad (served, oddly with arugula and not basil), desserts (strawberry and rhubarb crumble and a flourless cake).

        All of the food was really yummy and local. They use all of the "right" purveyors, Gioia, Niman Ranch etc. The chef is some 23-year-old phenom who already has his first restaurant.

        Overall it was a great experience except for the overzealous bussers who kept trying to take our food before we were done with it. Our waiter was very nice and became more efficient as the crowd died down. The host was kind of snotty and unpleasant, but otherwise the service was quite acceptable.

        The only thing that I would change are the portion sizes. On my drive home, I went by the otherroom and almost stopped for a "Let's Be Frank" so that I wouldn't have a growly tummy.

        I would recommend this place, as it's really delicious and the ambiance is pretty great. Plus, it's always nice to have somewhere new in the neighborhood. I would say that reservations are a MUST, however.

        1. PlonkMan Aug 11, 2008 01:34 PM

          We've been there twice now and we like it.

          First visit was an eight o'clock res on the first Friday of August, when the stores on Abbot Kinney are open late. The main room was painfully noisy, but I'd reserved seats in the "lounge" area. The banquettes and low tables aren't ideal for dining, but we made do. When we went back again last Friday (a six o'clock table reserved at 5:45) we sat out back. Much more pleasant. Fortunately we tend to eat early.

          The small plates aren't hugely expensive (mostly in the $8-15 range), but if you're famished they tend to add up.

          The salads are probably the highlight of the menu. The rocket and lentil salad was very good, the sunchoke, escarole, almond and preserved lemon was even better. $8 each, I think. The arugula (not to be confused with rocket, of course) and corn (?) was well-received, but I didn't try it. Ann didn't think much of the tomato & burrata.

          Good fries, thin, nicely salted, not too greasy.

          Ann's four-cheese pizza was excellent. Thin crust, slightly charred, comparable (as I recall) to Antica Pizzeria.

          The calamari stuffed with chorizo was a letdown. Bland chorizo, one-note tomato sauce.

          Niman ranch pork belly with apple cider and mustard greens was very good.

          Ann was happy with her wines by the glass. Fuller's ESB and Stone IPA on tap, which suited me.

          Anyhow, go early and/or sit outside to avoid noise. A little reminiscent of Beechwood, one of our other neighborhood favorites,

          1. blackbookali Aug 29, 2010 09:12 AM

            Went here last night and has a great time and meal. Very busy(Saturday night) but great for groups and we had a great server. Wine was on the pricey side but our served worked with us and we ended up getting to two bottles of fantastic Croatian wine($40 and $50 a bottle). Highlights were the Oregon Albacore, Green Chick peas, actually I enjoyed pretty much everything - great stuff for meat and non meat eaters - we got 5 small plates and one big plate and one dessert - about $50 a head wit tip(20 percent) - pretty darn good id say. We left at 11pm and the place showed no signs of slowing down.

            1. Ashibi Aug 29, 2010 01:08 PM

              Hi Wasabica,

              Thanks for the great review. My husband and I had lunch last Friday with three other friends. It was my second visit. I agree that they do magic on their vegetables. I was not a fan of their breakfast items, but the Mushroom Pizza is great. Have you tried their grilled mission figs ($13)? It is to die for! I must agree about the service. My husband ordered a glass of Tokaji for dessert, but they completely forgot it. I have not yet had dinner there, but it is on my list.

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              Gjelina
              1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA 90291, USA

               
               
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